Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government

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Princeton University Press, Aug 29, 2017 - Political Science - 408 pages
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Democracy for Realists assails the romantic folk-theory at the heart of contemporary thinking about democratic politics and government, and offers a provocative alternative view grounded in the actual human nature of democratic citizens.

Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence, including ingenious original analyses of topics ranging from abortion politics and budget deficits to the Great Depression and shark attacks, to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents' control; the outcomes are essentially random. Thus, voters do not control the course of public policy, even indirectly.

Achen and Bartels argue that democratic theory needs to be founded on identity groups and political parties, not on the preferences of individual voters. Now with new analysis of the 2016 elections, Democracy for Realists provides a powerful challenge to conventional thinking, pointing the way toward a fundamentally different understanding of the realities and potential of democratic government.

 

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DEMOCRACY FOR REALISTS: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Why the theories used to rationalize our beliefs in democracy are broken beyond repair and must be replaced. "Conventional thinking about democracy," write Achen (Social Sciences and Politics ... Read full review

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This is probably the best political science book that I've read this year.

Contents

CHAPTER ONE Democratic Ideals and Realities
1
Elections and the Mirage of Popular Control
21
Pure Democracy and the Pitfalls of Popular Control
52
CHAPTER FOUR A Rational God of Vengeance and of Reward? The Logic of Retrospective Accountability
90
Electoral Responses to Droughts Floods and Shark Attacks
116
Economic Voting and the Specious Present
146
Ideology and Retrospection in the Great Depression
177
Groups Social Identities and Political Psychology
213
Social Identities and Political Change
232
The Rationalizing Voter
267
Toward a Realist Theory of Democracy
297
APPENDIX Retrospective Voting as Selection and Sanctioning
329
Afterword to the Paperback Edition
335
References
345
Index
381
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About the author (2017)

Christopher H. Achen is the Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences and professor of politics at Princeton University. His books include The European Union Decides. Larry M. Bartels holds the May Werthan Shayne Chair of Public Policy and Social Science at Vanderbilt University. His books include Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton).

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