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Congress: The Electoral Connection (Yale Studies in Political Science)
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Top Customer Reviews
What does that mean? It means that well organized groups of voters (the much maligned but rarely understood "special interest groups") dictate policy. Our founding fathers called these groups "factions" and believed that they were the biggest threat to self government. They were right. Organized groups of politically active voters call the shots, and their agendas rarely comport with the public interest.
Mayhew simply calls it as he sees it. He draws no conclusions, but they should be self evident to the reader. To understand democratic government, one must understand politics. And to understand politics, one simply must read Mayhew.
The book is also relevant beyond the realm of theory. Mayhew casts serious doubt upon the conventional belief that campaign finance reform, term limits, or a host of other proposed reforms will control the power of these factions.
I've working in the public policy world in Washington for over a decade, and everything Mayhew argues comports well with my experience in dealing with elected officials and their staff members. The bitter truth is that neither facts, data, nor reasoned analysis has anything to do with public policy in America.
Even if you disagree with Mayhew, you can't have an informed opinion about politics without grappling with the arguments in this book.
"Congress: The Electoral Connection" is considered by political scientists to be one of the most important books published within their discipline in the past 30 years. They're right; it is an absolute classic and a must read!
David Mayhew assessed that the main goal of congressmen was to gain re-election. In this never ending quest for popular support, the legislative and oversight duties of congressmen takes a back seat to advertising, credit claiming and position taking. In other words, Congress' vast resources are expended in allocating benefits to small constituencies and not toward responsible, cohesive and nationally oriented public policy. Staff and office material are used for keeping in touch with constituents and casework. Committees are platforms for position taking and pork barrel politics. And parties and party leaders focus on doling out favors, setting agendas and protecting the habits and routine of the organization. This results in delay, narrow policies directed at small segments of the population, a tendency to favor the legislative preferences of organized constituencies, especially those with a proven power to deliver money, manpower and votes, and finally symbolism. The end product is poor public policy with little cohesion and direction.
Mayhew's assessment of what drives individual members of Congress could be debated. But his conclusion that the policy making is fragmented and disjointed is difficult to argue with.
He's well qualified to address this topic, having taught at Yale on political and legislative institutions since 1968.
Mayhew concludes that the main motivation behind what United States Congressmen say and do is not the best interests of the folks back home or even the well-being of their country - they are mainly concerned with their own reelection. In fact, he goes further, dismissing the idea that reelection is one of many motivations of Congressmen, saying that they are "...indeed, in their role [in Washington] as abstractions, interested in nothing else." He goes on in this book to display evidence, in the name of activities of Congresspeople and the policies and institutions of the House of Representatives, that supports his thesis well.
Don't be dismissed by the book's brevity and breezy tone. It's packed with insight and supportive data. And, don't think that this 1974 book is irrelevant to today's Congress. The themes and pressures ring true to today's world.
The conclusions are disheartening to those of us hoping for more from our elected leaders, but Mayhew's tone isn't cynical, just factual. Congress: The Electoral Connection is a foundation on which a library of research has been conducted on US political institutions. Political science students and those interested in how the direction of our country is set should read it.