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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Members, Goals, Resources, and Strategies


In today's world, we make several reasonable assumptions about members of Congress. We assume that most of them will seek reelection, and, if they do not, it is because they are seeking another elective office or are retiring. We expect that legislators have the ability to get back to their districts and states on most weekends to attend civic functions and meet with constituents. We take for granted that legislators can answer the mail, deal with the government problems of constituents, and address the policy concerns of House districts that average about 700,000 people and states that average more than 6 million people.

These assumptions are fairly accurate, but Congress has not always been this way. Only in the last few decades have nearly all legislators sought reelection. In the late 1800s, it was common for two-thirds or less of House members to run for reelection. Even in the 1940s, two out of 10 legislators sat out the next election. But in recent Congresses, 90–95 percent of incumbents sought reelection. Moreover, the technology, resources, and staff required to make frequent trips home and to be responsive to ever-expanding constituencies are of recent vintage. Since the 1950s, office budgets have quadrupled and personal staffs have doubled in size.

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Smith, Steven S. Informal Leadership in the Senate Leading Congress Washington Congressional Quarterly Press 1990 71