Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government
Author(s): Christopher H. Achen
Democracy for Realists assails the romantic folk-theory at the heart of contemporary thinking about democratic politics and government, and offers a provocative alternative view grounded in the actual human nature of democratic citizens. Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence, including ingenious original analyses of topics ranging from abortion politics and budget deficits to the Great Depression and shark attacks, to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters--even those who are well informed and politically engaged--mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents' control; the outcomes are essentially random.
Thus, voters do not control the course of public policy, even indirectly. Achen and Bartels argue that democratic theory needs to be founded on identity groups and political parties, not on the preferences of individual voters. Democracy for Realists provides a powerful challenge to conventional thinking, pointing the way toward a fundamentally different understanding of the realities and potential of democratic government. Now with new analysis of the 2016 elections, Democracy for Realists provides a powerful challenge to conventional thinking, pointing the way toward a fundamentally different understanding of the realities and potential of democratic government.
Winner of the 2017 PROSE Award in Government & Politics, Association of American Publishers One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2016 "The best book to understand the 2016 campaign."--Matthew Yglesias "For decades, political scientists have blasted away at electoral models based primarily on the idea of rational choice. In the most recent and sophisticated entry in the field, Democracy for Realists, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels argue that even well-informed and politically engaged voters mostly choose candidates based on their social identities and partisan loyalties. Judging from the 2016 polls, that theory looks pretty good."--E.J. Dionne, Washington Post "In an important recent book, Democracy for Realists, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels show that 'group attachments' and 'social identities' are key to understanding voting behavior."--Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post "It flies in the face of decades of political science conventional wisdom about 'the rational voter' and other such dicta, but it seems to me obviously true, particularly in our age."--Michael Tomasky, New York Review of Books "It flies in the face of decades of political science conventional wisdom about 'the rational voter' and other such dicta (what the authors call the 'folk theory' of democracy), but it seems to me obviously true, particularly in our age."--Michael Tomasky, New York Review of Books "[A] provocative book."--Edward Luce, Financial Times "Democracy for Realists, by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, shows that however cynical you are about the democratic process, it's worse than you think. All the flaws in cognition that psychologists have been teaching for decades make a mockery of the folk theory that democracy produces responsive governments."--Steven Pinker, Harvard Crimson "Brutally depressing."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution "One of the most bracing books of political science to arrive in a long time... An impressively comprehensive statement on the limits of electoral democracy, a book that can both explain the emergence of Trump and potentially charts a new course for the field."--Lee Drutman, Chronicle of Higher Education "It will confirm much that you may already have intuited--issues do not much matter--and it may make you want to jump out of a window, if you didn't already."--Kevin Williamson, National Review (Summer Reading Recommendation) "The folk theory of American democracy is that citizens deliberate on the issues and choose a candidate. That is false. The truth, as political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels describe in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, is that voters are tribalistic."--Jamelle Bouie, Slate "A comprehensive analysis that lays the foundation for a discussion of necessary reforms and how they can be achieved."--Kirkus (starred review) "Their writing is clear, concise, and appropriately whimsical on occasion. Certain to become a classic."--Choice "Democracy for Realists is essential reading for anyone interested in the problem of voter ignorance, and the future of democracy more generally. It illuminates a dangerous problem that may well bedevil democracy for a long time to come."--Ilya Somin, History News Network "Provocative, persuasive and unsettling, Democracy for Realists is a profoundly important--and timely--book."--Glenn Altschuler, Tulsa World "The most comprehensive recent study of the American voter."--Neal Miner, Honolulu Civil Beat "According to some conventional accounts of democracy, these systems work. Voters toss out incumbents in hard times and retain them in good times... The genius of Achen and Bartels' work--the depressing genius of it--is the breadth of evidence they marshal that this is simply not the case."--Peter Loewen, Ottawa Citizen "The book might make dreary reading about the failings of democracy. But by applying what Achen and Bartels say to what is happening in the elections... It is possible to make some sense."--Han Fook Kwang, Singapore Straits Times "An important book. The authors basically destroy our most cherished ideas about democracy."--Helio Schwartsman, Folha De S. Paolo "The 2016 election cycle has confounded a good deal of scholarship and punditry so far. But one book that's coming out smelling like a rose is Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels' new book Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. This book's novel argument is that we've been thinking about democracy all wrong."--Seth Masket, Pacific Standard "This more than erudite book couldn't have been published at a more apt, if not fractious climate amid modern British and European political history... Democracy for Realists will set minds thinking and trigger an array of debate; which, at the end of the day, is what democracy is all about."--David Marx Book Reviews "Democracy for Realists is essential reading for 2016, an empirically and theoretically rigorous political science treatise that debunks traditional defenses of democracy as a way to reflect the 'will of the people' or allow well-informed and rational voters to guide the country. In their place, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels advance a theory of democracy grounded in group identities and social psychology."--Jason Furman, Bloomberg "The myth of the informed democratic voter is itself an example of long-ingrained, stubborn anti-knowledge. In their brilliant new Democracy for Realists, the political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels explain that laypeople and experts alike have developed a 'folk theory' holding that American democracy is built on an engaged electorate that casts its votes for rational policy reasons. Unfortunately, as Achen and Bartels demonstrate, decades of research have shredded this theory, stomped on it, and set the remains on fire."--Noah Berlatsky, Reason "One of last year's most-celebrated works of political science."--Eric Levitz, New York Magazine Daily Intelligencer
Christopher H. Achen is the Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences and professor of politics at Princeton University. His books include The European Union Decides. Larry M. Bartels holds the May Werthan Shayne Chair of Public Policy and Social Science at Vanderbilt University. His books include Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton).
- : 9780691178240
- : Princeton University Press
- : Princeton University Press
- : August 2017
- : 203mm X 127mm
- : books
- : Paperback
- : 408
- : 26 b/w illus., 18 tables