Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

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Intermediate Conditions of Democratic Accountability: A Response to Electoral Skepticism

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Abstract:  Attempts to respond to “democratic deficits” in modern constitutional republics must contend with the broad scholarly trend of electoral skepticism. While generally casting doubt on periodic competitive elections’ suitability as vehicles of accountability, electoral skepticism does not necessarily entail an absolute devaluation of elections. Some normative and empirical research responds to this trend by refocusing attention on values other than popular power, such as civil peace, which might be served by periodic competitive elections. Another response short of abandoning the value of popular power, however, is to draw out possibilities for institutional design from the restricted conditions under which previous study has found electoral accountability to be plausible or likely. This second task requires an empirically informed exercise in political theory. Pursuing it in a programmatic and policy-relevant way requires descending from the grand, systemic level of constitutional structures and electoral formulae to intermediate (or middle-range) institutional conditions of accountability, such as rules about parties, campaigns, and election administration. My analysis reinterprets principal-agent models to develop four general types of crucial condition for electoral accountability, and then ramifies this scheme by reference to recent empirical research. The result is a “top ten” list of specific institutional factors that could be theoretically decisive in helping or hindering electoral accountability. These ten conditions could guide future research designs and reform proposals alike.

Keywords:  accountability; democratic theory; democratic representation; electoral studies; institutional reform



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