• The Green Papers: General Election and Congressional Elections 2008
• CQ Politics - Section on House, Senate and Gubernatorial races to watch in 2008
• Congresspedia - Wiki on Congressional elections by state for 2008
• State Primaries (Foreign Assistance Voters Guide) - List of state-level primaries by state and date; Includes candidates for governor and Congress
• Congress.org - State-by-state information on voter registration and upcoming elections; includes links to 2008 Congressional and state legislative races by state
• Public Financing of Congressional Elections: Background and Analysis (07/02/2007)
• Constitution on Congressional Elections
• eJournal The Long Campaign: Congressional Elections. L. Sandy Maisel (November 2007)
• America.gov: House, Senate Campaign Committees Set Strategies for 2008. (September 2007)
• America.gov: Major Parties Work To Recruit Winning Candidates for Congress. (December 2007)
• America.gov: Public Policy Expert Recaps Successes, Failure of 110th Congress (January 2008)
Statistics, Maps & Polls
• Polling Report: Congressional Elections 2008
• Office of the Clerk: Election Statistics
• Center for Responsive Politics: Candidate Profiles - List of Congressional District and Senatorial races by state; Lists Campaign Finances received and spent and campaign contributions by interest sector
• Politics1.com - Web links to Congressional and state-wide candidates
• Congressional and Gubernatorial Candidates: 2008 (UMich) - Spreadsheet of 2007 Governors and 110th Congressional incumbents indicating re-election or retirement plans; The Gubernatorial and Senate worksheets also list those not up for re-election in 2008.
When citizens throughout the United States went to the polls on November 4, 2008, they not only voted for president but also for all 435 members of the House of Representatives and for one-third of the United States Senate. Attention focused on the presidential election, but the congressional elections were equally important.
Factors in Electing Members of Congress
There are three basic elements determining congressional elections: partisanship of the district, the presence or absence of an incumbent, and the issues of the day. The U.S. political system has been described as a competitive two-party system; the Democratic and Republican parties have dominated U.S. politics since the middle of the 19th century. More than 99 percent of those elected to the Congress in recent years have been either Democrats or Republicans. A system with single-member districts and plurality winners favors a two-party system. Third-party or independent candidates, who would benefit from a system of proportional representation, gain no benefit from close finishes.The competition for control of the Congress has been intense in recent decades — just as it has for the presidency. However, the competition is not intense in every district and in every state. Some districts and even some states lean heavily toward one party or the other. For example, Democrats usually win in Massachusetts; Republicans, in Wyoming. Exceptions have occurred, but no politician will enter the 2008 congressional election without knowing the normal partisanship of district or state voters.
Election results can be explained by the presence or absence of an incumbent. For more than three decades, more than 95 percent of those incumbent members of the House of Representatives who have sought reelection have been successful. Incumbent U.S. senators have also been successful in achieving reelection. Even in elections in which many seats switch parties, more partisan turnover comes in seats where no incumbent is running. The effect of these factors is seen when one looks at potential candidates seeking party nominations to run for the House and Senate. In seats likely to be hotly contested — e.g., seats in which no incumbent is running in a district closely divided between Democrats and Republicans — it is likely that many candidates will run in each party's primary. If a seat is open but one party dominates the district, that party's primary is likely to see intense competition, but there will be little or no competition in the other party. Finally, if an incumbent is running, he or she is unlikely to face serious competition, and party leaders in the other party might have to scramble to find anyone to run. Each of these generalizations applies less to the Senate than to the House, because Senate seats are seen as more valuable and fewer election results can be easily predicted in advance. This article describes the composition of the U.S. Congress, the factors that come into play in congressional elections, and the possible impact of the 2008 elections on U.S. government policy. The author, L. Sandy Maisel, is a professor of government at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Representation and Election
In the late 18th century, when the United States’ founders were debating the form U.S. government would take, a major point of contention was how to determine the representation each state would have in the new Congress. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention from populous states argued for a scheme based on state population, while delegates from smaller states supported equal representation for each state, regardless of population. The bicameral legislature, proposed by Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, called for two houses, with representation based on population in one chamber (the House of Representatives) and equal representation in the other (the Senate).
Currently, all members of Congress are elected by a direct vote by the citizens of the state they represent. Prior to the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913, members of the House of Representatives had been elected directly by voters, but senators had been chosen by state legislatures. Every two years, voters elect or re-elect all 435 representatives and one-third of the senators. A new Congress begins the January after the November national elections. Since the First Congress, which met from 1789 to 1791, all Congresses have been numbered in order. The 111th Congress convened January 6, 2009, for the first of two sessions, one in each of the two succeeding calendar years. It is rare for Congress to remain in session for the entire year, especially in election years. The House and Senate usually meet in separate chambers in the U.S. Capitol but sometimes convene in a joint session of Congress. Such occasions include the counting of electoral votes for presidential elections, the president’s annual State of the Union Address, and speeches by visiting heads of state.
• PBS: Vote 2008 - Lesson Plans
• NYT: Elections in the United States - Lesson Plans
• This Nation: Voting in America
• Congress Link: Winning the Seat - A Congressional Election Simulation
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Updated: March 10, 2009