Elections as Instruments of Democracy

Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions

G. BINGHAM POWELL
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bwg8
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Elections as Instruments of Democracy
    Book Description:

    In this book, a leading scholar of comparative politics explores elections as instruments of democracy. Focusing on elections in twenty democracies over the past quarter century, G. Bingham Powell, Jr., examines the differences between two great visions of democracy-themajoritarianvision, in which citizens use the election process to choose decisively between two competing teams of policymakers, providing the winner with the concentrated power to make public policy; and theproportional influencevision, in which citizens use elections to choose political agents to represent their views in postelection bargaining, thereby dispersing power. Powell asks crucial questions for modern democracies: Which vision best serves as an instrument of democracy? What are the reasons and conditions under which each vision succeeds or fails?Careful analyses of more than 150 democratic elections show that each vision succeeds fairly well on its own terms in responsively linking election outcomes to policymaker selection, although advantages and limitations must be traded off. However, Powell concludes, the proportional influence vision and its designs enjoy a clear advantage in creating policy congruence between citizens and their policymakers-a finding that should give pause to those who are attracted to the idea of the decisive election as a direct tool for citizen control.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14340-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Part I Citizens, Elections, and Policy Making
    • 1 Elections as Instruments of Democracy
      (pp. 3-19)

      This book is an empirical study of elections. It examines elections in twenty democracies over the past twenty-five years — about 155 elections in all. Unlike most election studies, it is not concerned with explaining who won. It is a study of the roles that competitive elections can play in giving citizens influence over policymakers. It is a study of elections as instruments of democracy.¹

      This work is explicitly driven by a normative concern: the claim of democracies to be governments in which the people participate in policy making. In political systems with many people, such as modern nations, government...

    • 2 Constitutional Designs as Visions of Majoritarian or Proportional Democracy
      (pp. 20-44)

      Stable democracies work under a set of rules that specify how policymakers are to be chosen and how authoritative policies are to be made. These rules, whether embodied in a single document, a body of legislation, or just accepted practices, shape both the context and consequence of democratic elections. I refer to these rules as the constitutional design of a democratic political system. Although these constitutional rules can be changed, such changes are unusual. Most elections in a country are fought under the same rules that governed previous elections in that country.¹ After the election, policies are usually made according...

  7. Part II Responsiveness:: Connecting Votes, Governments, and Policymakers
    • 3 Accountability: Conditions for Citizen Control
      (pp. 47-68)

      Few contrasts between dictatorship and democracy are sharper than this one: in a democracy the citizens can vote the leaders out of office. The citizens’ ability to throw the rascals out seems fundamental to modern representative democracy because it is the ultimate guarantee of a connection between citizens and policymakers. It enables the citizens to hold the policymakers accountable for their performance. Such accountability is a keystone of majoritarian democratic theory.

      Let us begin with the fundamentals. In chapter 2 I discussed the constitutional designs in twenty countries assumed to be democracies. We would not call them democracies if their...

    • 4 Conditions for Mandates: Identifiability and Majority
      (pp. 69-88)

      The idea of party mandates seems to have appeared at the end of the nineteenth century as the first mass political parties, usually Socialist parties, were mobilizing new electorates in Western Europe.¹ The organizers of these new parties offered radical proposals for transforming the government and politics of their societies. They promised that if the voters would bring them to office, they would not only provide more equitable and sympathetic management of government, but use the power of government for change. They argued, moreover, that, having made policy commitments to the electorate, they were both authorized and obligated to carry...

    • 5 A Vision of Dispersed Political Power: Authorized Representation in Policy Making
      (pp. 89-121)

      One of the foundations of modern democracy is the assumption of the intrinsic equality of its citizens.¹ A closely related, but not identical, idea is that individuals are the best judges of their own interests and more likely than anyone else to want to protect those interests. Dahl suggests that these assumptions imply that in a democratic government “at the decisive stage of collective decisions, each citizen must be ensured an equal opportunity to express a choice that will be counted as equal in weight to the choice expressed by any other citizen. In determining outcomes at the decisive stage,...

    • 6 Testing the Visions: Responsiveness in Selecting Governments and Policymakers
      (pp. 122-156)

      In contemporary democracies elections are supposed to establish connections that compel or greatly encourage the policymakers to do what the citizens want. Throughout part 2, citizens’ voting choices are the reference point for assessing whether elections are creating such connections. Elections should lead to the selection of policymakers in a way that clearly follows from the citizens’ votes. I refer to this connection asresponsivenessin choosing policymakers.¹ If the connection is weak, if we can discern little relation between citizens’ choices at the election and the makeup of the policy-making coalition in the period between this election and the...

  8. Part III Congruent Representation:: Connecting Citizens’ Preferences, Governments, and Policymakers
    • 7 Citizen Preferences and Party Positions
      (pp. 159-174)

      Careful analysis of the role of voting choices of citizens in shaping policy making is essential to our understanding of democratic connections. Chapters 3 to 6 have offered this kind of analysis, describing the working of alternative visions of democracy in such terms. Two lines of thought suggest that this is enough. One argues the conceptual impossibility of comparing what the people want and what policymakers do. The other argues that votes are adequate indicators of what the people want. While each builds from an element of truth, the first argument is too pessimistic and the second too optimistic. We...

    • 8 The Majoritarian Policy Vision: Decisive Elections, Governments, and the Median Citizen
      (pp. 175-200)

      The majoritarian vision includes both a normative foundation and an empirical hypothesis. In the previous chapter I argued the case for policies at the position of the median voter as the appropriate normative standard from the majoritarian perspective. In a single-dimensional distribution, the policy at the position of the median voter can always defeat any alternative in a majority vote. Insofar as the left-right continuum reduces all dimensions to one superdimension, the median position on this continuum should have a powerful normative claim on majoritarian theory.

      In this chapter I shall assume the meaningfulness of the left-right continuum and the...

    • 9 The Proportional Influence Vision: Representing the Median Citizen Through a Multistage Process
      (pp. 201-230)

      The proportional influence vision, too, includes both a normative foundation and an empirical hypothesis. Chapter 7 discussed the position of the median citizen as a valuable normative standard from the proportional as well as the majoritarian perspective. If the preferences of the citizens can be understood as lying on a single superdimension, choosing the position of the median citizen minimizes the number of voters who would prefer the most popular alternative position. This is one way to interpret the idea that, when citizens disagree, governments should be responsive to as many people as possible.

      There are some difficulties with this...

  9. Part IV Conclusion
    • 10 Overview of Elections as Instruments of Democracy
      (pp. 233-254)

      This book explores the role that elections play in connecting the preferences of citizens and the selection of policymakers in twenty contemporary democracies. The exploration has been guided by the normative and empirical writings of scholars whose works articulate two great visions of elections as instruments of democracy. In the majoritarian vision citizens use elections to choose decisively between two competing teams of policymakers, providing the winner with the concentrated power to make public policy, allowing the loser only to continue to challenge in future elections. In the proportional influence vision citizens use elections to choose political agents to represent...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 255-282)
  11. References
    (pp. 283-292)
  12. Subject Index
    (pp. 293-296)
  13. Author Index
    (pp. 297-298)