Voting Behaviour in Congress


Public Opinion / Constituency

  • Representative must take into account public opinion or they risk being voted out of office.
  • Congresspersons and Senators are subject to frequent elections, which provide public accountability due to the threat of removal.
  •  It can be argued that it is more important in the House due to elections taking place every 2 years, whereas in the Senate it is every 6 years.
  • However, separation of powers means strong levels of representation in both chambers.
  • People are more likely to vote for a candidate because of individual policies rather than their party label or leader.

An example of the above is when several Democrats opposed Obama's Affordable Care Act after speaking with their constituents.

1 of 4

Party / Party Leaders

  • Due to being a member of a party, the members are pressured to vote according to the party majority view.
  • A sense of belonging within the party encourages politicians to vote together.
  • Team competition encourages them to unite and stop the opposing party from gaining a majority.
  • Caucus meetings enable the party ideas to be spread among the party.
  • Leaders have a limited amount of patronage which can be used as encouragement to vote a certain way.

An example of Team Competition is when no Republicans voted for Obama's stimulus budget in 2009 primarily due to partisanship.

2 of 4

Congressional Caucuses

  • Caucuses are usually based on ideology but can be based on social characteristics.
  • Other caucuses are based on economic interests.
  • There are some caucuses which do not stick to party lines, meaning they comprise of both Democrats and Republicans.
  • They often come together to vote on legislative issues.

An example of an ideology based caucus is the Blue Dog Democrats.

An example of a social characteristics caucus is the Congressional Black Caucus.

An example of an economic caucus is the Congressional Steel Caucus which does not stick to party lines either.

3 of 4

Interest Groups / Lobbyists

  • These types of groups can influcence voting through donations to try and sway the opinion of a Congressperson or Senator to vote for policies concerning that group.
  • Large interest groups can mobilise to create a threat of removing members of Congress.
  • Politicians can be strongly influenced by lobbyists and big businesses as they can get a higher salary whilst working in one of these after leaving politics.

An example of an interest group which is large and can mobilise is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

This was also the case in 2012 when Obama tried to pass gun control legislation after the Newtown shootings but failed. Pressure from the National Rifle Association and other lobbyists carried more weight than public opinion.

4 of 4


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all Participation and voter behaviour resources »