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Summary of Congressional Elections


Since the House is closest to its constituents because reelection is so frequent a need, it tends to be more easily led by fleeting public desires. In contrast, the Senate’s distance from its constituents allows it to act more deliberately. Each type of representative, however, must raise considerable sums of money in order to stay in office. Attempts by Congress to rein in campaign spending have largely failed. Nevertheless, incumbents tend to have the easiest time funding campaigns and retaining their seats. They also benefit from the way parties organize primary elections, which are designed to promote incumbency.

Practice Questions

  1. What does Campbell’s surge-and-decline theory suggest about the outcome of midterm elections?
  2. Explain the factors that make it difficult to oust incumbents.

Sample Answer:

2. Incumbents chase off would-be challengers because they are able to raise more money given that people want to back a winner and that voters know incumbents by name because they won the office in a previous election. The challengers who do take on incumbents typically lose soundly for the same reasons.


surge-and-decline theory: a theory proposing that the surge of stimulation occurring during presidential elections subsides during midterm elections, accounting for the differences we observe in turnouts and results

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