Democracy at Risk

Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation, and What We Can Do About It

Stephen Macedo
Yvette Alex-Assensoh
Jeffrey M. Berry
Michael Brintnall
David E. Campbell
Luis Ricardo Fraga
Archon Fung
William A. Galston
Christopher F. Karpowitz
Margaret Levi
Meira Levinson
Keena Lipsitz
Richard G. Niemi
Robert D. Putnam
Wendy M. Rahn
Rob Reich
Robert R. Rodgers
Todd Swanstrom
Katherine Cramer Walsh
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Democracy at Risk
    Book Description:

    Voter turnout was unusually high in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. At first glance, that level of participation -largely spurred by war in Iraq and a burgeoning culture war at home -might look like vindication of democracy. If the recent past is any indication, however, too many Americans will soon return to apathy and inactivity. Clearly, all is not well in our civic life. Citizens are participating in public affairs too infrequently, too unequally, and in too few venues to develop and sustain a robust democracy. This important new book explores the problem of America's decreasing involvement in its own affairs. Democracy at Riskreveals the dangers of civic disengagement for the future of representative democracy. The authors, all eminent scholars, undertake three main tasks: documenting recent trends in civic engagement, exploring the influence that the design of political institutions and public policies have had on those trends, and recommending steps that will increase the amount and quality of civic engagement in America. The authors focus their attention on three key areas: the electoral process, including elections and the way people get involved; the impact of location, including demographic shifts and changing development patterns; and the critical role of nonprofit organizations and voluntary associations, including the philanthropy that help keep them going.

    This important project, initially sponsored by the American Political Science Association, tests the proposition that social science has useful insights on the state of our democratic life. Most importantly, it charts a course for reinvigorating civic participation in the world's oldest democracy.

    The authors: Stephen Macedo (Princeton University), Yvette Alex-Assensoh (Indiana University), Jeffrey M. Berry (Tufts), Michael Brintnall (American Political Science Association), David E. Campbell (Notre Dame), Luis Ricardo Fraga (Stanford), Archon Fung (Harvard), William A. Galston (University of Maryland), Christopher F. Karpowitz (Princeton), Margaret Levi (University of Washington), Meira Levinson (Radcliffe Institute), Keena Lipsitz (California-Berkeley), Richard G. Niemi (University of Rochester), Robert D. Putnam (Harvard), Wendy M. Rahn (University of Minnesota), Keith Reeves (Swarthmore), Rob Reich (Stanford), Robert R. Rodgers (Princeton), Todd Swanstrom (Saint Louis University), and Katherine Cramer Walsh (University of Wisconsin).

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9786-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Toward a Political Science of Citizenship
    (pp. 1-20)

    American democracy is at risk. The risk comes not from some external threat but from disturbing internal trends: an erosion of the activities and capacities of citizenship. Americans have turned away from politics and the public sphere in large numbers, leaving our civic life impoverished. Citizens participate in public affairs less frequently, with less knowledge and enthusiasm, in fewer venues, and less equally than is healthy for a vibrant democratic polity. Americans can and should take pride in the historical accomplishments of their constitutional democracy—in many ways, America remains a shining example to much of the world. But our...

  5. 2 National Electoral Processes
    (pp. 21-66)

    This chapter focuses on elections and the ways in which people get involved in the electoral process. We devote considerable attention to voting, of course, but also discuss the wide range of other activities that lead up to elections. We draw on a voluminous and venerable literature within political science, and our discussion by necessity reflects the strengths and weaknesses of generations of work on electoral participation. For example, we focus mainly (though not exclusively) on presidential and congressional elections because they have been subject to the most scrutiny by political scientists. Along the way, we draw attention to topics...

  6. 3 The American Metropolis
    (pp. 67-116)

    Place matters for civic engagement. Of course, personal characteristics such as education and income also matter, but the local circumstances in which citizens live and work have significant independent effects on whether they will get involved, with whom (and against whom) they will engage, and how successful their efforts will be. To begin with, a majority of Americans identify with their city or town and report that their place of residence gives them a sense of community.¹¹ Such identification can be an essential building block of citizenship, providing reasons for people to be interested and involved in political affairs.¹²


  7. 4 Associational Life and the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector
    (pp. 117-154)

    At the heart of civic engagement is associational life. Modern mass democracies need associations to organize communities, link neighbors to one another, integrate neighborhoods in cities and towns, and forge bonds between people across geographic distances. Associations are classrooms for citizenship and building blocks for broader political movements of all kinds. Obviously, formal political institutions and public agencies can do some of these things as well, but there has long been a widespread consensus that associations play a crucial civic role, and we agree. Associations can help to mobilize and organize individuals and groups within the polity, sometimes directly for...

  8. 5 Conclusion: Assessing Our Political Science of Citizenship
    (pp. 155-178)

    Many considered a republic of self-governing citizens to be impossible on the extended scale of the American nation in 1787. The Anti-Federalist opponents of the Constitution complained about not only the excessive size but also the excessive diversity of the consolidated thirteen states. In so vast and various a polity, the remote national government would not have the confidence of the citizens; neither would it be possible to keep government accountable to the people as a whole. The national legislature would be composed of “such heterogeneous and discordant principles, as would constantly be contending with one another.”¹ Finally, the Anti-Federalists...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 179-218)
    (pp. 219-220)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 221-228)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-230)