Welcome to my blog. I document my adventures in travel, style, and food. Hope you have a nice stay!

This proud teacher

I posed this very debatable question to A Level Politics students studying US politics: Is Congress representative? Below are their thoughtful and eloquent responses, which indicates the level of interest with which British youngsters are showing towards America.

Ahmed Youssef
Folks back home are introduced to fresh Congressional elections for the whole House of Representatives as well as a third of Senate seats every 2 years. Hence, there have been 8 elections since 1992. These elections are fixed, therefore politicians cannot choose to fight an election when it suits them. However, it is worth noting that despite Senators serving 6 years at a time – the composition of the Senate changes every 2 years, because elections are staggered.

Moreover, due to the fixed nature of elections, members of the House are required to constantly campaign on behalf of their constituents. Each constituent has 3 members of Congress – 2 Senators and a member of the House of Representatives. This clearly provides the ordinary constituent the privileged choice between figures of governance, unlike in many countries – including the UK.

Finally, voters also choose candidates in primaries. Candidates must therefore consider the views of loyal activists who vote in large numbers in these elections.

Ryan Mahon
Although my colleague has made some valid points, elections can make Congress less representative. Incumbency advantage means that only a few elections are truly competitive. In the 2006 mid-term elections fewer then 6 Senate seats switched sides. Furthermore, in 1994 just 8 Senate seats changed sides yet this was considered a landslide.

Re-districting of electoral constituencies also makes Congress less representative. Its use in the 2006 mid-term elections meant that only around 50 seats were considered competitive in the House.

Finally, whereas some Senators represent millions of voters such as Hillary Clinton in New York, others such as Olympia Snowe in Maine represent a few hundred thousand. The smaller states are therefore over-represented.

Elections are supposed to alter the political make-up of the country. How can elections make Congress more representative, if they do not allow its composition to significantly change?

Sama Kassim and Daniel Power
If you are questioning whether third parties are fairly represented in congress then the answer is simply yes. Granted, there are only two independent members of the senate and no members in the House of Representatives. Hence the Democrats and Republicans control 533 out of 535 seats in congress.

However, the two major parties represent a broad church of ideas – there exists an “umbrella party system.” This umbrella covers a wide range of sectors and thus leads to a lack of ideological space. For example, the Democrats fielded pro-gun candidates in the south in 2006, yet the party has traditionally called for tighter restrictions on gun ownership.

Furthermore, party discipline is weak in congress and therefore senators often feel free to vote as they please. This is evident as senator Joe Lieberman voted against pulling troops out of Iraq, despite most Democrats calling for withdrawal.

Sadeya Sultana and Hamza Abdelrahman
The locality rule means that congressman must come from the district they represent. Therefore they reflect the views of the folks back home. Furthermore, there are more than 50 African Americans in the House of Representatives.

However, only one African American, Barack Obama, is in the Senate. Moreover, anyone over 25 can stand for election for the House of Representatives. Contrary to this, the average age of a Senator is 61, and no one under 30 can become a member of the senate. Lastly, nearly 1/3 have military experience.

Thus, Congress only partly resembles America, although to achieve such parity is near impossible. To have that would be to ask a member of Congress to be all things to all people.

If I were a congressman, I would be…
Male…and female
Young…and old
Straight…and gay
Rich…and poor
Christian…and from all the other religions
White…and from all the other races
Upper-class…and from all the other classes
From California…and from all the other states
Republican…and Democrat

Mojgan Ahmed and Ashraf Attia
To a certain degree congress is effective in serving their constituents, as members of congress are expected to bring back the bacon (federal funds) to the folks back home (i.e. constituents). For example, Marcy Kaptur secured federal funding to expand the Toledo farmers’ market. In addition to this members of congress have an average of 30 members of staff answering constituents’ letters and drafting legislation. Moreover, they have offices in both their districts and Washington, thus allowing them to be able to represent the constituents effectively.

However, there has been greater emphasis placed recently on Pork Barrelling instead of focusing on the Folks Back home. In addition, the cost and frequency of campaigning means House members must utilise interest group finance. In 2006 $1billion was spent by Political Action Committees representing corporate groups. Moreover most incumbents face little competition. Do they really need to take notice of their constituents? Nancy Pelosi has been in the House for 20 years and is probably guaranteed election for another 20. If elections changed anything, they'd ban them.

No More Mr Nice

She's getting desperate