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Congressional behavior: lesson overview

CON‑3 (EU)
CON‑3.C (LO)
CON‑3.C.1 (EK)
A number of factors affect the behavior of members of Congress, including election processes, partisanship, and divided government. Most members of Congress seek to be reelected by their constituents, which can affect their voting behavior and the issues they devote time to while in office.
Partisan divisions within Congress may result in legislative gridlock, or lead to increased negotiation and compromise. Likewise, divided government between the legislative and executive branches can give rise to partisan standoffs, such as congressional refusal to approve presidential appointments or to vote for presidential initiatives. Congressional redistricting to favor one party over another, or gerrymandering, is motivated by partisanship and can also further entrench it.

Key terms

gridlockWhen the government is unable to reach compromises or make policy decisions.
partisanA firm supporter of one political party.
redistrictingThe process of adjusting electoral districts in the United States.
gerrymanderingThe act of changing the boundaries of an electoral district to favor one party over another.
divided governmentWhen one party controls one or more houses in the legislative branch while the other party controls the executive branch.
'lame duck'An elected official who continues to hold political office during the period between the election and the inauguration of their successor.
trusteeA member of Congress who takes into account the views of their constituents and use their own judgment to decide how to vote.
delegateA member of Congress who always follows their constituents’ voting preferences.
politicoA member of Congress who acts as a delegate on issues that their constituents care about, and as a trustee on issues that their constituents don’t care about.

Key cases to know

Baker v. Carr (1961) — The Court ruled that Tennessee had acted unconstitutionally by not redistricting since 1901; establishing both the "one-person, one-vote" principle - that districts should be proportionately represented - and that the Court had jurisdiction to review state redistricting issues.
Shaw v. Reno (1993) — This case established that although legislative redistricting must be conscious of race and comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it cannot exceed what is reasonably necessary to avoid racial imbalances.

Review questions

How does redistricting affect the behavior of members of Congress?
What are the differences between a congressperson acting like a trustee and a congressperson acting like a delegate?
How might ideological differences in Congress slow down the policymaking process?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Christiana Woods
    What most important factors influence congress?
    (4 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Reece
      Look into the "iron triangle", which shows the relationships between Congress, Interest Groups, and Bureaucratic Agencies(ex: FBI). It explains how these groups will do certain things to favor each other and mainly shows the influence of interest groups on Congress. For example, an Interest Group, may push for a Congressman to vote for a certain law that would help the Interest Group's policies, and in return the Interest Group would do things such as vote for the Congressman next election and donate funds to their campaign.

      Also pork-barreling (where Congressmen will do projects in their home districts to increase their chances of reelection)... and logrolling (where a Congressman will vote on another Congressman's bill, in order to get votes on his bill in return)
      These are very influential in Congress as they deal with reelection and moving policy, and Congressmen always want to be reelected as much as they can to stay in Congress, and if they're in Congress they can pass laws.
      (Hope this makes sense and is not too confusing :) )
      (4 votes)
  • mr pink orange style avatar for user alexwa94
    How did the grid locks anything to do with
    (3 votes)
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  • starky seed style avatar for user polo malietufa
    Who is responsible for drawing congressional districts every ten years?
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops seed style avatar for user rivas.erika
    How does the view of gerrymandering practices differ between Democrats and Republicans?
    (2 votes)
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  • starky seed style avatar for user Marcie
    Wouldn't the practice of gerrymandering be going against the fourteenth amendment if a certain political district was based on race?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Reece
      In the case Shaw vs Reno (1993), the Supreme Court ruled the gerrymandering solely on the basis of race was in fact UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and conflicted with the values of equality. However, judges did say that race can be used as a factor in drawing voting districts, but if race is the only factor used (such as in Shaw vs Reno), then it is a form of segregation and is unconstitutional.
      (1 vote)