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Congress and Popular Opinion

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  • Politics
Last response: in News & Leisure
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When a Congressman's conscience is in conflict with the strong opinion of his constituency, should he:

Total: 26 votes (4 blank votes)

  • Vote according to his conscience.
  • 28 %
  • Vote according to the will of his constituents.
  • 41 %
  • Try to find a middle ground between the two.
  • 19 %
  • Abstain from voting on that bill.
  • 14 %
September 3, 2009 3:34:15 PM

I was recently reading JFK's Profiles in Courage. It got me thinking, when a Congressman strongly believes one way about something, and his constituency strongly believe the other way, what is his duty? I'm not sure myself, so I'll let others battle it out before I cast my vote. :) 

More about : congress popular opinion

September 6, 2009 1:15:04 AM

I'm not going to cast vote in the poll because I don't think there's a clear-cut answer.

In some cases the representative should bow to the will of the electorate, but in other cases where the will of the electorate is not in the best interests of society, I think the representative should show leadership by explaining his position and voting accordingly.
September 6, 2009 1:22:01 AM

@ sminlal, Please understand I'm not taking sides yet, just wanting to explore both sides more. How do you know when something is in the best interest of society? Doesn't it still come down to the people or the lawmaker deciding what's best? What I guess I'm looking for in your position is some objective standard by which we can know what is best. I'm all for doing what's best, but how do we know what that is?
September 7, 2009 9:45:26 PM

Bolbi said:
I was recently reading JFK's Profiles in Courage. It got me thinking, when a Congressman strongly believes one way about something, and his constituency strongly believe the other way, what is his duty? I'm not sure myself, so I'll let others battle it out before I cast my vote. :) 


Those are honest, straightforward answers that you or I would use as a solution. Personally, I'd go ahead and vote the way my conscience said to unless I got a huge backlash from my constituents. In that case, I would abstain from voting on the bill as there is no way I would vote for something I didn't agree with. Congressmen aren't quite so simple, though. A real Congressman would do something more like the following if they were opposed to a bill that their constituents wanted:

1. Look to see if the bill is likely to pass or not. If it is unlikely to pass, vote for it. You will get what you want, which is the bill failing. The constituents will get what they want, which is you voting for the bill. If the bill looks like it is going to pass by a wide margin, vote for it anyway. You weren't going to affect the bill's passage with your vote, but your vote for the bill will help you to get re-elected. Remember that in politics, getting re-elected is Job #1. If the bill looks like it could go either way, now is the time when you have to get sneaky to try to get it to fail while still appearing to support it (and pick the options below.) Note that most of them involve getting others to do things that help you such that it doesn't look to your constituents that you tried to sabotage the bill. Yes, politics is that sleazy.

2. Try to cut deals with Congressional buddies of yours that were going to vote for the bill to vote against it. This will allow you to vote for the bill and please your constituents while actually serving your conscience by getting the bill defeated.

3. Get a fellow Congressman or -woman to get an amendment or other text in the bill that would make the bill unpalatable to your constituents. An example would be putting an amendment repealing the oil drilling bans off the West Coast in a bill that makes incandescent light bulbs illegal. The environmentalists would love the original bill but would hate the amendment more than they would the original bill, so the original bill loses its original support and dies.

4. Get a fellow Congressman or -woman to put something that you actually want put into the bill so that you can in good conscience vote for it. An example would be if you are a conservative elected from a liberal district and your constituents want you to vote for the Senate version of H.R. 3200 but you can't stomach the thought, get a tort reform amendment put in the bill so you can better stomach a vote for the bill.

5. Try to convince your constituents that they do not really want to support the bill by airing political ads and holding public lectures where you try to sell your ideas to your constituents (aka "town hall meetings.")

I am sure there are a lot more ways to do this, but I am not a politician and don't know how deep the cesspool of political sleaze tactics is.
September 7, 2009 11:37:51 PM

Very good post, MU_Engineer. I too think that it should be clear-cut, while backdoor methods are often used such as you mentioned above. I've thought about it more, and now believe that the congressman should vote his conscience. After all, when he was elected, he explained his ideas and positions to the people who elected him . If they want to get rid of him in four years, so be it. We must not forget that we elect people who have wills independent from ours. It probably would be immoral to force them to do something against their consciences. At least for US citizens, we must remember that we are a republic, not a democracy (no matter how many times George Bush messed that one up). In republics, elected officials make the laws. It is in democracies that the people make the laws directly. We would be effectively a democracy if elected officials always voted according to their constituencies.
I have to add a caveat here. This only works well if everyone is honest. The people must honestly examine the politician, who must honestly present his views, and then honestly vote according to them while he is in office. In cases where a politician wishes to switch his major ideology mid-term (think Arlen Specter), there should be a special election to ensure that the people are honestly represented.
September 8, 2009 5:43:55 PM

Bolbi said:
How do you know when something is in the best interest of society?
That is indeed a tough question, and so I guess it ultimately comes down to the lawmakers' conscience. But I think MU_Engineer is much more astute in that appearances are more important than principles for most politicians. Unfortunately it's the nature of the game...
Anonymous
September 8, 2009 6:37:25 PM

Which ever gives you the largest wad of cash under the table

Just kidding, its a tough one, I guess I would follow option 1, but that may not keep my job secure for too long
September 8, 2009 6:46:21 PM

The other question is if a majority of the constituents actually do feel strongly, or even have any idea what is in the bill. Sometimes a vocal minority (and/or the media) will stir up controversy or misrepresent what a bill actually is. Most people don't read bills and only know as much as they hear from others. I think the true problem is that too much legislation is passed in the first place, and no one really knows exactly what is in it.
September 8, 2009 7:22:21 PM

donpacific2k said:
The other question is if a majority of the constituents actually do feel strongly, or even have any idea what is in the bill. Sometimes a vocal minority (and/or the media) will stir up controversy or misrepresent what a bill actually is. Most people don't read bills and only know as much as they hear from others. I think the true problem is that too much legislation is passed in the first place, and no one really knows exactly what is in it.

Very true that a majority may not be accurately represented when there's a lot of clamor going on. That's why I said a strong majority, i.e., the majority of those who strongly care enough to get active. I must admit, I have little sympathy for those who are apathetic until after a bill has been passed.
Agreed that too often people don't really know what's in a bill before praising or condemning it. And agreed that too much legislation is passed. I think they do it so that their pile of dozens of 1,000+ page bills will bury the Constitution to the point that most people ignore it! ;) 
February 25, 2010 6:46:22 PM

The job of the politician, as current politicians have long ago forgotten, is to do the will of their constituency. They represent us, not the other way around.

If I was in office, although I am strongly against abortion, I would have to vote according to the majority of the area I represent, which in my area would be to vote pro-choice. Across the entire country, things are different. There is no majority on either side or this issue, so a national position, such as President or VP, would have to abstain. the country has not made up their minds, so the President or VP should not take a stand either way.

The guys in Washington have forgotten this. they need to be reminded, and that is the purpose of the Tea Party movement. It is not to endorse the Republican party. It is to oppose the spending we are seeing in Washington on both sides.

Personally, I have about a 30% approval rate for Republicans, but I have about a 10% approval rate for Democrats. So, I wind up voting Republican most of the time. I really just want their noses out of my business and their hands out of my wallet. They deserve neither. They have the right to neither. I'm not doing anything illegal, so they have no business looking through my e-mail (I bet you didn't know the NSA was doing that) and I don't make enough to be giving all willy-nilly to rich contractors, so they shouldn't be taking what little I have.
February 26, 2010 5:18:34 AM

dgingeri said:
The job of the politician, as current politicians have long ago forgotten, is to do the will of their constituency. They represent us, not the other way around.

No. The job of a politician is to get reelected. Anything else is incidental.
March 4, 2010 5:17:06 AM

They should do as their constituency desires. There's a reason we call them REPRESENTATIVES.
March 4, 2010 1:02:49 PM

Ah yes, participation and representation. If people did not vote, or did not vote for you, do you have a duty to represent them as their participation if any had nothing to do with getting you elected.
April 4, 2010 2:53:51 AM

An elected representative should do as his/her district or state says, regardless of which faction voted for him/her more. Ie. The two Iowa Senators in Congress should do what the majority of Iowans want, regardless of whether one is Democrat and the other is a Republican, in all honesty, they should both vote the same way 90% of the time, and that's the way that Iowans say they should vote.

Representatives are the voice of a people, only in extremely rare situations should they vote against the will of their district/state.
April 5, 2010 8:56:23 AM

And pigs fly.
April 13, 2010 3:01:28 AM

Who voted me down? And why? Really.
April 13, 2010 1:06:03 PM

Dekasav said:
Who voted me down? And why? Really.

Don't think it was me, but I can reply for whoever it was. Now before I get started please understand: I am a conservative, I am dedicated to the Constitution and the intent of the US Founders, and I am very upset at all that the current administration and Congress are doing. So please don't see me as the enemy!
That said, I believe that under our representative system, we elect people. Okay, a no-brainer. :D  But we have to realize that people are all faced with different pressures, different situations, different upbringings, different philosophies, etc. It would be horrible to force someone to vote against his conscience. If you don't like the way your representative votes, you can get rid of him (I mean in a non-violent way, of course) next election cycle! That's the purpose of a republic as opposed to a pure and simple democracy: representatives decide what the laws will be, not the people directly (except for rare ballot measures).
April 26, 2010 5:39:59 AM

Representative are supposed to represent the people's opinion, not their own.
July 11, 2010 3:05:51 AM

Sounds Like a Moral Relativity Issue when it adheres to what do you do under pressure, I would kinda of have it go through a revision and see if its an easier decision for him to make rather than under yes-no-maybe so
January 9, 2011 1:51:53 PM

This topic has been closed by Reynod
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