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Designing Democratic Government

Designing Democratic Government: Making Institutions Work

Margaret Levi
James Johnson
Jack Knight
Susan Stokes
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    Designing Democratic Government
    Book Description:

    What are the essential elements of a democracy? How can nations ensure a political voice for all citizens, and design a government that will respond to those varied voices? These perennial questions resonate strongly in the midst of ongoing struggles to defend democratic institutions around the world and here at home. In Designing Democratic Government, a group of distinguished political scientists provides a landmark cross-national analysis of the institutions that either facilitate or constrain the healthy development of democracy. The contributors to Designing Democratic Government use the democratic ideals of fairness, competitiveness, and accountability as benchmarks to assess a wide variety of institutions and practices. John Leighly and Jonathan Nagler find that in the U.S., the ability to mobilize voters across socioeconomic lines largely hinges on the work of non-party groups such as civic associations and unions, which are far less likely than political parties to engage in class-biased outreach efforts. Michael McDonald assesses congressional redistricting methods and finds that court-ordered plans and close adherence to the Voting Rights Act effectively increase the number of competitive electoral districts, while politically-drawn maps reduce the number of competitive districts. John Carey and John Polga-Hecimovich challenge the widespread belief that primary elections produce inferior candidates. Analyzing three decades worth of comprehensive data on Latin American presidential campaigns, they find that primaries impart a stamp of legitimacy on candidates, helping to engage voters and mitigate distrust in the democratic process. And Kanchan Chandra proposes a paradigm shift in the way we think about ethnic inclusion in democracies: nations should design institutions that actively promote—rather than merely accommodate—diversity. At a moment when democracy seems vulnerable both at home and abroad, Designing Democratic Government sorts through a complex array of practices and institutions to outline what works and what doesn’t in new and established democracies alike. The result is a volume that promises to change the way we look at the ideals of democracy worldwide.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-350-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Margaret Levi, James Johnson, Jack Knight and Susan Stokes

    The spread of democracy arguably is the single most significant political phenomenon of the past one hundred years. The Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen reports that when pressed to identify “the most important thing that had happened in the twentieth century,” he considered several alternative possibilities, but he “did not, ultimately, have any difficulty in choosing one as the preeminent development of the period: the rise of democracy.” Sounding a similar note, Freedom House issued a report proclaiming the twentieth century “Democracy’s Century.”

    There are good reasons for embracing pronouncements such as these. The spread of democracy may be a...

  6. Part I Organization of Interests

    • Chapter 1 Mobilizing Institutions and Class Bias in U.S. Electoral Politics, 1964 to 2004
      (pp. 19-39)
      Jan E. Leighley and Jonathan Nagler

      Most systematic evidence regarding elite mobilization of voter turnout focuses specifically on mobilization by political parties and fails to account for the diverse set of political elites who typically seek to mobilize voter turnout. In addition, a few studies have documented changes in the nature of these mobilization patterns over time. We expand on the traditional “party-centered” approach and assess the extent to which income determines whom party and nonparty organizations mobilize, and whether income has become more important as a predictor of being mobilized over the past forty years. Data are drawn from the American National Election Study Cumulative...

    • Chapter 2 Barriers to Participation for Whom? Regulations on Voting and Uncompetitive Elections
      (pp. 40-61)
      Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan

      A great deal of attention has been directed at understanding how state laws regulating such things as advance registration (see, for example, Rosenstone and Wolfinger 1980), felon voting laws (Manza and Uggen 2006), residency requirements, and other aspects of elections might limit a citizen’s willingness or ability to turn out and vote (see McDonald and Samples 2006; Berinsky 2005; Brians and Grofman 1999; Franklin 1999). But these kinds of restrictions are only part of the equation when we consider political participation. Citizen interest in politics is another and—we argue—just as important a component. Citizen interest is also something...

    • Chapter 3 Mobilizing Political Engagement and Participation in Diverse Societies: The Impact of Institutional Arrangements
      (pp. 62-88)
      Susan A. Banducci and Jeffrey A. Karp

      Calls for group or descriptive representation in a democracy—when representative institutions share proportionally the sociodemographic characteristics of the population—are based on several different arguments. First, underrepresentation of minority groups may occur from discriminatory practices, and enhancing or assuring group representation is one way of overcoming this systematic discrimination. If people belonging to a minority community express preferences as members of that community, electoral arrangements ought not to prevent these interests from being expressed (Kymlicka 1995). Second, representation of minority interests is assumed to influence policy outcomes. Although Hannah Pitkin (1967) questions the effectiveness of descriptive representation, others, such...

    • Chapter 4 Ethnic Invention: A New Principle for Institutional Design in Ethnically Divided Democracies
      (pp. 89-114)
      Kanchan Chandra

      Is it a good idea for Rwanda, with its history of violence between Hutus and Tutsis, to stop classifying citizens by ethnicity in its census? Is it appropriate for Nigeria, with its history of ethnic violence, to have a two-party instead of a multiparty system? Is Iraq, with its conflicts between Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, better off with a proportional rather than a first-past-the-post electoral system? Is it appropriate for the United States, with its history of racial conflict between a white majority and an African American minority, to institutionalize majority-minority electoral districts? Should Sri Lanka, with its long-standing civil...

  7. PART II Bounds of Minority Group Representation

    • Chapter 5 Evaluating the Impact of Redistricting on District Homogeneity, Political Competition, and Political Extremism in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1962 to 2006
      (pp. 117-140)
      Thomas L. Brunell and Bernard Grofman

      Language much like Robin Toner’s has appeared in op-ed columns throughout the United States since the 1990s. It is now part of the common wisdom that the steady decline in the number of competitive congressional seats—a decline commonly linked to changes in redistricting practices—is one of the major reasons why American politics has become more polarized. Although it is clear that Congress has become more polarized (see Rohde 1991; Jacobson 2000), the underlying causal factors for this polarization are much less clear. The causal path that is most often proposed to link polarization and redistricting is something like...

    • Chapter 6 Redistricting Institutions and Competition in U.S. House Districts
      (pp. 141-163)
      Michael P. McDonald

      Political Theorists Define democracy in terms of electoral competition. Joseph Schumpeter (1950, 269) calls democracy a “competitive struggle for people’s vote.” For Robert A. Dahl (1984, 225) it is “a system of control by competition.” Electoral competition further supports characteristics often associated with a healthy democracy, such as strong party organizations (Rosenthal 1998, 195), higher voter turnout (see chapter 2 in this volume, by Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan), targeted voter mobilization efforts by the political parties (Cox and Munger 1989; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993), and accountability, or, in G. Bingham Powell Jr.’s (2000, 47) words, “The citizens’ ability to...

    • Chapter 7 An Evaluation of the Electoral and Behavioral Impact of Majority-Minority Districts
      (pp. 164-188)
      David Lublin and Gary Segura

      The Voting Rights Act (VRA), passed in 1964, has played a critical role in increasing the number of African American and Latino elected officials. Section 5 of the act requires “covered jurisdictions” to seek preclearance for any new voting practice or procedure from either the D.C. District Court or the U.S. Attorney General. In 1965, the definition of “covered jurisdictions” extended only to the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia and forty counties in North Carolina. Since then, the definition of a covered jurisdiction has been expanded so that all of Alaska, Arizona, and Texas...

    • Chapter 8 Gerrymanders as Trade-Offs: The Coevolution of Social Scientific and Legal Approaches to Racial Redistricting
      (pp. 189-224)
      David L. Epstein and Sharyn O’Halloran

      Following the 2000 census, the state of Georgia redrew its fifty-six state Senate districts to comply with the one person, one vote rule.¹ At the time, Democrats held majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The governor, Roy Barnes, was a Democrat as well, and he led the charge to construct a districting plan that would advantage his party in the upcoming 2002 elections, hoping to preserve Democratic control in the face of an expected Republican surge.

      The key to his plan was to “unpack” many of the heavily Democratic districts and distribute loyal Democratic voters to surrounding districts....

  8. PART III Reform by Means of Institutional Manipulation

    • Chapter 9 The Primary Elections “Bonus” in Latin America
      (pp. 227-247)
      John M. Carey and John Polga-Hecimovich

      Imagine you are the leader of a political party in a democracy that will hold presidential elections next year. Your goal is to put forward as strong a candidate as possible. The decision as to how to select that candidate falls to you as supreme party chief. You can draw on your wisdom and gut instincts and unilaterally anoint a standard bearer. You can summon an executive council to a smoke-filled backroom to deliberate and make the call. You can convene a party congress or convention and devise a decision rule that accommodates participation by the party’s army of activists...

    • Chapter 10 Accuracy and Security in Voting Systems
      (pp. 248-287)
      Henry E. Brady and Iris Hui

      “Trust in Paper,” proclaims the May 5, 2007, editorial inThe New York Timescongratulating Florida for getting rid of electronic voting machines, which in 2006 had “somehow lost 18,000 votes” in Sarasota County. “The new law will eliminate touch-screen voting in favor of the more trustworthy optical-scanning system. Unlike touch screens, optical-scanning machines are based on paper.” So “by next summer Floridians should be a lot more confident that whenever they vote, their votes will finally be counted correctly” (New York Times, editorial, May 5, 2007, A26).

      Reality is more complicated than this rhetoric suggests. Many of the 18,000...

    • Chapter 11 Improving the Measurement of Election System Performance in the United States
      (pp. 288-312)
      Charles Stewart III

      Following the 2000 presidential election, states throughout the country reformed their voting procedures, primarily in response to the debacle in Florida. These reforms were spurred by a series of reform commissions that convened through the authority of state officials—governors, legislatures, and secretaries of state—followed by the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA, P.L. 107–252) in October 2002, which mandated a range of reforms for federal elections and made available nearly $4 billion in federal funds to help retire punch-card and mechanical-lever voting machines, and generally to help improve the administration of elections (Coleman and Fischer...

  9. Index
    (pp. 313-326)