Share this
PREVIOUS ARTICLE ALL CONTENTS Next ARTICLE

Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, Larry M. Bartels and Christopher H. Achen

Reviewed by Robert Erikson

BUY

 

Scholars who study American elections tend to divide into two camps. One, to which this reviewer belongs, sifts for evidence of intelligence and rationality in the aggregate decisions of voters. With Democracy for Realists, Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels place themselves decidedly in the opposite camp. They see an electorate that is unprepared for its job in a democracy.

Achen and Bartels dismiss the “folk theory” of democracy, the idea that voters know best and elect officials who follow their will. Rather, they depict ordinary people as having little interest or competence regarding politics, a subject that is too complicated even for the best of us. When Achen and Bartels’s citizens are stirred to act politically, such as when they feel obliged to cast votes, they consult their emotions more than facts and reason. What keeps them from becoming totally unmoored politically is their group allegiances based on social identity.

Several chapters delve into the public’s haplessness when it comes to retrospective voting, whether concerning the economy or disasters such as shark attacks. Their centerpiece example is about how angry voters in New Jersey shoreline counties punished the Woodrow Wilson administration in 1916 for not preventing the many shark attacks off the New Jersey coast that summer. Achen and Ba

To continue reading, see options above.

About PSQ's Editor

ROBERT Y. SHAPIRO

Full Access

Join the Academy of Political Science and automatically receive Political Science Quarterly.

CONFERENCES & EVENTS

WEBINAR
Policing: The Change America is Awaiting
July 23, 2020
7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. EST

MORE ABOUT THIS EVENT VIEW ALL EVENTS

Editor’s spotlight

Race and Public Policy

Social Policy and the Welfare of Black Americans: From Rights to Resources
Charles V. Hamilton

Getting into the Black: Race, Wealth, and Public Policy
Dalton Conley

MORE ABOUT THIS TOPIC

Search the Archives

Publishing since 1886, PSQ is the most widely read and accessible scholarly journal with distinguished contributors such as: Lisa Anderson, Robert A. Dahl, Samuel P. Huntington, Robert Jervis, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Theda Skocpol, Woodrow Wilson

view additional issues

Most read

Articles | Book reviews

Understanding the Bush Doctrine
Robert Jervis

The Study of Administration
Woodrow Wilson

Notes on Roosevelt's "Quarantine" Speech
Dorothy Borg

view all

New APS Book

Presidential Selection and Democracy   PRESIDENTIAL SELECTION AND DEMOCRACY

About US

Academy of Political Science

The Academy of Political Science, promotes objective, scholarly analyses of political, social, and economic issues. Through its conferences and publications APS provides analysis and insight into both domestic and foreign policy issues.

Political Science Quarterly

With neither an ideological nor a partisan bias, PSQ looks at facts and analyzes data objectively to help readers understand what is really going on in national and world affairs.

Stay Connected

newsstand locator
About APS