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Mayhew: Congress

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Mayhew. 1974. Congress: The electoral connection.

In Brief

If it is assumed that Members of Congress (MCs) are single-minded seekers of reelection, then we would predict that MCs would devote substantial resources to three basic activities: Advertising (making yourself seen, e.g. franking, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, speeches, interviews), credit claiming (particularistic policies, pork, casework, etc), and position taking (using role call votes and speeches to stake out a popular position more than to change policy).

Mayhew does not actually claim that MCs are motivated exclusively by reelection; his goal is only to deduce the behaviors that we would expect if this assumption were true--behaviors, incidentally, which conform closely to reality.

Place in the Literature

This is an early rational choice analysis of Congressional elections. Mayhew places himself in the burgeoning "economic" school (as opposed to the earlier sociological school). For some of the possible implications of the reelection incentive, see Fenno (1978). For a review of where research on Congressional elections has gone in the years since Mayhew's book, see Jacobson (2004).

Main Argument

Reelection as the exclusive goal:

Effects of reelection as the exclusive goal:

Comments and Criticism

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Mayhew, David (author)American PoliticsElectionsIncumbency AdvantageCongress (U.S.)Electoral Connection

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