With Donald Trump’s abrasive comments and Hillary Clinton’s controversial past dominating the 2016 election cycle, many American voters have overlooked the Congressional seats up for grabs in November.
Although 88% of seats in the House and Senate are up for reelection this year, the media has mostly swept these races under the rug. While Trump and Clinton have gone head-to-head in the Presidential debates and unveiled plans for their first 100 days of office, returning Congresspeople and up-and-coming hopefuls have been campaigning rigorously in their home states and districts.
With little national coverage, many voters do not understand that the upcoming election isn’t just about choosing their next President, but also their next representatives in the House and Senate.
While the title “Representative from Arizona’s Fifth District” may not be as glamorous as “President of the United States,” members of Congress play an important role in our government. When we hear that the Senate or the House of Representatives has passed a bill, what we don’t hear about are the months, if not years, of writing, editing, compromising, and lobbying that have made that bill possible.
Senators and Representatives do the majority of the work behind the scenes crafting and passing legislation. More importantly, legislators make sure the laws passed in their respective chambers reflect the views and beliefs of their constituents.
Fundamentally, shouldn’t this be the most important concern of this election—that representatives on Capitol Hill agree with the voters they represent? Unsurprisingly, in the absence of national discussion about the Congressional races, that priority has been left behind.
Furthermore, the 2016 election cycle is a potential turning point for Congress. Currently, Republicans control both chambers with a 57% majority in the House and a 54% majority in the Senate.
However, both majorities could disappear in less than 24 hours – if voters, specifically Democrats, show up to the polls. Ultimately, this would be ideal for the Democratic Party. Without a Democratic Congress, Hillary Clinton, if elected, will find it difficult to pass any substantial and effective legislation. Clinton’s plans to push gun control and infrastructure bills will be quickly shot down. The same goes for Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
Without a Congress that aligns with his or her political ideologies, the President will be restricted to executive actions, which, though powerful, cannot achieve the kind of systemic changes both candidates are pledging.
Ultimately, the Congressional races are not about the next president, but about the voters. With Congressional approval ratings at an abysmal 13%, the upcoming election is a chance for Americans to express their displeasure by bringing in new leadership.
As a nation we can elect Congressmen and -women whom we believe will work to enact legislation, instead of devoting their time to lobbyists and re-election efforts. Why should American media ignore this fact and fool the public into thinking that November 8th is a one-race election?
For this election season and those to come, American media and voters must look at the bigger picture of the government to anticipate real change. Instead of focusing on the nitty-gritty details of the presidential race, news outlets should make sure to cover congressional and presidential races equally. Without a Congressional majority in their favor, neither the incumbent party nor the American people can expect meaningful change. To achieve a real departure from the status quo, American voters must engage at every level of politics.