Who Said It?
This view of democracy is less cheery than the romantic alternatives, and thus less appealing. Its skepticism raises a host of new questions. And it may impose an obligation on those who propound it to make normative sense of the largely successful workings of contemporary democratic governments, an obligation we are not yet ready to ful ll. Nevertheless, just as a critical step toward democracy occurred when intellectuals lost faith that the king had been appointed by God, so also a similar step needs to be taken in shaking blind obeisance to the divine right of voters.
Answer and details below the fold.
The authors are two of my favorite Princeton scholars, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels. The passage comes from the conclusion of their working paper on “Myopic Retrospection and Party Realignment in the Great Depression.” Achen-Bartels big findings:
When the state of the economy during the election season is particularly dreadful, as it surely was during the Depression, the voters feel more strongly about their retrospections. Then they form strong partisan aversions to the incumbents, and strong attachments to the parties that replace them if times improve. The resulting preferences endure in less stressful periods and are passed on to their children, imposing a long-term stamp on the party system. The voters will adopt respectable ideological explanations for their behavior, the policies of the lucky party will be enacted, and a country may be substantially remade. The realignment period may then appear to political scientists and historians as an intellectual decision by the electorate. But we nd in the cases we have examined that the evidence for all such interpretations is weak. Elites debate policy alternatives, but the electorate as a whole votes on another basis.