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Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era

Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era: A Reexamination of Electoral Accountability in the United States, 1828-2000

Peter F. Nardulli
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 288
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    Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era
    Book Description:

    Social scientists have long criticized American voters for being "unsophisticated" in the way they acquire and use political information. The low level of political sophistication leaves them vulnerable to manipulation by political "elites," whose sway over voters is deemed incontrovertible and often decisive. In this book, Peter Nardulli challenges the conventional wisdom that citizens are "manageable fools," with little capacity to exercise independent judgment in the voting booth. Rather, he argues, voters are eminently capable of playing an efficacious role in democratic politics and of routinely demonstrating the ability to evaluate competing stewards in a discriminating manner.

    Nardulli's book offers a cognitively based model of voting and uses a normal vote approach to analyzing local-level election returns. It examines the entire sweep of United States presidential elections in the democratic era (1828 to 2000), making it the most encompassing empirical analysis of presidential voting to date. Nardulli's analysis separates presidential elections into three categories: those that produce a major, enduring change in voting patterns, those that represent a short-term deviation from prevailing voting patterns, and those in which the dominant party receives a resounding endorsement from the electorate. These "disequilibrating" elections have been routine in American electoral history, particularly after the adoption of the Progressive-Era reforms.

    Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era provides a dramatically different picture of mass-elite linkages than most prior studies of American democracy, and an image of voters as being neither foolish nor manageable. Moreover, it shows why party elites must take proactive steps to provide for the core political desires of voters.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4945-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvii)
  5. Chapter One Democracy, Popular Efficacy, and the Electoral Arena
    (pp. 1-17)

    The world experienced an extraordinary amount of societal change in the latter third of the twentieth century. Colonial empires all but disappeared, and transnational organizations emerged for the purpose of ensuring world order and furthering social welfare. Unprecedented levels of international cooperation occurred across a number of areas (arms control, trade, health, environmental protection, etc.) and international conflicts were largely restricted to proxy wars and regional conflicts. In many nations expectations for human rights were heightened and gender roles transformed. The electronics revolution and fundamental changes in modes of communication and transportation contributed to the globalization of economic activity, which...

  6. Chapter Two Democratic Citizenship, Democratic Citizens, and Mass-Elite Linkages
    (pp. 18-43)

    This chapter addresses two foundational questions in the study of popular efficacy: What does it mean to say that democratic citizens are efficacious political actors? In light of what we know about political behavior, is it possible to conceive of ordinary citizens as being efficacious? In providing answers to these questions chapter 2 further illuminates the conceptualization of mass-elite linkages introduced in chapter 1. These answers also explain why this conceptualization has the potential to yield fresh insights into popular efficacy, insights that have important implications for our understanding of democracy as a uniquely responsive form of government.

    The first...

  7. Chapter Three Exogenous Events, Evaluations of Stewardship, and Citizens’ Normal Voting Behavior
    (pp. 44-74)

    The contrasting implications of the two perspectives articulated in the epigraphs to this chapter nicely frame the debate over representative democracy as a distinctively responsive form of government. While Wilson stresses the importance of “the select classes” satisfying “the plain people,” Zaller emphasizes the centrality of political elites as information sources. To the extent that political elites (1) control and filter the information that is vital to evaluations of stewardship and (2) serve as opinion leaders who provide signals to responsive masses, the principal-agent relationship embodied in democratic theory is compromised.

    The approach to mass-elite linkages offered here offers new...

  8. Chapter Four Endogenous Influences and the Evaluative Capacities of Democratic Citizens
    (pp. 75-95)

    Endogenous influences—efforts by elites to shape, direct, and control the political behavior of ordinary citizens—are primal factors that constitute an enduring component of all political systems. These influences were clear in the presentation of the transformational model presented in chapter 3, but the thrust of endogenous influences and the manner in which they are transmitted will vary across political systems and over time. Within the Anglo-American experience, the impact of endogenous influences upon electoral behavior has been evident since the incorporation of a popular component into the political order. Ordinary citizens were selectively and haltingly admitted into the...

  9. Chapter Five Conceptual and Methodological Foundations for a Reexamination of Popular Efficacy
    (pp. 96-119)

    The durability of the image of citizens as manageable fools—that is to say, the dominance of endogenous influences within the electoral arena—derives from the fact that the inferences drawn from the seminal work in political behavior confirmed the less systematic observations that had accumulated since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Beginning in the late 1960s a number of revisionist scholars began to challenge this enduring image of democratic citizens. Much of this revisionist work was done in the field of voting behavior, and most of it fit comfortably within the framework of the Michigan model that guided...

  10. Chapter Six The Roots of Partisanship: Party Elites, Exogenous Groups, and Electoral Bases
    (pp. 120-149)

    The normal voting patterns introduced in chapter 5 are at the heart of the quantitative analyses of electoral independence to be presented in the next three chapters. These normal voting patterns are viewed as macro-level manifestations of partisan influences on voting behavior. As such, they are viewed here as an endogenous influence on voting. By this I mean that partisan influences are centripetal forces rooted in the interests, concerns, and preferences of party elites. This conceptualization of partisan influences is inconsistent with corollary C1, which holds that citizens’

    normal voting routines are rooted in judgments that these routines serve their...

  11. Chapter Seven Partisan Realignments and Electoral Independence: The Incidence, Distribution, and Magnitude of Enduring Electoral Change
    (pp. 150-179)

    The objective of the next three chapters is to generate inferences about popular efficacy that will speak to the disparate assessments articulated by Morgan and Schlesinger in the epigraphs to this chapter. To do this I examine the data on macro-level normal voting patterns introduced in chapter 5 in light of the approach to mass-elite linkages presented earlier. At the core of this approach is role of exogenous events that generate disequilibrating electoral jolts. Consequently, the focuses of the following empirical analyses are on electoral jolts and their impact on the core political interests of elites.

    The first two sets...

  12. Chapter Eight Electoral Perturbations and Electoral Independence: Stewardship, Partisanship, and Accountability
    (pp. 180-223)

    This chapter presents the second component of the electoral independence analysis. Its concern is with deviations from normal voting patterns and their implications for popular efficacy. Scholars such as V. O. Key view these electoral perturbations as referendums on political stewardship. To these scholars, the capacity of democratic electorates to generate short-term electoral jolts based on performance of incumbents is a central component of electoral accountability. To others, whose views are aptly summarized by Gienapp, the combined effects of partisanship, inattentiveness, and inertial tendencies make meaningful electoral accountability a fanciful notion. In their view, most citizens lack the interest and...

  13. Chapter Nine The Electoral Impact of Departures from Normal Voting Patterns: Electoral Jolts and the Aspirations of Political Elites
    (pp. 224-244)

    The analyses presented in chapter 7 and chapter 8 focused primarily on electoral independence and document that citizens have regularly demonstrated their capacity to overcome the inertial and centripetal forces that dominate the electoral arena. Some of the empirical analyses in these chapters have had implications for the impact of the electorate’s independence on the education of political elites and the strategies they should use in securing electoral success. But there is some ambiguity about what the fickleness of the American electorate has taught political elites; the electoral independence analyses have not directly examined the impact of electoral jolts on...

  14. Chapter Ten Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era
    (pp. 245-260)

    In this book I have sought to determine whether a theoretical and empirical basis exists for challenging the conventional wisdom concerning popular efficacy, a key tenet of democratic theory. I focused my efforts on the electoral arena. It offers the best venue ordinary citizens have for exerting influence within representative democracies, where popular efficacy derives principally from mechanisms that provide for electoral accountability. Despite the vote’s potential as a valuable political resource, the image of voters as “manageable fools” has been a durable one. It gives rise to grave concerns about the efficaciousness of citizens as political actors. This image...

  15. INDEX
    (pp. 261-266)