Press "Enter" to skip to content

Congressional elections | Political participation | US government and civics | Khan Academy

– [Instructor] Here’s a statistic
that might surprise you. 95% of elected officials
who seek reelection in the United States get reelected. Just look at this graph that
shows the rate of reelection for members of the US
House of Representatives. It hovers all the way up here. It stands to reason that
if you have two candidates for every office, one from each party, it would be about 50% of
the time the candidates would be reelected, but
it’s so much more than that. In this video on Congressional elections, I want to talk about some
of the structural aspects. That is, the way things
are set up in Congressional elections that leads to
this really high number. What are the advantages
of being an incumbent, that is, the person who already
holds a political office? So what kind of advantages
does an incumbent have simply for already occupying an office? Well, say maybe there’s a
Senate race between Candidate Green, call her Amy
Green, and Candidate Rose. Maybe he’s Ken Rose. Now what sort of advantages Amy Green just because she already
holds the Senate seat? Well, one of her advantages
is that she has a staff, she has people whose job it is to answer the phone calls of constituents, make them feel heard. They can do all sorts
of things to help her. She also has the advantage of mail. Members of Congress can
send out mail for free, whereas Candidate Rose over
here has to pay for staff and pay for mail. Already, that’s a lot of money. The other thing that Candidate
Green has going for her is name recognition. She’s already been a successful
candidate, which shows that she knows how to win an election and there’s a lot of advantage
to having name recognition. It’s its own kind of advertising. Are you going to vote for someone you’ve never heard of before or someone who frequently appears in the media who could be going to local or state events, school openings. You get a lot of face time
simply from occupying a seat, and that’s free advertising as well. The last aspect is money. Because of this incumbency advantage, and this is little bit
of a repeating cycle, interest groups, lobbyists,
and others are far more likely to give money to the
candidate who is already in a position because they know that candidate is likely
to win and therefore, their money is going to get them access to that candidate who will
hear out their concerns and perhaps look upon them favorably. So compared to all of this, Candidate Rose has a really uphill battle. He’s got to pay for a lot of things that the incumbent doesn’t have to, he doesn’t have the name
recognition or the automatic media attention, and he’s
viewed less favorably by the people who might give money. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity. Another advantage that incumbents have is that they get to draw voting districts at least every 10 years in
response to the US Census and changes in populations,
the districts and states must be redrawn. Politicians do that redrawing
and they tend to use this opportunity to create
safe districts for themselves, safe being districts where the voters who are arranged
geographically will be likely to vote them back into power. Those in power will also
generally use this opportunity to attempt to harm their opponents in a process known as gerrymandering. There are two other major
factors that contribute to whether a Congress member is reelected. One of them is in each state, the form that their primary takes. Some states like Iowa have
caucuses where party members gather to vote on who
their nominee should be. These are very tightly
controlled by the party. There are closed primaries where only the registered members of a party may vote on their party’s nominees for election, and then there are open primaries, where any registered voter
can vote for a party nominee, even if they belong to the opposing party. So the form estates primary
takes as a strong effect on how tight the party
control is over that process. The last factor affecting
Congressional elections is whether or not they coincide with a presidential election. There’s much higher voter
turnout for presidential elections since there’s a
great deal of interest in them and money spent on them, and that means that you tend to get a broader
sample of the population. More people are likely to vote,
so you’ll have a better idea of how the American voting
public is feeling more generally, but in midterm elections,
which are those elections that don’t fall at the same time as a presidential election,
voter turnout is lower, and that means that it’s gonna
be the really engaged voters who are often strongly
aligned with a party that will come out. Midterm elections also tend
to punish the party in power, so when the president is highly regarded and doing well, his or her
party tends to gain seats, but if the president is
doing poorly or has a low public opinion rating,
then Congressional seats will often go to the opposite party. You can see here this
chart of net gain and loss of the president’s
party, and in most cases, the president will gain a few followers in the first midterm election. See here, George W. Bush, 2002. His party gained both
House and Senate seats, but often in the sixth year
of a two-term presidency, voters harshly punish
the president’s party. You can see that in George
W. Bush’s sixth year, the Republicans lost 30 House seats and six Senate seats, and
a similar effect happened with Barack Obama in 2014. The Democrats lost 13 House
seats and nine Senate seats. So there’s a strong correlation
with the president’s party and the fates of members
of Congress who belong to that party.


  1. Hello There Folks
    Hello There Folks June 14, 2018


  2. Mason G
    Mason G June 14, 2018


  3. Solehin Sabtu
    Solehin Sabtu June 14, 2018

    Khan Academy now part to institutionalize it's last few freemen into accepting unjust corrupt "authority" that does little effort to serve it's people. Bought and paid politicians.

    HSCMACE June 16, 2018

    i mean i'm not american but interesting stuff u know

  5. Hg mercury
    Hg mercury June 16, 2018

    Misread title i read it as congressional electrons

  6. RantKid
    RantKid June 19, 2018

    we need to change election policy. Incumbents should not be using taxpayer time and money to run their campaign. If they're on the clock, they need to be working for us, not themselves. This should make everyone upset, as that's the only thing that will make change.

  7. Security, Safety & Automation Experts
    Security, Safety & Automation Experts December 8, 2018

    not according t the text

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *