Majoritarian or Pluralist Democracy?

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Majoritarian or Pluralist Democracy?

0Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter you should be able to

  • Define the key terms at the end of the chapter.

  • Arrange types of governments on a continuum based on the number of rulers they contain.

  • Indicate how the symbolic value of democracy has changed over the years.

  • List the four principles of procedural democracy.

  • Outline the central principles of the substantive view of democracy.

  • Point out the differences between the procedural and substantive views of democracy and indicate the key problems with each.

  • Explain why representative democracy has replaced participatory democracy in the modern world.

  • Compare and contrast the assumptions and mechanisms of the majoritarian, pluralist, and elite models.

  • Discuss the pressures faced by newly democratizing states.

  • Make a preliminary attempt to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the majoritarian, pluralist, and elite models as they apply to the American system.

0Majoritarianism, Pluralism, and the Challenge of Democracy

Both President Bush and President Wilson have said that America is fighting for democracy. Both assume that democracy is the ultimate form of government that everyone wants. Yet we will find that there are various forms of democracy in the world. Pakistan is a democracy that has been rated as “Not Free” by Freedom House and its current president, Pervez Musharraf, says that he is moving forward with his short-term form of democracy to ensure a long-term form of democracy. So exactly what is democracy? There are two basic forms of Democracy—majoritarian and pluralist—and President Musharraf is using a corrupt form of pluralist democracy to run Pakistan.

0Chapter Overview

0The Theory of Democratic Government

Forms of government can be arranged on a continuum according to how many people hold power in them—that is, according to whether a government is based on rule by one (an autocracy), by few (an oligarchy), or by many (a democracy).

Historically, rule by the people—democracy—was greeted with scorn; in the modern world, however, most governments try to style themselves as democratic. This chapter provides methods for deciding on the validity of their claims. It defines democracy and tries to show what kind of a democracy America is.

The authors present two different theories of democracy. The first is a procedural theory, and emphasizes how decisions are made. It relies on four main principles: universal participation, political equality, majority rule, and responsiveness of representatives to the electorate. Under the requirements of the procedural theory, there need be no protections for minorities. The second theory is a substantive one, and pays more attention to the content of what government does. Substantive theorists generally expect the government to protect the basic civil rights and liberties of all, including minorities; some substantive theorists go further and expect the government to ensure various social and economic rights. The difficulty with substantive theory is that it is hard to reach agreement on the scope of government action to bring about social and economic equality.

0Institutional Models of Democracy

Democracies of today are representative democracies rather than participatory democracies. They require institutional mechanisms to translate public opinion into government policies. These institutional mechanisms might be designed to tie governmental policies closely to the will of the majority, or they may be structured to allow groups of citizens to defend their interests before government.

The classic model of democracy is the majoritarian model. It assumes a population of knowledgeable voters who willingly go to the polls to vote on issues and to select candidates who they believe will best represent them. The main tools of majoritarian democracy are elections, referenda, and initiatives. (Although public opinion in America supports national referenda, referenda and initiatives are available only at the state and local level.) While proponents of majoritarian democracy point to the stability of public opinion and to the desire of many Americans to become more involved in politics, critics argue that majoritarian assumptions do not correspond very well to American political reality. For example, in the United States, citizens are not well informed, and voter turnout is low. A recent exercise in majoritarian democracy, the recall of California Governor Gray Davis and the election of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, illustrated the potential and pitfalls of institutions of majoritarian democracy.

A second model, the pluralist model, better reflects the limited knowledge and participation of the real electorate. It envisions democratic politics taking place within an arena of interest groups. This model relies on open access that allows individuals to organize into groups to press their claims on multiple centers of governmental power (Congress, state legislatures, bureaucratic agencies, and so on).

A third model, elite theory, which is also discussed in this chapter, is more of an antidemocratic theory. Elite theory maintains that democracy is a sham, since power is really in the hands of a small number of individuals who control all governmental decisions and manipulate the political agenda. However, in American politics a small group of people can have a big impact, but different groups affect different issues. This observation tends to undermine elite theory.

0Democracy and Globalization

No government actually lives up fully to the standards of either the pluralist or the majoritarian model, but some nations come close enough to be called democracies.

Democracies have been rare throughout history. The fall of communism and American efforts to introduce democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq have focused attention on the problems related to building new democracies. Struggles in these countries show that the transition to democracy is not easy and may be complicated by economic difficulties and ethnic tensions.

Does the United States qualify as a democracy? The authors contend that it does, and in this chapter and throughout the text they explore which model best describes American democracy. They argue that the pluralist model more closely conforms to the American system than either the elitist or the majoritarian model.

0Key Terms




procedural democratic theory

universal participation

political equality

majority rule

participatory democracy

representative democracy


substantive democratic theory

minority rights

majoritarian model of democracy

interest group

pluralist model of democracy

elite theory


0Research and Resources

The first chapter of this guide introduced you to specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries. Those fairly massive works are not updated very frequently, and they are geared to provide an introduction to, or an overview of, a subject. If you need in-depth information, you will probably want to start by looking for books on your subject. For that, begin with the Internet gateway that lets you search for books in your library. The emerging electronic “information superhighway” now makes it possible for many students to look beyond the confines of their own campus and visit the catalogs of many of the finest libraries in the world, using the Internet. When you discover books on your topic that are not in your library, check with your librarian to see if you can arrange for an interlibrary loan.

Since the process of writing, editing, and publishing books takes months, you will not usually find the most up-to-date information in books. So, you will want to supplement your search of your library’s catalog with a visit to the area of the library where periodical indexes are kept. If you learned how to write term papers in high school, you may be familiar with the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. It helps you locate articles in magazines of general popular interest. The subjects it includes range from “abalone” to “zoom lenses.” Since the Readers’ Guide provides general coverage of so many areas, it is not the best source for specialized works in a particular field. For help in locating specialized periodical literature in political science, try the three excellent indexes listed here. These indexes have long been available in paper form, and many college and university libraries now have them available in convenient CD-ROM form as well. Check with your librarian.

10. ABC POL SCI. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio. This index specializes in publications on political science and government. It includes foreign and non-English-language materials and is a little harder to use than either of the next two. The subject index in the back of this work gives you reference numbers for articles. The articles are listed by reference number in the front of the volume.

20. Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS). New York: Public Affairs Information Service. This index includes books, government publications, and reports of public and private agencies, in addition to periodical articles on government, economic and social conditions, and business and international relations. Articles are indexed by subject.

30. Social Sciences Index (SSI). New York: H. W. Wilson Co. This index covers English-language periodicals in the social sciences, including anthropology, economics, environmental sciences, geography, law criminology, planning, public administration, psychology, social aspects of medicine, and sociology, as well as political science. Articles are indexed by subject and by author.

40. LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier, provides on-line access to a wide variety of news articles about government, politics, business, and law. Many colleges have either the full version available or its somewhat scaled-down sibling, Academic Universe.

0Using Your Knowledge0

10. Check with your college library to see which paper and on-line indexes mentioned above are available for your use. Select at least two of the following—SSI, ABC POL SCI, PAIS, or LexisNexis—and look for works on democracy published in the last year. After you have located “democracy” in the indexes, browse through the list of titles, narrow your focus, and prepare a short bibliography on some aspect of democracy. (Examples might include “Democracy in the Third World,” “Democracy in Eastern Europe,” “Pluralist Democracy,” “Democracy in America,” and “Measuring Democracy throughout the World.”)

20. A number of web sites devoted to democracy are indexed in the Google Directory: <>. Visit some of these websites and describe the form of democracy advocated there. In particular, note whether each site supports a form of democracy that is more pluralist or majoritarian.

0Sample Exam Questions

0Multiple-Choice Questions0

10. The public meetings and universal participation found in Dansbury, New Hampshire, is a good example of which form of government?0

a0. majoritarian democracy

b0. pluralist democracy

c0. elitism

d0. communism

e0. substantive democracy

20. What term do we use to describe governmental power in the hands of a few powerful elite?0

a0. autocracy

b0. democracy

c0. dictatorship

d0. monarchy

e0. oligarchy

30. Athens, the classic Greek city-state, is best described by which of the following terms?0

a0. representative democracy

b0. elitism

c0. participatory democracy

d0. populism

e0. totalitarianism

40. Which of the following is not one of the four principles of procedural theory of democracy?0

a0. political equality

b0. responsiveness

c0. protection of minorities

d0. universal participation

e0. majority rule

50. What term is best used to describe the concept of one vote per person?0

a0. universal equality

b0. universal egalitarianism

c0. unicameral legislation

d0. political equality

e0. political leveling

60. What do we call the idea that certain principles must be incorporated into the policies of government?0

a0. substantive theory of democracy

b0. procedural theory of democracy

c0. elite theory of democracy

d0. initiative and referenda

e0. None of the above

70. How do Americans differ from the citizens of most other western democracies in their view of the government’s main responsibility?0

a0. Americans feel strongly that their government must provide social services.

b0. Americans feel strongly that their government must ensure order.

c0. Americans feel strongly that their government must maintain law.

d0. Americans feel strongly that their government must reduce crime.

e0. Americans feel strongly that their government must combat terrorism.

80. The majoritarian model of democratic government0

a0. offers protection for minority rights.

b0. relies on a relatively passive citizenry.

c0. is organized around the activities of groups.

d0. expects citizens to have a high degree of knowledge.

e0. fits well with the behavior of voters in America.

90. What form of democracy selects individuals to govern on the behalf of others called?0

a0. minority rule

b0. indirect democracy

c0. participatory democracy

d0. procedural democracy

e0. representative democracy

100. A society that is ruled by one person is called a(n)0

a0. autocracy.

b0. minopoly.

c0. oligarchy.

d0. democracy.

e0. patriarchy.

110. What is the primary mechanism for democratic government in the majoritarian model? 0

a0. universal participation

b0. popular election

c0. aristocracy

d0. elitism

e0. policy

120. Which of the following is not among the watchwords associated with pluralist democracy?0

a0. one person, one vote

b0. divided authority

c0. decentralization

d0. open access

e0. government by groups

130. What do we call a special election to unseat an elected official?0

a0. referendum

b0. recall

c0. procedural election

d0. initiative

e0. eniversal election

140. How do most Americans feel about creating an electronic democracy?0

a0. Almost all Americans support the idea.

b0. Almost two-thirds of all Americans support the idea.

c0. A small majority supports the idea.

d0. A small majority opposes the idea.

e0. Almost two-thirds of all Americans oppose the idea..

150. Elite theory appeals to people who believe0

a0. the public should be actively engaged in politics.

b0. direct democracy is the only true democracy.

c0. in the principle of responsiveness.

d0. government should respond to the demands of many groups.

e0. wealth dominates politics.

160. A model of government that places a high value on participation by people organized in groups is0

a0. elitism.

b0. substantive democracy.

c0. pluralism.

d0. socialism.

e0. majoritarianism.

170. What is the key to the success of a majoritarian democracy? 0

a0. popular participation.

b0. the presence of many organized groups.

c0. decentralized government.

d0. economic equality.

e0. low citizen involvement in civic affairs.

180. According to the text, American democracy can best described as which of the following?0

a0. elitist

b0. pluralist

c0. not yet a true democracy

d0. majoritarian

e0. substantive

190. What do we call the fundamental idea that government responsiveness comes through mass political participation?0

a0. substantive democracy

b0. majoritarian democracy

c0. minority rights

d0. pluralist democracy

e0. elitist theory

200. The observed relationship between democracy and economic performance suggests that democratic nations are _____________________

a0. no more or less prosperous than non-democratic nations.

b0. less prosperous than non-democratic nations.

c0. less likely to support free markets.

d0. more prosperous than non-democratic nations.

e0. retarding global economic growth.

210. Roughly what percent of the American population “follows what's going on” in government “most of the time”?0

a0. 12%

b0. 18%

c0. 26%

d0. 39%

e0. 43%

220. The United Nations has tracked the number of democracies around the world and noticed an increase from 1990 to 2003. What percent of increase did the world see in democracies between 1990 and 2003?0

a0. 3% increase

b0. 7% increase

c0. 10% increase

d0. 13% increase

e0. 16% increase

230. Democratic governments and processes0

a0. guarantee correct decisions.

b0. are observed in nearly all contemporary nations.

c0. always protect minority rights.

d0. reject unlimited majority rule.

e0. may not necessarily result in desirable policies.

240. The principle of majority rule conflicts most directly with which of the following?0

a0. popular sovereignty

b0. minority rights

c0. universal participation

d0. a sense of community identity

e0. 0governmental responsiveness

250. According to the text, if governments were arrayed on a continuum, what type of government would one find at the opposite end from autocracy?0

a0. oligarchy

b0. monarchy

c0. aristocracy

d0. democracy

e0. patriarchy

0Essay Questions0

10. What are the principal assumptions of the each of the models of democracy? Are assumptions of either model more likely to be satisfied in practice?

20. Explain how the principles of procedural democracy may threaten liberty.

30. Advocates of participatory democracy maintain that all citizens must engage the business of government and that government institutions should encourage this type of universal participation. What are the merits and disadvantages of this type of democratic governance? How have social changes undermined efforts to expand this type of participation in governance?

40. What are the problems faced by the new democracies of the world? What role should the United States play in helping the newly democratic countries?

50. If democratic government is so much better than autocratic government, how would you explain the election of Hamas, a terrorist organization, as the new rulers of Palestine?

0Answers to Multiple-Choice Questions0

10. a

20. e

30. c

40. c

50. d

60. a

70. a

80. d

90. e

100. a

110. b

120. a

130. b

140. e

150. e

160. c

170. a

180. b

190. b

200. d

210. c

220. e

230. e

240. b

250. d

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