National Forces that Influence Congressional Elections

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  • 0:03 Elections
  • 0:56 State of the Economy
  • 1:56 President's Performance
  • 2:59 Conservativeness
  • 4:06 Decision to Run
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the biggest national forces that influence congressional elections, taking a look at how they affect the election results and how the public is influenced by them.


There are many things that influence the way an individual votes at the ballot box. The personal attributes of the candidate, who is the person running for a political office, are of the most important characteristics that a person takes into account. Another is the political party to which the candidate belongs. National forces, or issues currently facing the country as a whole, also determine how an individual votes. It is these forces and how they influence who runs for congressional office and the election outcomes that we will be looking at during this lesson.

State of the Economy

The state of the economy, or how healthy the country's finances are, affects elections because if the economy is in poor shape the voters blame it on the politicians. If the economy is good at the time of an election, then votes will reward those currently seated in Congress. If the economy is bad at the time of the election, then the voters punish those seated in Congress and put their votes elsewhere.

There are two different interpretations of the economy that can influence congressional elections: how the national economy is doing as a whole and how the personal voter's finances are. Studies have shown that personal family finances can influence voters at the ballot box. Alternatively, voters' views of how the economy as a whole nationally is faring also will influence how they vote.

President's Performance

The evaluation of the president's performance, or how the public views the way in which the president is performing, is also an important national force that influences congressional elections. When the president is viewed as more popular and successful, Congress is as well. However, the opposite is also true. Statistics show that this is even accurate when Congress is represented by a different majority party than the one to which the president belongs!

During an election, voters do not have a tendency ordinarily to remove a congressional incumbent, or the person who currently is holding a political office and is up for re-election. Voters do tend to remove a congressional incumbent, however, if the incumbent is of the same political party as the president. For example, if voters are frustrated with the performance of a democratic president and a democratic congressman comes up for re-election, the odds are great that this will affect how the voter decides.


The public's tendency to lean moderate or conservative as a general rule can influence congressional elections. Conservative voters seek to uphold traditional family structures, social values, less government action in social problems and tough crime response. A Gallup poll published in 2014 suggested that the majority of American voters would classify themselves as conservative or moderate.

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