Congress
Theories of
Representation
Today
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Bare-bones basics of Congress
What does it mean to “represent” someone (or
some group) politically?
What factors determine who represents us in
Congress?
Bicameral Legislature
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House
435 Representatives
1 per geographic district
2 year terms
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Senate
100 Senators
2 per state
6 year terms
Business of Congress
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A Day in the House of Reps
http://clerk.house.gov/
What Does Representation Mean?
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“Represent”: to act in place of or on behalf of
someone else
“Constituency”: the group on whose behalf the
legislator acts
Three Big Questions About
Representation
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Does the idea of democratic representation
allow legislators to do what is good for us,
rather than what we want?
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Should members of Congress serve as “delegates”
or as “trustees”?
Whose “best interests” matter?
Is “agency representation” enough, or is
“sociological representation” necessary?
Theories of Representation:
Delegate v. Trustee
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Delegate: Someone who acts in accordance
with our wishes
Trustee: Someone who acts to best protect
our interests (even if we’re not happy with it)
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Example: Balancing the budget and raising taxes
Theories of Representation:
The Importance of “Constituency”
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If legislators are acting in our best interests,
who has standing?
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Only voters in the legislator’s district?
Everyone in the legislator’s district, both parties,
voters and non-voters?
The nation as a whole?
Example: “pork barrel legislation”
Theories of Representation:
Descriptive v. Substantive
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Ways of creating “policy congruence” (delegate
representation)
Descriptive
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Shared background and experience = shared
political preferences
Substantive (Agency)
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Electoral accountability is enough to force policy
congruence
But . . .
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Is electoral pressure enough to force policy
congruence, or is descriptive representation
necessary for true representation?
Are there benefits to descriptive representation
that extend beyond policy outcomes?
Who Represents Us: Important
Factors to Remember
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Who runs
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Incumbency advantage
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Access to money
Access to support
Time and “social capital”
Money
Name recognition and constituency service
Controversy over term limits – U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton
Redistricting
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The art of the “gerrymander”
Redistricting:
The Original Gerrymander
Redistricting
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When and why
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Every 10 years (now – Baker v. Carr) – following
REAPPORTIONMENT
In response to legal challenges
Redistricting
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How it’s done
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Political gerrymandering – favoring the party in
power in the state legislature
Racial gerrymandering – efforts to increase or limit
the influence of racial minorities
Racial Gerrymandering
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“Cracking”
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Drawing district lines so that the minority racial
group is diffuse, spread out over many districts, so
they have no influence in any one district
“Packing”
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Drawing district lines to that the minority racial group
is concentrated into one or two districts, with no
influence in any of the others
Redistricting:
A Modern Gerrymander
History of North Carolina’s 12th
Congressional District