Members of the House and Senate are required to vote on numerous occasions annually. In 2007, representatives cast a total of 1,186 votes. Political parties play a significant role in influencing the voting decisions of congress members. However, unlike in the United Kingdom where party whips hold considerable power, their influence in Congress is relatively weak. Congress members cannot be compelled to align their votes with the party’s stance as party whips lack effective means of persuasion. Additionally, unlike the UK system, congress members cannot be deselected by their party as candidate selection is determined by the public through primaries.
Joseph Lieberman, a former Democratic senator, was deselected by the Democratic party in Connecticut. However, he ran as an independent candidate and successfully gained the votes of Republican supporters, ultimately defeating the Democrat candidate who took his place. Additionally, there are significant party divisions within the parties themselves. Southern Democrats tend to have a more conservative approach in certain political areas, while Democrats from the east coast are perceived to be more liberal.
Both factions within the party are inclined to have conflicting opinions on matters like the economy and moral dilemmas such as abortion, indicating that parties lack ideological and geographical unity. Another factor that influences voting in Congress is constituents. This greatly affects the House since its members face re-election every two years, unlike Senators who serve six-year terms. Representatives must vote in a manner consistent with their district’s desires to ensure success in the primaries and secure another term.
Personal views play a role in Congressional voting, especially on social and moral matters like euthanasia and abortion, independent of party whips. These issues held importance during the 2004 presidential election but surprisingly diminished in significance during the 2008 presidential election. This suggests that social and moral concerns carry more weight during times of economic prosperity as opposed to periods of economic depression.
One reason often cited for Obama’s 2008 presidential election win is pressure groups, who use money as their most influential tool. Pressure groups such as PACs can provide financial support to campaigns of congress members who vote in favor of legislation that benefits the group. It should be noted, however, that this correlation does not always hold true. In the case of congress member Mike DeWine in 2006, he voted against a key legislative priority of the NRA and subsequently suffered defeat in the congressional election.
Pressure groups with large memberships significantly impact congressional voting, such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which is the largest pressure group in the United States. AARP’s vote holds great significance due to their high likelihood of voting. Additionally, staff and peers play a role in influencing congressional voting. Despite busy schedules, Congress members manage to thoroughly review legislation before casting their vote.
This leads to members of Congress having to rely on their staff, who read the legislation on their behalf, to present them with a balanced argument before they can make an informed decision. Congress members can also seek guidance from more experienced and trusted peers when determining how they should vote. In general, there are multiple factors that impact congressional voting. However, after carefully examining these factors, I have concluded that pressure groups and constituents hold significantly greater influence on congressional voting. This is because they ultimately have the power to support or undermine a congress member’s political career.