Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government

Princeton University Press
2
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Why our belief in government by the people is unrealistic—and what we can do about it

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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About the author

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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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 29, 2017
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Pages
408
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ISBN
9781400888740
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Political
Political Science / Civics & Citizenship
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
Political Science / Public Policy / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A groundbreaking look at how group expectations unify black Americans in their support of the Democratic party

Black Americans are by far the most unified racial group in American electoral politics, with 80 to 90 percent identifying as Democrats—a surprising figure given that nearly a third now also identify as ideologically conservative, up from less than 10 percent in the 1970s. Why has ideological change failed to push more black Americans into the Republican Party? Steadfast Democrats answers this question with a pathbreaking new theory that foregrounds the specificity of the black American experience and illuminates social pressure as the key element of black Americans’ unwavering support for the Democratic Party.

Ismail White and Chryl Laird argue that the roots of black political unity were established through the adversities of slavery and segregation, when black Americans forged uniquely strong social bonds for survival and resistance. White and Laird explain how these tight communities have continued to produce and enforce political norms—including Democratic Party identification in the post–Civil Rights era. The social experience of race for black Americans is thus fundamental to their political choices. Black voters are uniquely influenced by the social expectations of other black Americans to prioritize the group’s ongoing struggle for freedom and equality. When navigating the choice of supporting a political party, this social expectation translates into affiliation with the Democratic Party. Through fresh analysis of survey data and original experiments, White and Laird explore where and how black political norms are enforced, what this means for the future of black politics, and how this framework can be used to understand the electoral behavior of other communities.

An innovative explanation for why black Americans continue in political lockstep, Steadfast Democrats sheds light on the motivations consolidating an influential portion of the American electoral population.

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