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Designing Democratic Government

Making Institutions Work

Margaret Levi, James Johnson, Jack Knight, Susan Stokes

Publication Year: 2008

What are the essential elements of a democracy? How can nations ensure a political voice for all citizens, and design a government that will respond to those varied voices? These perennial questions resonate strongly in the midst of ongoing struggles to defend democratic institutions around the world and here at home. In Designing Democratic Government, a group of distinguished political scientists provides a landmark cross-national analysis of the institutions that either facilitate or constrain the healthy development of democracy. The contributors to Designing Democratic Government use the democratic ideals of fairness, competitiveness, and accountability as benchmarks to assess a wide variety of institutions and practices. John Leighly and Jonathan Nagler find that in the U.S., the ability to mobilize voters across socioeconomic lines largely hinges on the work of non-party groups such as civic associations and unions, which are far less likely than political parties to engage in class-biased outreach efforts. Michael McDonald assesses congressional redistricting methods and finds that court-ordered plans and close adherence to the Voting Rights Act effectively increase the number of competitive electoral districts, while politically-drawn maps reduce the number of competitive districts. John Carey and John Polga-Hecimovich challenge the widespread belief that primary elections produce inferior candidates. Analyzing three decades worth of comprehensive data on Latin American presidential campaigns, they find that primaries impart a stamp of legitimacy on candidates, helping to engage voters and mitigate distrust in the democratic process. And Kanchan Chandra proposes a paradigm shift in the way we think about ethnic inclusion in democracies: nations should design institutions that actively promote—rather than merely accommodate—diversity. At a moment when democracy seems vulnerable both at home and abroad, Designing Democratic Government sorts through a complex array of practices and institutions to outline what works and what doesn’t in new and established democracies alike. The result is a volume that promises to change the way we look at the ideals of democracy worldwide.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

About the Authors

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This project began when Margaret Levi was selected as President of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and James Johnson, Jack Knight, and Susan Stokes agreed to serve as the Annual Program Co-Chairs for 2004–2005. We decided to create a series of panels and workshops around...

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pp. 1-16

The spread of democracy arguably is the single most significant political phenomenon of the past one hundred years. The Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen reports that when pressed to identify “the most important thing that had happened in the twentieth century,” he considered several alternative...

Part I. Organization of Interests

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pp. 17-18

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1. Mobilizing Institutions and Class Bias in U.S. Electoral Politics, 1964 to 2004

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pp. 19-39

Most sympathetic evidence regarding elite mobilization of voter turnout focuses specifically on mobilization by political parties and fails to account for the diverse set of political elites who typically seek to mobilize voter turnout. In addition, a few studies have documented changes in the nature of these mobilization patterns over time. We expand on the traditional “party-centered”...

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2. Barriers to Participation for Whom? Regulations on Voting and Uncompetative Elections

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pp. 40-61

A great deal of attention has been directed at understanding how state laws regulating such things as advance registration (see, for example, Rosenstone and Wolfinger 1980), felon voting laws (Manza and Uggen 2006), residency requirements, and other aspects of elections might limit a citizen’s willingness...

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3. Mobilizing Political Engagement and Participation in Diverse Societies: The Impact of Institutional Arrangements

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pp. 62-88

Calls for group or descriptive representation in a democracy—when representative institutions share proportionally the sociodemographic characteristics of the population—are based on several different arguments. First, underrepresentation of minority groups may occur from discriminatory...

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4. Ethnic Invention: A New Principle for Insitutional Design in Ethnically Divided Democracies

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pp. 89-114

Is it a good idea for Rwanda, with its history of violence between Hutus and Tutsis, to stop classifying citizens by ethnicity in its census? Is it appropriate for Nigeria, with its history of ethnic violence, to have a two-party instead of a multiparty system? Is Iraq, with its conflicts between Shias, Sunnis and...

Part 2. Bounds of Minority Group Presentation

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pp. 115-116

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5. Evaluating the Impact of Redistricting on Distric Homogeneity, Poltical Competition, and Political Extremism in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1962 to 2006

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pp. 117-140

Language much like Robin Toner’s has appeared in op-ed columns throughout the United States since the 1990s. It is now part of the common wisdom that the steady decline in the number of competitive congressional seats—a decline commonly linked to changes in redistricting practices—is one of the...

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6. Redistricting Institutions and Competition in U.S. House Districts

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pp. 141-163

Political theotists define democracy in terms of electoral competition. Joseph Schumpeter (1950, 269) calls democracy a “competitive struggle for people’s vote.” For Robert A. Dahl (1984, 225) it is “a system of control by competition.” Electoral competition further supports characteristics often associated...

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7. An Evaluation of the Electoral and Behavioral Impact of Majority-Minority Districts

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pp. 164-188

The Voting Rights Act (VRA), passed in 1964, has played a critical role in increasing the number of African American and Latino elected officials. Section 5 of the act requires “covered jurisdictions” to seek preclearance for any new voting practice or procedure from either the D.C. District Court or the...

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8. Gerrymandering as Trade-Offs: The Coevolution of Social Scientific and Legal Approaches to Racial Redistricting

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pp. 189-224

Following the 2000 census, the state of Georgia redrew its fifty-six state Senate districts to comply with the one person, one vote rule.1 At the time, Democrats held majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The governor, Roy Barnes, was a Democrat as well, and he led the charge to construct...

Part 3. Reform by Means of Insitutional Manipulation

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pp. 225-226

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9. The Primary Elections "Bonus" in Latin America

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pp. 227-247

Imagine you are the leader of a political party in a democracy that will hold presidential elections next year. Your goal is to put forward as strong a candidate as possible. The decision as to how to select that candidate falls to you as supreme party chief. You can draw on your wisdom and gut instincts and unilaterally...

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10. Accuracy and Security in Voting Systems

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pp. 248-287

“Trust in Paper,” proclaims the May 5, 2007, editorial in The New York Times congratulating Florida for getting rid of electronic voting machines, which in 2006 had “somehow lost 18,000 votes” in Sarasota County. “The new law will eliminate touch-screen voting in favor of the more trustworthy optical-scanning system. Unlike touch screens, optical-scanning machines are based...

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11. Improving the Measurement of Election System Performance in the United States

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pp. 288-312

Following the 2000 presidential election, states throughout the country reformed their voting procedures, primarily in response to the debacle in Florida. These reforms were spurred by a series of reform commissions that convened through the authority of state officials—governors, legislatures, and secretaries of...


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pp. 313-326

E-ISBN-13: 9781610443500
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545183

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2008