Art by Peau Porotesano
There’s an aspect of charisma that rules Capitol Hill. Representatives, both in the House and Senate, work to impress a certain group of voters and will focus their efforts on pleasing that particular pool of people: their constituents. With the mid-term election approaching in November, it is important to start paying attention and researching the actions of the candidates. Voters must be diligent, on both sides of the partisan divide — no politician should be safe simply because of their party affiliation or incumbent status.
OpenSecrets’ data from 1964-2016 show that incumbent Congressional members have an incredibly high re-election rate. They enjoy upwards of 90 percent for both House and Senate in 2016. This has been the case for many decades; the biggest drop in incumbent re-elections was in 1980, and even then more than half the returning members were re-elected.
Yet according to a Gallup poll from 2017, Congressional approval has steadily declined. In Dec. Congress had about a 17 percent approval rating. So what gives?
The way the U.S. legislative branch is set up, House representatives essentially have six months out of their entire two-year term that can be focused on bill passing or other capitol hill policies. The rest of the time, they’re focused on campaigning. In the Senate, it’s largely the same. Congresspeople must fundraise and appeal to big-name donors in order to pay for their campaigns. Even more, it’s not necessarily their fault. The average campaign costs $10 million according to OpenSecrets.com.
Candidates are paying to get their constituents’ attention. It’s the nature of political campaigning. But what voters need to be aware of is that their job as informed voters begins well before the campaign ads start rolling.
One website that is a valuable resource is the non-partisan online encyclopedia, BallotPedia. Visitors to the site can search their representatives and see their job history, voting history, committee assignments and so on. They’re voted as “Least Biased” on MediaFactCheck.com, and the system itself is extremely helpful for tracking the actions of representatives.
Following senators and house representatives on social media is also a great way to stay in the loop. Often they will update their followers frequently on their take on certain events in and out of Washington. They may also post videos of themselves speaking in session or out meeting constituents. But as always, check the context. Be sure to seek verification. from reputable online sources, transcripts, or full-length videos to see if what they are claiming is what they are doing.
And, of course, going to the Senate or House official websites will give researchers access to all roll call voting results as they become available. That way, smart voters can match what Congress members are saying to what they are actually doing.
Actions and words must line up, and Congress members must be doing what is in the best interest of the people. People won’t agree on what the best interest is. Different people of different backgrounds will put higher priorities on a variety of topics. That’s to be expected. But a representative’s words and beliefs should follow their actions. It’s easy to say something when the camera is turned on, but actions need to be consistent year round.
Voters need to know that they are being appealed to specifically for their vote, and they need to react intelligently. Be cautious of being courted, and hold Congress members accountable. Research, question and above all, vote smart.
Follow Nenah Mikuska on Twitter: @nenah_mikuska