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Democracy Despite Itself

ISBN: 9780262017237 | 0262017237
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Mit Pr
Pub. Date: 1/27/2012

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Voters often make irrational decisions based on inaccurate and irrelevant information. Politicians are often inept, corrupt, or out of touch with the will of the people. Elections can be determined by the design of the ballot and the gerrymandered borders of a district. And yet, despite voters who choose candidates according to the boxer--brief dichotomy and politicians who struggle to put together a coherent sentence, democracy works exceptionally well: citizens of democracies are healthier, happier, and freer than citizens of other countries. In Democracy Despite Itself, Danny Oppenheimer and Mike Edwards explore this seeming paradox: How can democracy lead to such successful outcomes when the defining characteristic of democracy, elections, is so flawed? Oppenheimer, a psychologist, and Edwards, a political scientist, draw on cutting-edge research in their fields to investigate the question and suggest an answer. Oppenheimer and Edwards argue that democracy works because regular elections, no matter how flawed, produce a variety of unintuitive, positive consequences. Mass participation in contested elections creates psychological pressure for voters to be better citizens and for politicians to be better leaders; alternating power regularly between different factions helps avoid instability; citizens are sometimes able to overcome their ignorance and make informed choices; and voters do have the power to punish politicians for excessively bad behavior. The brilliance of democracy, write Oppenheimer and Edwards, does not lie in the people's ability to pick superior leaders. It lies in the many ways that it subtly encourages the flawed people and their flawed leaders to work toward building a better society.

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