4

I was wondering if elections really insure to the people that their voices will be take into consideration in the political decisions?

According to Max Weber, Aristote, Alexis de Tocqueville, Montesquieu and so on the answer would have been no. Mostly because they saw the election as aristocratic and not democratic.

Nowadays, it is a consensus that electoral institutions are a necessary and sometimes sufficient condition to be told a democracy. Which would imply that electoral institutions are actually a good way to take into consideration the voices of the people. But can we really trust it ?

2
  • Not if the system can be manipulated to allow re-election of a term-limited candidate (Putin) to office by engineering a placeholder incumbent (Medvedev). The only thing electoral institutions guarantee is jobs for politicians.
    – wbogacz
    Mar 1 '14 at 17:06
  • This is a good (classic) question that fits in here very well. However, it would maybe even better fit into the hopefully forthcoming Social Science-Q&A-Site. Mar 1 '14 at 18:30
3

"Electoral institutions" is a pretty broad term. Looking at the discussion on differences between representative and direct democracy might be useful in this context.

From an empirical social science perspective, there are a myriad of possible theoretical and empirical qualifications to the ability of elections to represent peoples' interests.

Theoretical Considerations

Karl Popper was a powerful defender of democracy and the "Open Society". Wittman [1] does a good job defending democracy against common arguments from economics.

Possible problems with democracy that come to my mind are from the Public Choice literature and other economic models of voters and politicians. Suppose, for example, that people have a good sense of what they want and politicians claim to represent these preferences. But what if people cannot fully monitor what politicians do (and not do)? Politics is pretty complicated, and only the politicians themselves have all the information that allows to assess whether they have really represented their constituency or some other (special) interest.

Politicians could also be tied too closely to their constituency and follow only their interests, thereby undermining the provision of public goods for a broader majority. Or politicians do generally valuable things (or policies with short-term benefits and long-term costs) only shortly before elections.

Some Empirical Flesh

In recent years, social scientists have started to tackle questions on causality, like: Which forms of representations work best, by doing experiments or looking for forms of natural experiments. There is already a lot going on, and I just randomly pick some ideas and insights that might be beneficial for the discussion.

The question whether autocracies or democracies work better for the people is probably impossible to answer in an empirical fashion, because democratic and autocratic states differ on a lot of dimensions.

Hainmueller and Hangartner [2] look at naturalization decisions in Switzerland and compare municipilaties where all the people decide to those where an elected council decides on who may immigrate. They claim that direct democracy clearly causes fewer positive immigration decisions. They critize this fact as direct democracy then might lead to discriminatory behavior. But what they basically show is that direct democracy works better than representative democracy in representing people's preferences.

Fowler [3] looks into the adoption of compulsory voting in some Australian states. He demonstrates, as is generally found, that with voluntary voting only, wealthy people are more likely to vote than poorer people, which could distort the representation of interests by electoral institutions. However, he states that compulsory voting causes poorer people to vote and also triggers a change in policy, namely pension spendings.

I think that these pieces are generally encouraging. They have a limited scope, but support the notion that differences in electoral institutions matter.

However, things can also go wrong (but possibly in a good way). Meyersson [4] claims that electing islamic mayors in Turkish villages lead to broader education of women. That is a good thing, but probably was not what (conservative, islamic) voters wanted from the mayors they elected. He gives a nice explanation for this counterintuitive fact. For our purposes we just note that democratic institutions might have huge impacts in unintended ways.

[1] Wittman, Donald. "Why democracies produce efficient results." The Journal of Political Economy (1989): 1395-1424.

[2] Hainmueller, Jens and Hangartner, Dominik (2013), Does Direct Democracy Hurt Immigrant Minorities? Evidence from Naturalization Decisions in Switzerland (January 15, 2013). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2013-1. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2022064 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2022064

[3] Fowler, Anthony (2013). "Electoral and policy consequences of voter turnout: Evidence from compulsory voting in australia." Quarterly Journal of Political Science 8.2 (2013): 159-182. Available at http://projects.iq.harvard.edu/files/westminster_model_democracy/files/fowler_compulsoryvoting.pdf

[4] Meyersson, Erik (2014): Islamic Rule and the Empowerment of the Poor and Pious” , Econometrica, Vol. 82, No. 1 (January, 2014), 229–269. Available at http://erikmeyersson.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/meyersson_islamicrule_ecta.pdf

1

This question can only be answered within a theoretical context. For this answer, I'm using Gramsci's concept of "hegemony" within the broader framework of Marxism.

I was wondering if elections really insure to the people that their voices will be take into consideration in the political decisions?

Elections are a method that allow for the incorporation of oppositional view-points into maintaining the system as a whole. As a method for doing this, they work better when they are, and are perceived to be, "free" as in not distorted by military action and "fair" as in votes cast chiefly determining the outcome. The manipulation of who casts votes and how they cast is not seen to be an issue: the same system that legitimises elections as part of a hegemonic apparatus legitimises media and social influence over electoral outcomes. The source of voice isn't votes, but politicised economic power.

A recent example of this is in Western Australia's senate election to the Commonwealth of Australia's senate. While Gina Rinehart purchased newspapers in order to change the electoral result, and Clive Palmer purchased mass media time (which correlated directly to his votes), these were viewed as "fair." The loss of a couple of thousand votes in Western Australia by the Australian Electoral Commission was viewed as "unfair."

This does not mean that voices are taken into consideration by the state: it means that people perceive their votes to have been part of a system that they tolerate. Many is a time that you hear, "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal." Fewer times do you hear that Australians storm an AEC electoral booth and burn a ballot box.

According to Max Weber, Aristote, Alexis de Tocqueville, Montesquieu and so on the answer would have been no. Mostly because they saw the election as aristocratic and not democratic.

Yet the same people seem to care a fair bit about elections they care about where they perceive the institution to be democratic. Local political party branches, Bowling Clubs, Friendly Societies and Lodges, Churches. Perhaps the problem is "the state" rather than "the election." Also note that the organisations people care about in elections tend to be ones that are voluntary and established by mutual aid (regardless of their political complexion).

Nowadays, it is a consensus that electoral institutions are a necessary and sometimes sufficient condition to be told a democracy.

From a Marxist perspective using Gramsci, the concept of "democracy" is theoretically meaningless as a category. It is a loose descriptor of a terrain of conflict.

Which would imply that electoral institutions are actually a good way to take into consideration the voices of the people.

There's no connection betwen "voice" and election made here. A Gramscian analysis of democracy as hegemony would say that elections are voiceless, but might reflect the "war of position" over social power between the class conscious parts of the working class and the bourgeoisie. Ie: the source of voice isn't votes, but politicised economic power.

1
  • 1
    I like this answer because it's a good counterpart to my own. However, a few points: 1. You could add to your second paragraph your very last sentence, so that the bottom-line comes at the beginning 2. You could link to some classic sources or encyclopedias where the Marxist view is further elaborated 3. I wonder what your comment would be on the empirical research I presented? Mar 5 '14 at 10:37
0

Basically Electoral institutes are responsible for conducting the polls as per the present rule and regulations. After getting the elections done, its not their responsibility to guide selected representatives to follow their order. They can only have control on pre-poll duration.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .