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.
Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels
With a new afterword by the authors
List of Illustrations ix
1 Democratic Ideals and Realities 1
2 The Elusive Mandate: Elections and the Mirage of Popular Control 21
3 Tumbling Down into a Democratical Republick: "Pure Democracy" and the Pitfalls of Popular Control 52
4 A Rational God of Vengeance and of Reward? The Logic of Retrospective Accountability 90
5 Blind Retrospection: Electoral Responses to Droughts, Floods, and Shark Attacks 116
6 Musical Chairs: Economic Voting and the Specious Present 146
7 A Chicken in Every Pot: Ideology and Retrospection in the Great Depression 177
8 The Very Basis of Reasons: Groups, Social Identities, and Political Psychology 213
9 Partisan Hearts and Spleens: Social Identities and Political Change 232
10 It Feels Like We're Thinking: The Rationalizing Voter 267
11 Groups and Power: Toward a Realist Theory of Democracy 297
appendix Retrospective Voting as Selection and Sanctioning 329
Afterword to the Paperback Edition 335