In Democracy for Realists, for instance, the authors criticise what they call the ‘folk theory’ of democracy. This maintains that elected representatives should translate their constituents’ preferences into public policy. The problem, according to these political scientists, is that most voters lack the time, energy or ability to immerse themselves in the technicalities of public policy. Instead, people tend to vote based on group identification, or an impulse to align with one political faction rather than another.
In a memorable chapter of their book, Achen and Bartels show that politicians often suffer electoral defeat for events beyond their control. In the summer of 1916, for example, New Jersey’s beachgoers experienced a series of shark attacks. In that November’s election, the beach towns gave President Woodrow Wilson fewer votes than New Jersey’s non-beach towns. The voters, it seems, were punishing Wilson for the shark attacks. According to Achen and Bartels, voters’ ability ‘to make sensible judgments regarding credit and blame is highly circumscribed’. This is a polite way of saying that most voters are not smart enough to realise that presidents are not responsible for shark attacks. (...)
The remedy for our democracy deficit is to devolve as much power as possible to the local level. Many problems can be addressed only on the state, federal and international level, but the idea is that participating in local politics teaches citizens how to speak in public, negotiate with others, research policy issues, and learn about their community and the larger circles in which it is embedded. Like any other skill, the way to become a better citizen is to practise citizenship.
Nicholas Tampio, Treat people as citizens.