In their recent contribution entitled “Democracy for Realists”, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels argue that contemporary democratic process does not function according to its ideals, evaluated either from participatory or representative framework. This conclusion is supported by altogether five empirical observations: 1) most democratic citizens are uninterested and poorly informed and lack either resources or motivation to choose their parties or candidates based on policy issues, 2) citizens are too preoccupied with their personal lives in order to get heavily engaged with different forms of direct democracy, which are thus mostly hijacked by interest groups and lobbyists, 3) the accountability function of elections is underutilized since citizens have a hard time assessing the responsibility of government accurately and hence retrospective voting is often either blind or myopic at best, 4) even the most sophisticated and engaged voters make their political decisions based on social identities and group and partisan loyalties, and 5) citizens’ perceptions of parties’ policy stands and their own policy views are significantly influenced by their party preferences.
Our Section takes up the challenge to test the extent to which these findings are applicable to other contexts with different historical, institutional and cultural characteristics, as suggested by the authors. Are they mostly an artefact of the US political system or is the picture as gloomy in European and other representative democracies as well? Is also Europe in need of “group theory of democracy” in order to better understand how contemporary democracies work in reality? Or perhaps some other novel framework of democracy?
The Section will include at least seven Panels:
Panel 1: Democratic theory in flux
Panel 2: How is democracy doing in a comparative perspective?
Panel 3: Resources and incentives for issue voting
Panel 4: Democratic innovations: ideals and realities
Panel 5: Elections and accountability: is retrospective voting blind or myopic?
Panel 6: The bases for voting decisions: policy issues, social identities and partisan loyalties
Panel 7: Citizens’ perceptions on partisan stands