I was listening to election results on the radio recently and a phrase caught my attention. The commentator said that the Iowa caucus in the first week of 2012 was the beginning of the 2012 election cycle. I hadn’t thought about it before but the phrase “election cycle” is accurate in one sense but is false and misleading in another sense.
Every 2, 4 and 6 years there is an election in the US. The presidential election is on a 4-year cycle. A Representative in the US House of Representatives must stand for re-election every 2 years. And a Senator in the US Senate must stand for re-election every 6 years, but every two years one-third of the 100 Senators is involved in an election cycle. So, yes, there are election cycles.
But let’s look at the elections in a different way.
A Congressperson is up for an election every so often on a regular basis, hence the the name election cycle. But most of those Congress people, Representatives and Senators alike, are re-elected again and again and end up serving in the US Congress much longer than just one term in office. Here is are statistics about re-elections from the Internet
In November of 2004, 401 of the 435 sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives sought reelection. Of those 401, all but five were reelected. In other words, incumbents seeking reelection to the House had a better than 99% success rate. In the U.S. Senate, only one incumbent seeking reelection was defeated. Twenty-five of twenty-six (96%) were reelected.
My point is that what is actually happening before our eyes is so obvious that we, the electorate, don’t see it: that is, when we talk about the actual election process — putting people into elective office — we should refer to it as the “election re-cycle.” We are fooling ourselves to think otherwise. Incumbents have advantages over challengers: “perks in office, exposure via the media, campaign staff.” And they are in a position to gather much larger war chests for re-campaigning than are their challengers. Money is a major reason that a person elected to the US Congress tends to stay in Congress.
So, let’s refer to the congressional elections process as an election re-cycle. That way the American public will know what it is doing when it votes. They are unthinkingly tethered voting for the incumbent. Not a very democratic process in my view.