Mayhew Analysis Paper In the book, Congress: The Electoral Connection, David Mayhew addresses his opinion about the political system, and centralizes his argument on the assumption that the only intent a member of Congress has is reelection. The bulk of his argument is the behavior by the members of Congress involving advertising, credit claiming, and position taking, which we discussed in class. Mayhew believes that these actions by the incumbent congressmen illustrate that they are more worried about keeping their seat, than anything else.
The first election activity mentioned in the book is advertising, which is defined by Mayhew as: “any effort to disseminate one’s name among constituents in such a fashion as to create a favorable image but having little or no issue content,” (49). By spending money on advertisement, the house incumbent has a sizeable advantage over their opponent. Mayhew’s distaste for this tactic comes from the sole purpose that most of it is done while the congressmen are in office.
In my opinion, I feel that Mayhew thinks of congressional elections as more of a popularity contest based on this statement, “There are standard routines—frequent visits to the constituency, nonpolitical speeches to home audiences, the sending out of care booklets and letters of condolence and congratulation,” (50). Mayhew realizes this is an unprincipled manner to get reelected, but it will not stop and congressmen will continue to take advantage of advertising anyway possible.
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The second behavioral motive Mayhew discusses in the book is credit claiming. This allows the incumbent to take credit for government accomplishments and look good to the constituents. The credit claiming tactic allows for a member of Congress to stick out as an individual rather than affiliated with a particular party. In order to do so, like we discussed in class, the congressmen must provide assets to the constituents that they can take absolute credit for.
Mayhew argues that a congressman may take advantage of this due to little knowledge, “For typical voters Capitol Hill is a distant and mysterious place; few having anything like a working knowledge of its maneuverings,” (69). Therefore, constituents have no way of knowing if the credit claimed by their congressman is valid or not. This is why Mayhew argues that this tactic is flawed because it may look to the constituents that the congressmen is putting in hard work, when really it is redundant actions to that district to help them get reelected.
However, like advertising, this is a very important reelection tool and the incumbent wants to appear loyal to the constituency. Mayhew discusses position taking, which is the third activity congressmen use in their pursuit for reelection. It is defined in the book as “the public enunciation of a judgmental statement on anything likely to be of interest to political actors,” (61). Mayhew argues here that most incumbent’s judgment involves speaking on the issue rather than acting on it. In class, we discussed what happens in a role call and the member must pick a side.
Mayhew states that most congressmen will take the conservative route and take the position that got them their seat to begin with. This validates Mayhew’s argument that most congressmen are content with their position due to the prestige that comes with it and it pays well. So why would they want to leave? A congressman who has been reelected before knows what the constituents want, causing them to take familiar stance on issues like they have in the past. These three tactics by incumbents seeking reelection draw enough conclusive evidence to contradict the following statement: “The U.
S. Congress is a representative institution that effectively responds to the preferences of a majority of Americans. ” The words representative, institution, and effectively caught my eye. Yes, there is representation, but it deems insignificant in the fact that it is more on the congressmen’s mind to stay in seat for their sake, rather than really helping the constituents according to Mayhew. There is no institution, it is a group of individuals each trying to create a positive image to the constituency through advertising.
In the United States Congress, congressmen do not need their party to win the nomination, “In America the underpinnings of ‘teamsmanship’ are weak or absent, making it possible for possible for politicians to triumph over parties,” (22-23). Mayhew uses the British Parliament as an example of strong party influence. The analysis and assessment of Mayhew’s argument on the reelection process allowed me to conclude that the accuracy of the statement above sounds true, but when broken down, it is not.
Mayhew made very strong and valid points about the incumbent’s process in order to remain in Congress. Also, relating back to class discussion, most members will vote in the direction that best suites them, which Mayhew talked about in part two of the book. It is apparent that with Mayhew’s argument that many congressmen put themselves ahead of their constituents, which is not appropriate representation. In conclusion, it is visible that the intent a member of congress has is reelection.
Mayhew clearly shows with his argument that the election activities of advertising, credit claiming, and position taking are done merely for reelection purposes and not for the betterment of the constituency. These three tactics have very little to do with legislation and more so with publicity and appeasing the district by miniscule deeds and conservative voting that the incumbent has done in the past. However, these three strategies are assets to current congressmen and they will continue to take advantage of them.
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