Prepared for the Western Political Science Conference, April 2014



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Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, second (Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2011), 251-261).

49 See Gerry Mackie, Democracy Defended, Contemporary Political Theory (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003)., but also Dasgupta’s and Maskin’s demonstration that majority rule is decisive over the largest domain, Partha Dasgupta and Eric Maskin, “On the Robustness of Majority Rule,” Journal of the European Economic Association 6 (2008): 949–73. And Moulin’s important result that when options are defined along a single dimension and voters’ preferences can be characterized as “single-peaked,” the aggregation of preferences can determine as unique majority-rule “condorcet winner.” H. Moulin, “Generalized Condorcet-Winners for Single Peaked and Single-Plateau Preferences,” Social Choice and Welfare 1, no. 2 (August 1, 1984): 127–47, doi:10.1007/BF00452885.

50 Scholars have, for example, begun measuring the public’s “policy mood” – an inclination toward more or less government expansion (Robert S. Erikson, Michael B. MacKuen, and James A. Stimsom, The Macro Polity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 256). Though some scholars have responded to the problem of indifference by arguing that electoral efficacy is better served when indifferent citizens don’t vote (see, e.g. Keith Jakee and Guang-Zhen Sun, “Is Compulsory Voting More Democratic?,” Public Choice 129, no. 1 (2006): 61–75.

51 Joshua Cohen, “Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy,” in The Good Polity, 1989, 28.

52 See Eric Beerbohm on “correspondence” theories of democracy, In Our Name: The Ethics of Democracy, 28–30.

53 Hannah Arendt argued that it is the unpredictability of public life – of interacting with other agents - that makes political action so distinctive (and so distinctively human) (Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, second edition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998).)

54 My thinking on this subject has been substantially influenced by conversation with Joseph Lacey. For further discussion, see Joseph Lacey, “Must Europe Be Swiss? On the Idea of a Voting Space and the Possibility of a Multilingual Demos,” British Journal of Political Science 44, no. 01 (2014): 61–82.

55 Campbell, Gurin, and Miller, The Voter Decides. 187.

56 Shapiro, Legality, 129.

57 Campbell, Gurin, and Miller, The Voter Decides, 190. (see also Miller, Miller, and Schneider, American National Election Studies Data Sourcebook 1952-1978, 321; Riker and Ordeshook, “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting,” 36, fn16). In their classic cross-national study, Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba also find a general relationship between a sense of efficacy (or political competence) and a belief in the obligation to participate. (Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba, The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1989), 205.)

58 Though he does not use the language of internal and external efficacy, many political scientists attribute the original formulation of the distinction between the two attitude constructs to Robert Lane’s 1959 book Political Life. (Robert E. Lane, Political Life: Why and How People Get Involved in Politics (New York, NY: Free Press, 1959), 151.)

59 In their 1976 article on the relationship between internal and external efficacy, Coleman and Davis suggest that that distinction between the two kinds of efficacy is implicit in Almond and Verba’s language of different “attitude objects” in evaluations of citizenship (see Kenneth M. Coleman and Charles L. Davis, “The Structural Context of Politics and Dimensions of Regime Performance: Their Importance for the Comparative Study of Political Efficacy,” Comparative Political Studies 9, no. 2 (July 1, 1976): 189–190, and Almond and Verba, The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, 136–137.

60 (Richard G. Niemi, Sephen C. Craig, and Franco Mattei, “Measuring Internal Efficacy in the 1988 National Election Study,” American Political Science Review 85, no. 4 (December 1991): 1407–1408. These definitions are essentially identical to the standard definitions used by the administrators of the American National Election Survey (seeMiller, Miller, and Schneider, American National Election Studies Data Sourcebook 1952-1978, 253.), despite debates about the best way to measure internal and external efficacy, scholars still seem to generally agree about the basic definitions of the constructs they are trying to measure.

61 Lane, Political Life: Why and How People Get Involved in Politics, 149–150.

62 Sephen C. Craig and Michael A. Maggiotto, “Measuring Political Efficacy,” Political Methodology 8, no. 3 (1982): 85–109; Niemi, Craig, and Mattei, “Measuring Internal Efficacy in the 1988 National Election Study.”: 1408

63 This implicit system evaluation in internal efficacy is partly responsible for the difficulty of constructing distinct measures of internal and external efficacy. In a 1974 article, Balch observed that the ANES index of questions measuring political efficacy included two pairs that seemed to be measuring distinct attitude constructs, leading to the standard interpretation that one pair of questions measured external efficacy and the other internal efficacy. But several scholars suggested that the internal efficacy index was insufficiently distinct from the external efficacy index. Craig and Maggioto observe, for example, that the question “people like me have no say in what the government does” actually includes stimuli for both internal and external efficacy attitudes – individuals may have no say because the system is unresponsive to them, and they point out that this item is more closely correlated with the external efficacy index than it is with the other items that purport to measure internal efficacy (Craig and Maggiotto, “Measuring Political Efficacy,” 90.). Even the one item that Craig and Maggioto observe probably does capture primarily the internal efficacy construct: “politics is too complicated for someone like me to understand” still includes an element of evaluation of the system - politics IS very complicated! (Ibid., 89.) Beginning with the 1988 NES, new questions were introduced to measure internal efficacy that do a better job of distinguishing between internal and external efficacy, focusing on individual competence to participate, but they still cannot avoid implicit reference to the context in which citizens are expected to participate (Niemi, Craig, and Mattei, “Measuring Internal Efficacy in the 1988 National Election Study,” 1408.).

64 The conditions I offer here overlap at times with Dennis Thompson’s proposals for electoral reform in Just Elections. Thompson offers an excellent, detailed look at the democratic value of the finer points of electoral administration, but he derives his conditions for just elections from three general principles of democracy: equality, liberty, and popular sovereignty, looking at how elections instantiate these three principles (Thompson, Just Elections: Creating a Fair Electoral Process in the United States, 9.), whereas I emphasize the distinctive role that voting plays in a contemporary plan for democracy. My analysis will therefore sometimes suggests a different answer than Thompson’s when democratic values conflict.

65 Though the equal weighting of votes is not a necessary feature of voting as a practice – as demonstrated by J.S. Mill’s famous plural voting scheme that give greater weight to the votes of aristocrats or intellectual elites – but it is a clear feature of the contemporary plan for democracy (see Thompson Just Elections., 43–58. for further discussion of the principle of equality in voting). Melissa Schwartzberg has also argued that the logic of counting votes already suggests a respect for the “equal dignity of individual judgments” and that counting votes ought therefore imply counting them equally (Melissa Schwartzberg, Counting the Many: The Origins and Limits of Supermajority Rule, Cambridge Studies in the Theory of Democracy (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 106.).

66Matthew J. Streb, Rethinking American Electoral Democracy, second (New York, NY: Routledge, 2011).; In The Semi-Sovereign People, E.E. Schattschneider declares that “the unforgiveable sin of democratic politics is to dissipate the power of the public by putting it to trivial uses.” (137)

67 The proliferation of elections in American local politics seems particularly odd, given that local politics (except perhaps in very large cities) is much more conducive to other forms of more direct and informative engagement.

68 This does not mean, as some people take it to mean, that substantive questions ought not appear on the ballot (see David S Broder, Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money (New York: Harcourt, 2001). The practice of submitted proposed constitutional amendments to a referendum seems to me the quintessential example of reserving the questions with the most significant impact on the character of political life for the citizenry as a whole.

69 Voting may play a central role in the ethic of participation of communities that nevertheless have very different concepts of representation, different agenda-setting procedures, and different sets of elected offices and decisions G. Bingham Powell Jr., Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000); Arend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999). It is possible that in some communities, the widely shared plan for self-rule may include a shared understanding of the most fundamental policy divisions in the community, and a shared belief that all elections implicitly reduce to a decision on those policy divisions. In the Semi-Sovereign People, Schattschneider observes that US electoral politics is dominated by the cleavage between business and government (by which he presumably means regulation benefitting consumers and employees) (Schattschneider, esp. 41-42). This idea is reflected in recent American Politics research that aims to assess the efficacy of elections by examining the extent to which public policy tracks Americans’ “policy mood,” understood as a general preference for more or less government (Erikson, et al The Macro Polity, 256, 339). The assumption underlying this research is that citizens basically agree that electoral decisions are basically about the single issue dimension of the size of government. This picture becomes immediately complicated, though, once a second dimension is introduced (as Schattschneider himself pointed out w/ the foreign policy dimension), and while some scholars try to solve this by imagining all policies lined up on an ideological spectrum, the empirics just don’t seem to suggest that this spectrum is accepted at a level that would be necessary to call it a shared plan (Converse, “The Nature of Belief Systems in a Mass Public.”). And while it might seem that strong parties in European parliamentary systems make some difference here, the issue of nationalism (and the future of the EU) often complicate the simple conservative/labor dichotomy.

70 It is important to note, too, though, that voting can greatly affect the character of political life in ways that are not directly attributable to the particular decisions made in elections. Periodic elections provide a kind of rhythm for public life that structures deliberation and other political activity, and affects the issues most likely to be settled publicly.


71 This is also surely on a spectrum – We can think that third party ballot access in the United States would make for more meaningful choice, without thinking that a choice limited to two major parties is utterly meaningless.

72 The electorate as a whole simply cannot coherently define a set of options from among the infinite possibilities for action. It will just have to be the case that some subset of people is charged with identifying and defining the choices from among which people choose. Some degree of electoral agenda control (like open primaries or two-stage elections) might provide more meaningful choice, but at some point, decisions about the agenda will have to be made by a subset of population. Of course, as democratic theorists often point out, this subset of the population could be much more representative than it currently is. In fact, the role that participatory and deliberative democrats often imagine for citizens’ assemblies looks like an agenda-setting one – as, for example, with Fishkin’s “Deliberative Opinion Polls” that he imagines will “set the tone” for election campaigns (James Fishkin, Democracy and Deliberation: New Directions for Democratic Reform (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).), or more concretely, with the British Columbia Citizen’s Assembly charged with drafting an electoral reform measure that would then be subject to a popular referendum. On this and other deliberative mini-publics, see Robert E. Goodin, Innovating Democracy: Democratic Theory and Practice After the Deliberative Turn (Oxford University Press, 2008).

73 I have in mind views like Jason Brennan’s that voters who are not well informed ought not vote, because they risk contributing to a harmful outcome Brennan, The Ethics of Voting, 68–85..

74 For Hannah Arendt, the unpredictability of acting in public – amongst other people who can react – just is what defines the political (Arendt, The Human Condition.)

75 Of course, many political scientists and political theorists have explored the many ways that citizens have of coping with the demands of voting despite ordinary cognitive limits. See, for example, Beerbohm, In Our Name: The Ethics of Democracy, esp. 142–168; Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan, Demanding Choices: Opinion, Voting, and Direct Democracy (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

76 This may include some familiar simple fixes like mailing out sample ballots and voter guides, but likely also involves thinking about the nature of electoral campaigns – shorter campaigns might be called for, as they would allow citizens to devote more attention for a shorter period of time to the decision at hand – longer campaigns may lead citizens to forget relevant information they learned early in the campaign.

77 Olsen, Participatory Pluralism: Political Participation and Influence in the United States and Sweden, 126, 159.

78 See Jason Brennan (2011) for an account of this argument. A version of this argument is applied to compulsory voting in: Jakee and Sun, “Is Compulsory Voting More Democratic?”.

79 This is analogous to the various kinds of decisions in everyday life (decisions about medical treatments, purchasing a house, etc.) that may be very complex, but that we still think properly belong to individuals, and that they must find a way to decide. They may defer to expert advice (as voters may defer to party cues), but they decide whose advice to take, and the final decisions is always theirs.

80 This, of course, depends on how agendas are set, but presumably, those involved in agenda setting will represent interests (parties or other groups) in society that will have an incentive to provide options that will appeal to as many voters as possible.

81 Similar reasoning appears in the Justice White’s majority opinion for the Supreme Court decision in Burdick v Takushi that upheld the constitutionality of elections that did not allow for “write-in” voting (Burdick v. Takushi (91-535), 504 U.S. 428 (1992)).

82 A policy like this has recently been introduced in India.
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