Disconnect Between Congressional Approval Ratings and Reelection Rates

Author: Tom Eder Faculty Mentors: Tina Lee and Zach Raff Department: Applied Social Science Institution: University of Wisconsin - Stout Institution Address: 712 Broadway St S, Menomonie, WI 54751

Congressional incumbent reelection rates over the last several decades have remained fairly consistent despite the growing dissatisfaction by the American public over the government's inability to pass meaningful policy. What has caused this disconnect between low approval ratings and reelection rates? In this project I answer this research question by analyzing campaign finance regulations, pork barrel spending to particular House districts and States, gerrymandering, congressional voting records, and corporate lobbying contributions. In the landmark Supreme Court ruling Buckley V. Valeo (1976) the Supreme Court effectively gutted campaign finance laws in the United States, overturning 26 State laws on spending limits for political campaigns and independent political organizations. This decision became precedent in subsequent cases resulting in a decline in US campaign finance regulations. I theorize that due to this landmark case we continue to see a government that is mostly concerned about the wealth of its donors, rather than the wellbeing of the general public. To test this theory I used a mixed method analysis of a quantitative analysis on campaign finance and policy outcomes, and a qualitative case study looking at state level debate over high speed rail in the Midwest. What I have found is the way in which we fund political campaigns is likely the cause of this disconnect. Buckley V. Valeo set the stage for corporations and wealthy donors to, over the last several decades, be able to more easily shape policy outcomes in their favor at least down to the state level. However, this theory is not a direct explanation for the states of Wisconsin and Ohio refusing federal funding for a high-speed rail project in the Midwest. This adds to literature on the impact of campaign finance on elections in US politics, incumbency advantage, and the decline of democratic institutions in the United States.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Thomas Eder

Institution: University of Wisconsin - Stout

Type: Poster

Subject: Political Science

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 10
Date/Time: Wed 1:30pm-2:30pm
Session Number: 6534