Elections as Instruments of Democracy

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Majoritarian and Proportional Visions

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 In this book, a leading scholar of comparative politics explores elections as instruments of democracy. Focusing on elections in twenty democracies over the past quarter century, G. Bingham Powell, Jr., examines the differences between two great visions of democracy—the majoritarian vision, in which citizens use the election process to choose decisively between two competing teams of policymakers, providing the winner with the concentrated power to make public policy; and the proportional influence vision, in which citizens use elections to choose political agents to represent their views in postelection bargaining, thereby dispersing power. Powell asks crucial questions for modern democracies: Which vision best serves as an instrument of democracy? What are the reasons and conditions under which each vision succeeds or fails?

Careful analyses of more than 150 democratic elections show that each vision succeeds fairly well on its own terms in responsively linking election outcomes to policymaker selection, although advantages and limitations must be traded off. However, Powell concludes, the proportional influence vision and its designs enjoy a clear advantage in creating policy congruence between citizens and their policymakers—a finding that should give pause to those who are attracted to the idea of the decisive election as a direct tool for citizen control.

G. Bingham Powell, Jr., is professor of political science at the University of Rochester.

“Powell, a luminary in the field of comparative politics, tackles a longstanding debate in the study of representative democracy—what type of electoral system best links the preferences of citizens to the behavior of their policy makers. . . . This is an insightful, well-written, and important contribution to discussions of constitutional engineering.”—Choice

“These landmark books by two of the most esteemed scholars of comparative politics of our time are essential reading for people with an interest in democracy. . . . [They] contribute significantly to our knowledge about comparative democratic institutions. . . . Above all, they demonstrate that a thorough understanding of the distinction between majoritarian and consensus or proportional democracy is crucial for social scientists, policy analysts, and politicians who design institutions for new democracies.”—Scott Mainwaring, Journal of Democracy refers to Patterns of Democracy too

"Powell has written an impressive study of the respective merits and shortcomings of the proportional and the majoritarian visions."—Gianfranco Pasquino, West European Politics

"Powell takes a major step toward comparing the quality of advanced democracies." —Andrew Roberts, Comparative Politics

“This is an excellent, original, and extremely important book—a work of brilliant scholarship.”—Arend Lijphart, author of Patterns of Democracy

Selected by Choice as an outstanding academic title for 2000
ISBN: 9780300080162
Publication Date: July 11, 2000
312 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w illus.