Congressional approval ratings have been pathetic in recent years. In fact, they hit single digits back in 2013. Yet, in that time, incumbents won reelection around 90% of the time. How can that be? There are several good reasons that incumbents have such a sterling track record with voters in spite of less-than-acceptable reputations. SPOILER ALERT: It is not all the voters’ fault.
First, we need to look at what it takes to run a campaign: money, and lots of it. This is where an incumbent has a clear advantage. The term “war chest” describes a reelection account where donations are collected in advance of the campaign. It is perfectly fine for a candidate to hold on to unused donations from their previous election while still collecting donations for an upcoming election. As of 2010, a Supreme Court decision called “Citizens United v. FEC” created a new entity called the Super PAC (political action committee). These groups are not limited in the amount of money they can accept from unions, corporations, and such, as long as they do not interact with a particular candidate’s campaign.
Have you ever wondered why your district looks like a snake that ate a Tonka truck? This is another strategy called “gerrymandering.” When census information shows a need for redistricting, the parties get together to figure out how they can best keep the most seats for themselves. The one rule is that the district must be contiguous, or connected. This often results in some very creative drawing that would make an abstract artist proud. Voters aren’t represented when this happens, they are traded like cattle. Red and blue eartags can be seen across the countryside. A sneaky-snaky fence divides the land of the plunder-pirating politicians.
The media also get in on the game. Confirmation bias is our natural desire to find opinions that we agree with. Most conservatives prefer Fox News. Liberals like MSNBC. Hot-button issues get a lot of coverage to keep the masses stirred up. On Fox you are far more likely to hear about how a wall is needed to keep out migrants. On MSNBC there will most likely be coverage of Trump’s last tweet and how he needs to be impeached. Putting everyone in a defensive position against the other side ensures that no one is willing to hear an opposing viewpoint. When everyone is yelling, no one gets heard.
I often hear people talking about how term limits are the obvious solution. I am here to say that will never happen. The only reason the presidency has term limits is because Congress voted for it. Do you really believe Congress will vote to limit itself? That is like telling the condemned man that the hangman is sick today, so he needs to pull the lever himself. It ain’t gonna happen.
I intend this discussion to be three parts. Today I introduced the problem. In the next two parts I intend to show the effects of the issue, and then offer a simple solution. I hope to see a lot of feedback in the comments. Until next time…