Publications / Policy Brief

It’s About (the) Time: Ending the Nonstop Campaign

By / 10.31.2011

Somewhere in the last two decades, politicians began to believe that the way to win an electoral majority is not to prove that you can govern well, but to prove that you can campaign.

Today, politicians are caught in an ever-escalating, never-ending, 24-hour, 365-day campaign cycle dominated by the burden of raising enough money to wage a campaign creditably. For incumbents, the heft of a candidate’s war chest is what keeps potential challengers at bay—which means that even the safest members need the insurance of a sizeable sum of cash on hand. And for every candidate, last quarter’s results are just about the only proxy by which a candidate’s viability is judged.

The constant horserace over money (not ideas) has taken its toll on the quality of governance. For example, the Rasmussen report released a poll in Julyfinding that 85 percent of Americans view members of Congress as “just out for their own careers.” Almost every poll finds Congress’s approval rating in the single digits.

Second, serious debate about any issue—e.g., the federal budget or taxes—is virtually impossible because there is no “safe period” in which an issue can’t be turned into a political football. Moreover, politicians simply have no time to devote to learning the arcana of policy. They are too busy attending fundraisers. As Republican freshman Richard Nugent said, “As soon as I got to Congress, people started asking me if I had started fund-raising,” Nugent said. “I was amazed at that. It seems to me that a person ought to get some results first before you start getting too focused on re-election. Otherwise, what on earth are the voters sending you to Washington to do?”

Read the entire policy brief.