AN ECONOMIC THEORY OF DEMOCRACY. THE BASIC LOGIC OF VOTING. 39 cause an important political strategy of governments is making voters aware of. Economic Theory of Democracy, to be published by Co., ), pp. A democracy is a political system that ex- tion parties or of individual. Get this from a library! An economic theory of democracy.. [Anthony Downs].
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AN ECONOMIC THEORY OF DEMOCRACY they do not want it to collapse.1 For this reason they attach value to the act of voting per se and receive a return. An Economic. Theory of. Democracy. ANTHONY DOWNS. UNIVERSIDAD Yet the role of government in the world of economic theory is not. An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy. Author(s): Anthony Downs. Source: The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Apr., ), pp.
Downs book does not in any sense make obsolete the careful and impressively documented descriptions of partisan activities that characterize the best previous work in the field. There are three qualifications to this conclusion. It is an even more important fact that what is involved in governing, and in the competition to control the offices of government, amounts to very much the same thing. Your list has reached the maximum number of items. T o explain these conditions, we make use of the following symbols:. In every field, no account of human behavior is complete without mention of such altruism; its possessors are among the heroes men rightly admire. A theory of democracy that fails to take account of this fact is of little help in giving us an appreciation of the kinds of actions we may expect of democratic government.
Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
W e address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Therefore we accept the self-interest axiom as a cornerstone of our analysis. Precisely what self-interest means will become clear when we describe in detail how the various types of political decision-makers in the model behave. From the self-interest axiom springs our view of what motivates the political actions of party members.
W e assume that they act solely in order to attain the income, prestige, and power which come from being in office. Thus politicians in our model never seek office as a means of carrying out particular policies; their only goal is to reap the rewards of holding office per se.
They treat policies purely as means to the attainment of their private ends, which they can reach only by being elected. Upon this reasoning rests the fundamental hypothesis of our model: At first glance, this hypothesis appears to render our model govern ment incapable of performing its social function.
In the eyes of the citizenry, the governing partys function in the division of labor is to formulate and carry out policies, not to provide its members with income, prestige, and power. Yet in our model, the governing party carries out this function only in so far as doing so furthers the private ambitions of its members.
Since these ambitions are per se unrelated to the governing partys function, how can we expect pursuit of the 9 Adam Smith, T h e W ea lth o f N ations, Modern Library Edition New York: The Modem Library, , p.
Seemingly, our model contains no viable government because it confuses ends and means. This criticism may sound plausible, but it is completely false. Even in the real world, almost nobody carries out his function in the di vision of labor purely for its own sake.
Rather every such function is discharged by someone who is spurred to act by private motives logically irrelevant to his function. Thus social functions are usually the by-products, and private ambitions the ends, of human action.
This situation follows directly from the self-interest axiom.
As Joseph Schumpeter cogently stated:. It does not follow that the social meaning of a type of activity will necessarily provide the motive power, hence the explanation of the latter. If it does not, a theory that contents itself with an analysis of the social end or need to be served cannot be accepted as an adequate account of the activities that serve it. For instance, the reason why there is such a thing as economic activity is of course that people want to eat, to clothe them selves, and so on.
To provide the means to satisfy those wants is the social end or meaning of production. Nevertheless, we all agree that this proposi tion would make a most unrealistic starting point for a theory of economic activity in commercial society and that we shall do much better if we start from propositions about profits.
Similarly, the social meaning or function of parliamentary activity is no doubt to turn out legislation and, in part, administrative measures.
But in order to understand how democratic politics serve this social end, we must start from the competitive struggle for power and office and realize that the social function is fulfilled, as it were, incidentally in the same sense as production is incidental to the making of profits.
This brilliant insight summarizes our whole approach to the func tioning of government. It is paralleled by the dual analysis of or ganizations made by sociologist Philip Selznick, who wrote:. Schumpeters profound analysis of democracy forms the inspiration and foundation for our whole thesis, and our debt and gratitude to him are great indeed. All formal organizations are molded by forces tangential to their rationally ordered structures and stated goals. Every formal organization.
However, the individuals within the system tend to resist being treated as means. They interact as wholes, bringing to bear their own special problems and purposes. It follows that there will develop an informal structure within the organization which will reflect the spontaneous efforts of individuals and subgroups to control the conditions of their existence.
The informal structure will be at once indispensable to and consequential for the formal system of delegation and control itself. Clearly, the formal purpose of political partiesto design and carry out policies when in officeis not the only thing an analysis of gov ernment must take into account.
Equally significant is the informal structure, i. Our model attempts to combine both these elements into one coherent theory of government operation. Though this theory is based on the self-interest axiom, we do not assume that the private ambitions of party members are without bounds.
The self-interest of each has at least two limits: Although both these limits are unrealistic, without them our analysis would have to be extended beyond the purview of this study. Politicians in our model are motivated by the desire for power, prestige, and income, and by the love of conflict, i. However, they can obtain none of these desiderata except the last unless their party is elected to office.
Therefore we do not distort the motives of party members by saying that their primary objective is to be elected. Thus our reasoning has led us from the self-interest axiom to the vote-maximizing government described in Chapter 1.
T he party which runs this government manipulates its policies and actions in whatever way it believes will gain it the most votes without violating constitutional rules. Clearly, such behavior implies that the govern ing party is aware of some definite relationship between its policies and the way people vote.
In the next two chapters, we examine both these assertions in detail. T h e model in this study occupies a twilight zone between norma tive and descriptive models.
It is not normative, because it contains no ethical postulates and cannot be used to determine how men should behave. Nor is it purely descriptive, since it ignores all the nonrational considerations so vital to politics in the real world.
Yet it is related to both these phases of political economy and has a distinct function in each. Ethical, or normative, models of democratic politics generally are constructed in the following manner:. The creator of the model postulates certain goals as good.
He outlines the behavior necessary to achieve these goals. He concludes that this behavior should" be carried out by mem bers of real democratic societies. However, the creators of such models do not always consider whether the behavior they advocate as good is also rational in the economic sense.
A man who is good in their eyes may be unable to perform his function in the division of labor efficiently. If so, their normative prescriptions are really contradictory; hence their conception of good behavior must be reexamined. Such contradictions cannot be discovered in a normative model unless the behavior it prescribes as good is tested for rationality.
By transforming our positive model into a normative one, we can pro vide an excellent tool for such testing. In its positive form, our model contains a set of conditions we regard merely as descriptions of societys actual rules. But exactly the same conditions can be deduced from certain ethical precepts; hence they can be viewed either positively or normatively. For example, consider these two parameters in the model: In our study, these rules merely describe what is done in society.
But in the normative model constructed by Dahl and Lindblom, the identical rules denote what ought to be done because they are derived from the following value judgments: Democracy is a goal, not an achievement. The democratic goal is twofold. It consists of a condition to be attained and a principle guiding the procedure for attaining it.
The condition is political equality, which we define as follows: The principle is majority rule, which we define as follows: Governmental decisions should be controlled by the greater number expressing their preferences in the last say. As a result, the creator or evaluator of a normative model may find that his model contains many of the same behavioral rules as ours.
If so, he can use our positive description of rational behavior to check the efficiency of the behavior he considers good. Any divergence he finds casts doubt on the feasibility of his prescriptions and therefore upon just how good they really are. Though our model can thus be used to test normative theories, we will employ it for this purpose only when there is a striking differ ence between rational behavior and some well-known precept for good behavior.
These occasional references to an ethically ideal model must not be confused with our frequent references to an in formationally ideal model. W e construct the latter in Chapters 3 and 4 by assuming that perfect information is available to all decision makers. T h e certain world which emerges serves as a positive norm for determining the impact of uncertainty and the cost of informa tion upon democracy. The relevance of the model in this study to descriptive science is twofold.
First, it proposes a single hypothesis to explain government decision-making and party behavior in general. Since this hypothesis leads to testable corollaries, it can be submitted to empirical proof.
If verified, it may lead to nonobvious conclusions about the actions and development of parties, thus adding to our knowledge of reality. Therefore it can perhaps be used to dis cover 1 in what phases of politics in the real world men are ra tional, 2 in what phases they are irrational, and 3 how they deviate from rationality in the latter.
In all these ways, we hope the model will help guide empirical research to investigate important issues rather than trivial ones. If we did, most of the institutions in it would become useless as bases for com parison with our actual model. Therefore we will sketch only a few qualities of the informationally ideal model and ignore many of the problems which would arise if we tried to describe it in detail.
Furthermore, the analysis is so constructed that the first hypothesis is usually developed by means of the second. As a result, most of the ramifications of rationality are independent of vote-maximizing, but not vice versa.
Therefore the description of behavior which emerges from the model cannot always be used to test the vote-maximizing hypothesis, though it can be used to test the rationality hypothesis. Nevertheless, the model is not an attempt to describe reality ac curately. Like all theoretical constructs in the social sciences, it treats a few variables as crucial and ignores others which actually have some influence.
Our model in particular ignores all forms of irrationality and subconscious behavior even though they play a vital role in real-world politics. The fact that our study is positive but not descriptive gives rise to an ineradicable difficulty of exposition.
The statements in our analysis are true of the model world, not the real world, unless they obviously refer to the latter. Thus when we make unqualified remarks about how men think, or what the government does, or what strategies are open to opposition parties, we are not referring to real men, govern ments, or parties, but to their model counterparts in the rational world of our study.
This distinction must be kept constantly in mind; otherwise the reader may condemn many of our statements as factually erroneous when they are really not factual assertions at all. If confusion arises in spite of our precautions, we ask the reader this indulgence: If it then falls into place logically, this assumption is correct; if not, our analysis stands in need of improvement. In this study, government is defined as that specialized agency in the division of labor which is able to enforce its decisions upon all other agencies or individuals in the area.
A democratic govern ment is one chosen periodically by means of popular elections in which two or more parties compete for the votes of all adults. A party is a team of individuals seeking to control the governing apparatus by gaining office in an election. Its function in the divi sion of labor is to formulate and carry out government policies whenever it succeeds in getting into power.
However, its members are motivated by their personal desire for the income, prestige, and power which come from holding office. Though this arrangement may seem odd, it is found throughout the division of labor because of the prevalence of self-interest in human action.
Since none of the appurtenances of office can be obtained without being elected, the main goal of every party is the winning of elec tions. Thus all its actions are aimed at maximizing votes, and it treats policies merely as means towards this end. Though our model is a purely positive one, it can be used to test the rationality of behavior prescribed in normative political models.
In descriptive science, it 1 advances the vote-maximizing hypothe sis as an explanation of democratic political behavior and 2 con structs a positive norm by which to distinguish between rational and irrational behavior in politics. I n O R D E R to plan its policies so as to gain votes, the government must discover some relationship between what it does and how citizens vote. In our model, the relationship is de rived from the axiom that citizens act rationally in politics.
This axiom implies that each citizen casts his vote for the party he be lieves will provide him with more benefits than any other. Though this definition seems obvious, it is actually based upon concepts which are both complex and ambiguous.
In this chapter we examine them carefully in order to show what rational voting really implies. The benefits voters consider in making their decisions are streams of utility derived from government activity. Actually, this definition is circular, because we define utility as a measure of benefits in a citizens mind which he uses to decide among alternative courses of action.
This fol lows directly from the definition of rationality which is given in Chapter 1. All citizens are constantly receiving streams of benefits from gov ernment activities.
Their streets are policed, water purified, roads repaired, shores defended, garbage removed, weather forecast, etc. These benefits are exactly like the benefits they receive from private economic activity and are identified as government-caused only by their source.
O f course, there are enormous qualitative differences between the benefits received, say, from national defense and from eating mince pie for dessert. But no matter how diverse, all benefits must be reduced to some common denominator for purposes of al locating scarce resources. This is equally true of benefits within the private sector. The common denominator used in this process we call utility.
It is possible for a citizen to receive utility from events that are only remotely connected to his own material income. For example, some citizens would regard their utility incomes as raised if the government increased taxes upon them in order to distribute free food to starving Chinese.
There can be no simple identification of acting for ones own greatest benefit with selfishness in the narrow sense because self-denying charity is often a great source of benefits to oneself.
Thus our model leaves room for altruism in spite of its basic reliance upon the self-interest axiom. Using this broad concept of utility, we can speak of a utility income from government activity.
This income includes benefits which the recipient does not realize he is receiving. It also includes benefits he knows he is receiving but the exact source of which he does not know.
For example, many citizens are probably not aware that the water they drink is inspected by a government agency. If inspection were discontinued, they might not realize their utility incomes had fallen until they received polluted water.
Even then, not all of them would know that a cessation of government activity had caused this drop in income. The fact that men can receive utility income from government actions without being aware of receiving it may seem to violate the usual definition of income. However, only benefits which voters become conscious of by election day can influence their voting decisions; otherwise their behavior would be irrational. By defining income as a flow of benefits, we have involved our selves in time, since flows can only be measured as rates per unit of time.
The unit of time we use is the election period. It is defined as the time elapsing between elections, and it forms the principal unit of judgment in a voters mind. At least two election periods enter into a rational voters calcula tions: To illustrate the verbal analysis, we also employ several other sym bols as follows:.
U stands for an individual voters real or hypothetical utility income from government activity during one election period. A is the incumbent party, i. B is the opposition party, i. In the first part of the analysis, we assume a two-party system. U stands for utility income actually received during a period. It is the utility income provided by the party in power during that period.
Ui stands for the utility income which a voter believes is the highest he could possibly have received during some period.
It is the utility income which the ideal government would have provided him if it had been in power during that period. E stands for expected value. In a two-party system, this comparison can be set up as a simple subtraction:. The difference between these two expected utility incomes is the citizens expected party differential. If it is positive, he votes for the incumbents; if it is negative, he votes for the opposition; if it is zero, he abstains.
But its apparent ease is deceiving, for a crucial question re mains: It is in answering this question that we encounter difficulties. W hen a man votes, he is helping to select the government which will govern him during the coming election period i. Therefore as we have just shown, he makes his decision by comparing future performances he expects from the competing parties. But if he is rational, he knows that no party will be able to do everything that it says it will do.
Hence he cannot merely com pare platforms; instead he must estimate in his own mind what the parties would actually do were they in power. Nevertheless, we assume here that it cannot for two reasons: The second point is discussed in detail in Chapter 8. For a valid comparison, both performances must take place under the same con ditions, i.
Therefore the voter must weigh the performance that the opposition party would have produced in period t if it had been in power. True, this performance is purely hypothetical; so he can only imagine what utility income he would have derived from it. But party B s future is hypothetical, tooas is that of party A.
Thus he must either compare 1 two hypothetical future utility incomes or 2 one actual present utility income and one hypothetical present one. W ithout question, the latter comparison allows him to make more direct use of concrete facts than the former. Not only is one of its terms a real entity, but the other can be calculated in full view of the situation from which it springs.
If he compares future utility incomes, he enjoys neither of these advantages. Therefore, we be lieve it is more rational for him to ground his voting decision on current events than purely on future ones. As a result, the most important part of a voters decision is the size of his current party differential, i. It is the major determinant of his expected party differential.
However, this conclusion does not mean that citizens in our model ignore the future when deciding how to vote. Obviously, such an attitude would be irrational, since the purpose of voting is to select a future government. Therefore the rational man in our model ap plies two future-orienting modifiers to his current party differential in order to calculate his expected party differential.
The first of these modifiers we call simply the trend factor. It is the adjustment each citizen makes in his current party differential to account for any relevant trend in events that occurs within the current election period. For example, let us assume that a voter believes the present government made many mistakes upon first taking office but has steadily improved and is now governing ex pertly. He may feel that this expertness will prevail throughout the next election period if the incumbents are reelected.
Therefore he adjusts his current party differential to eliminate the impact of their initial blunders. Conversely, if he feels the government started out superbly but has continuously degenerated, he may project only its bad performance into his expected party differential. The second modifier comes into play only when the citizen cannot see any difference between the two parties running; i.
Our use of this particular tie-breaking device may seem rather arbitrary. W hy should a rational man pay attention to the past in selecting a future government? W hy should the present similarity of parties cause him to drag past governments into his decisions?
T he answer to these questions is derived from the impact of elec tions per se upon party behavior. In effect, every election is a judg ment passed upon the record of the incumbent party. But the standards used to judge its record are of two types. W hen the oppo sition's policies in period t have differed from those of the incum bents, the judgment expresses the voters choice between the future projections of these two policy sets.
But if the oppositions policies 6 W hen perfect information exists, citizens think parties policies are identical only when they really are identical.
But in a world where men are not fully in formed, some actual differences between parties may escape notice because they are not significant enough to exceed voters perception thresholds. For a further explanation of this possibility, see Section III of this chapter.
In this case, their judgment expresses whether they rate the incumbents' record as good or bad according to some abstract standard. Thus every election is a signaling device as well as a government selector. However, in a two-party system, it is limited to giving one of two signals.
The incumbents always regard reelection as a man date to continue their former policies. Conversely, the opposition party regards its triumph as a command to alter at least some of the incumbents policies; otherwise, why would people have voted for it? In short, the outcome calls for either no change or change. Hence it always makes a difference which party is elected, no matter how similar their records in period t. If the opposition wins, it is sure to cany out policies different from those the incumbents would have carried out had they been reelected.
However, no one knows in advance just what policy changes the opposition will make if it is elected.
Nor can they be discovered by looking at the opposition's hypothetical record in period t, since we are here assuming it is identical with that of the incumbents. But if men do not know what change signifies, how can they rationally vote for or against it? Rational men are not interested in policies per se but in their own utility incomes. If their present utility incomes are very low in their own eyes, they may believe that almost any change likely to be made will raise their incomes.
In this case, it is rational for them to vote against the incumbents, i. On the other hand, men who are benefiting from the incumbents policies may feel that change is likely to harm rather than help them. True, the opposition might introduce new policies which would raise their utility incomes. But their incomes are so high already that they fear any break in the continuity of present policies. Hence they rationally vote for the incumbents, i.
Clearly, both actions are rational responses to the fact that elec tions inevitably signal change or no change. Therefore abstention is rational only if a citi zen believes that either 1 the policy changes that will be made if the opposition is elected will have no net effect upon his utility in come or 2 these changes may affect his income, but the probability that they will raise it is exactly equal to the probability that they will lower it; i.
Two things are to be noted about this reasoning. First, we have admitted a degree of uncertainty into our certainty model. However, the purpose of this model is to prepare for analysis of the uncertainty model; hence we feel justified in taking uncertainty into account whenever it affects the basic structure of rational behavior.
Second, we have argued that the incumbents record can be judged as good or bad even when it is identical with the record of the op position. But what standard for judgment exists in this case?
W ith what can the incumbents record be compared? In the real world, men often compare what government is doing with what it should be doing without referring to any other party. Instead they are implicitly comparing the utility incomes they are actually receiving with those they would be receiving if the ideal government were in power. O f course, every man does not have the same ideals as every other.
Yet each man can use his private con ception of the ideal government to assign a performance rating to the incumbent party or any other party. Performance ratings are extremely useful for comparing govern ments operating in different time periods or even in different areas.
The performance rating of a government may change for the following reasons: In our model, performance ratings enter a voters decision-making whenever he thinks both parties have the same platforms and cur rent policies.
At first glance, this rule seems to imply discontinuity in the voters thinking, but in fact it does not. Every rational voter knows that if the opposition party is elected, it will alter some of the policies now being followed by the incumbents.
But whenever the two parties have different platforms or current policies, he also knows just what changes will be made. Therefore he can choose between parties by deciding how he likes these specific changes.
However, when he believes the two parties have identical plat forms and current policies, he no longer knows what specific changes will occur if the opposition wins. Therefore he is forced to base his decision upon his attitude towards change in general. There is no shift in his method of deciding how to vote; rather a shift in the evidence available causes him to discard one tool and use another.
The object of both tools is the sameto estimate the gain he will get from voting for one party instead of the other. Thus voters use performance ratings only when their current party differentials are zero and not always then. A mans current party differential may be zero for two reasons: In the latter case, performance ratings are useless to him because he already knows what changes will take place if the opposition wins.
Since these changes do not alter his utility income, he abstains. But in the former case he does not know what changes the opposi tion will make; hence he needs some way to determine his attitude toward change in general. But by what standard does he evaluate, say, a rating of 40 percent as good or bad? Formulating such a standard is what requires the voter to consider the performances of past governments.
In our model, each voter de velops his own standard out of his experiences with other govern ments. By computing their performance ratings, he creates a meas uring rod with which he can discover whether the incumbents have been doing a good, bad, or indifferent job of governing.
He votes for them if their rating is good, against them if it is bad, and not at all if it is indifferent. So far we have glibly spoken of voters computing their party dif ferentials and performance ratings without pointing out how difficult such computation is.
In order to find his current party differential, a voter in a two-party system must do the following: This is how a rational voter would behave in a world of complete and costless informationthe same world in which dwell the rational consumer and the rational producer of tra ditional economic theory. In the real world, uncertainty and lack of information prevent even. In the latter case, the losses or benefits he expects from change in general must be large enough to outweigh the cost of voting; otherwise he will abstain even though the incumbents do not have an indifferent rating.
For a more detailed discussion of abstention when voting is costly, see Chapter Since he cannot be certain what his present utility income from government is, or what it would be if an opposition party were in power, he can only make estimates of both. He will base them upon those few areas of government ac tivity where the difference between parties is great enough to im press him.
W hen the total difference in utility flows is large enough so that he is no longer indifferent about which party is in office, his party differential threshold has been crossed. Until then, he remains indifferent about which party is in power, even if one would give him a higher utility income than the other. The existence of thresh olds raises the probability that the expected party differential will be zero, i.
It also makes it possible to change a voters mind by providing him with better information about what is already happening to him. At this point, we encounter two major problems. First, when we open the door of our model to uncertainty, we must also admit such undesirables as errors, false information, and ignorance.
Because in this chapter we deal only with the basic logic of voting, we will post pone consideration of these factors until later except for one proviso. Throughout this thesis, we assume that no false i. Thus we exclude deliberate lies from our model, though errors and misleading data may remain. The second problem is rooted in the very concept of a voters changing his mind about how to vote.
As we have shown, every voter makes his voting decisions by comparing various real and hypotheti cal streams of utility income. T o decide what impact each govern ment act has upon his income, he appraises it as good or bad in the light of his own view of the good society. This procedure is ra tional because every citizen in our model views government as a means to the achievement of the good society as he sees it.
Thus a man's evaluation of each party depends ultimately upon 1 the information he has about its policies and 2 the relation between those of its policies he knows about and his conception of the good society.
To simplify the analysis, we assume that every citizen has a fixed conception of the good society and has already related it to his knowledge of party policies in a consistent manner. Therefore only new information can persuade him to change his mind. In essence, we are assuming that citizens political tastes are fixed. Even though these tastes often change radically in the long run, we believe our assumption is plausible in the short run, barring wars or other social upheavals.
In fact, fixed political tastes seem far more plausible to us than fixed consumption tastes, which are usually as sumed in demand studies.
Our analysis has so far been in terms of a two-party system, but its conclusions can easily be extended to a multiparty system. In the latter, a voter follows the same rules as in the former, but compares the incumbent party with whichever of the opposition parties has the highest present performance rating, i.
However, there is one eventuality in a multiparty system that does not arise in a two-party system: For example, when the Progressive Party ran a candidate in the American Presidential election of , some voters who preferred the Progressive candi date to all others nevertheless voted for the Democratic candidate.
They did so because they felt their favorite candidate had no chance at all, and the more people voted for him, the fewer would vote Democratic. If the Democratic vote fell low enough, then the Re publicansthe least desirable group from the Progressive point of viewwould win. Thus a vote for their favorite candidate ironically increased the probability that the one they favored least would win. T o avoid the latter outcome, they voted for the candidate ranking in the middle of their preference ordering.
This discrepancy demands an ex planation. First we must point out that in our model, elections are devices for the selection of governments, though they actually serve many purposes besides this one. They can also be 1 means of creat ing social solidarity, as they are in modem communist countries, 2 expressions of political preference, 3 devices for releasing personal aggression in legitimate channels e.
Nevertheless, we are interested in elections solely as means of selecting governments, and we define rational behavior with that end in mind. A rational voter first decides what party he believes will benefit him most; then he tries to estimate whether this party has any chance of winning. He does this because his vote should be expended as part of a selection process, not as an expression of preference.
Hence even if he prefers party A, he is wasting his vote on A if it has no chance of winning because very few other voters prefer it to B or C. The relevant choice in this case is between B and C. Since a vote for A is not useful in the actual process of selection, casting it is irra tional. Thus an important part of the voting decision is predicting how other citizens will vote by estimating their preferences.
Each citizen uses his forecast to determine whether the party he most prefers is really a part of the relevant range of choice. If he believes it is not, then rationality commands him to vote for some other party. In the absence of any information whatever about what other vot ers are likely to do, the rational voter always votes for the party he prefers. He also does so whenever the information he has leads him to believe his favorite party has a reasonable chance of winning.
The precise stochastic meaning of reasonable cannot be defined a priori; it depends upon the temperament of each voter. However, the less chance of winning he feels his favorite party has, the more likely he is to switch his vote to a party that has a good chance. The exact probability level at which he switches will partly de pend upon how important he thinks it is to keep the worst party from winning. Right, Center, and Left.
If he greatly prefers Right to Center and is almost indif ferent between Center and Left, he is less likely to switch his vote from Right to Center than if he slightly prefers Right to Center but abhors Left.
This situation becomes even more complex when we consider future-oriented voting. A voter may support a party that today is hopeless in the belief that his support will enable it to grow and someday become a likely winnerthus giving him a wider range of selection in the future. Also, he may temporarily support a hopeless party as a warning to some other party to change its platform if it wants his support. Both actions are rational for people who prefer better choice-alternatives in the future to present participation in the selection of a government.
In a world where he is furnished with complete, costless informa tion, the rational citizen makes his voting decision in the following way:. By comparing the stream of utility income from government ac tivity he has received under the present government adjusted for trends with those streams he believes he would have received if the various opposition parties had been in office, the voter finds his current party differentials.
They establish his preference among the competing parties. In a two-party system, the voter then votes for the party he pre fers.
In a multiparty system, he estimates what he believes are the preferences of other voters; then he acts as follows:. If his favorite party seems to have a reasonable chance of win ning, he votes for it. If his favorite party seems to have almost no chance of win-. If he is a future-oriented voter, he may vote for his favorite party even if it seems to have almost no chance of winning in order to improve the alternatives open to him in future elections.
If the voter cannot establish a preference among parties because at least one opposition party is tied with the incumbents for first place in his preference ordering, he then acts as follows: If the parties are deadlocked even though they have differing platforms or current policies or both, he abstains.
If the parties are deadlocked because they have identical plat forms and current policies, he compares the performance rat ing of the incumbent party with those of its predecessors in office. If the incumbents have done a good job, he votes for them; if they have done a bad job, he votes against them; and if their performance is neither good nor bad, he abstains. However, it seems rational for a citizen to vote for whichever of these top-ranking parties he thinks has the best chance of win ning.
For other considerations which might have a bearing upon his decision, see Chapter 9.
Our hypothesis differs from this view in three ways: In this chapter we use the last two of these axioms to describe the basic principles of government decision-making in our model de mocracy. Because the government in our model wishes to maximize political support, it carries out those acts of spending which gain the most votes by means of those acts of financing which lose the fewest votes.
In other words, expenditures are increased until the vote-gain of the marginal dollar spent equals the vote-loss of the marginal dollar financed.
At first glance, this procedural role for government action looks very similar to the traditional rule based on social utility. The latter states that government should continue spending until marginal so cial return falls to a level equal to marginal social cost, i. Although it appears that our hypothesis merely substitutes a vote function for the social- utility function, in fact the two rules are radically different.
T he gov ernment in our model is competing for votes with other political parties now out of office; hence its planning must take into account not only the voters utility functions, but also the proposals made by its opponents. Furthermore, opposition parties usually do not have to commit themselves on any issue until after the incumbent partys behavior as the government has revealed its policy.
Therefore when the in cumbents initiate a program, they can only guess how their op ponents will react.
But the opposition knows what policy the in cumbents have on any given issue and can select the optimum strategy to counteract it. Thus government decision-making occurs in a tangled context of economic optimums and political warfare. In our model, at the beginning of each election period the newly elected government draws up a master plan to guide its actions throughout the period. W e could assume that every such plan is worked out from the basic acts of government down to the last detail as though there had been no government before.
Therefore we assume that the new government makes only partial alterations in the scheme of government activities inherited from the preceding administration; it does not recreate the whole scheme.
In addition, it allows us to correlate governments plans with the utility functions of indi vidual voters because citizens decide how to vote by means of the marginal impact of government activity upon their utility functions rather than its total impact. Government activity includes providing such basic social condi tions as police protection, enforcement of contracts, maintenance of national defense, etc.
Thus the total utility a man derives from gov ernment action includes his gains from law and order in society and security in world politics.
Even if this total utility income exceeds his total loss of utility in taxes and to government acts he dislikes, he may still strongly disapprove of some marginal government ac tivity. A vote against any party is therefore not a vote against gov ernment per se but net disapproval of the particular marginal ac tions that party has taken. Thus both the government and the voters are interested in margi nal alterations in the structure of government activity.
By marginal alterations we mean partial changes in the structure of government behavior patterns which each administration inherits from its prede cessor. These changes may be of great significance absolutely e. Furthermore, a series of marginal changes may alter the whole structure of government acts; so the meaning of marginality is related to the time units chosen.
Though such focusing drastically narrows the range of choice open to a governments consideration, it still faces a staggering choice problem, for there are numerous margins and multitudes of alterna tives at each. In order to present our model of how government be haves under these circumstances, we make six simplifying assump tions:. All decisions are made by a central unit in the government which can look at all margins of possible action.
At each margin, there are only two alternatives of action, M and N. All government choices are independent of each other; i. There are only two parties competing for control of the govern- ment, one of which is now in office.
Each party knows the nature of all the utility functions of indi vidual voters, so that it can tell whether and by how much each voter prefers M or N for every choice it is considering.
By this we assume intrapersonal cardinality of utility, but we say nothing about interpersonal comparisons. Voters are informed without cost of all possible government de cisions and their consequences, and they make voting decisions rationally, as described in Chapter 3. Under these radically oversimplified conditions, the government subjects each decision to a hypothetical poll and always chooses the alternative which the majority of voters prefer.
It must do so because if it adopts any other course, the opposition party can defeat it. For example, if the government acts as the majority prefers in everything except issue x, the opposition can propose a platform identical to the governments except for issue x, where it stands with the majority. Thus to avoid defeat, the government must support the majority on every issue.
Following the majority principle is the incumbents best policy, but it does not guarantee victory in every election.
T he opposition party can sometimes defeat a majority-pleasing government by using one of three possible strategies. The simplest opposition strategy is adoption of a program which is identical with that of the incumbents in every particular. This maneuver forces citizens to decide how to vote by comparing the incumbents performance rating with those of previous governments. But in a certain world, the incumbents can easily discover and adopt the majority position on every issue; hence their performance rating is likely to be high enough to insure reelection.
In addition, the only circumstances which cause a majority-pleasing government to have a low performance rating also cause other strategies to work even better than the percent matching maneuver. Therefore the lat ter would rarely be used in our hypothetical world. Under certain conditions, the opposition can defeat a government which uses the majority principle by taking contrary stands on key issues, i.
T o explain these conditions, we make use of the following symbols:. U stands for the utility income a voter would get from a possible gov ernment policy on some issue. M is the policy alternative on any issue which is favored by a majority of those citizens who are not indifferent about that issue. N is the policy alternative on any issue which is favored by a minority of those citizens who are not indifferent about that issue.
P is the total set of issues which arise during an election period. S is a subset in P containing issues 1 through s, the first of which to arise issue 1 need not be the first issue to arise in P but is the earliest issue in P on which the opposition party takes a minority stand. X is the incumbent party. Y is the opposition party. T he opposition party can always defeat the incumbents if there is some S in P which has the following characteristics: More than half the citizens who vote are in the minority on some issues in S; i.
Each citizen who holds the minority view on some but not all issues in S has a stronger preference for those policies he favors when in the minority than for those he favors when in the ma jority. The opposition party need not commit itself on any issue in S until the incumbents have revealed their position on all issues therein, nor does it have to reveal its position on any other issue in P until after the incumbents have committed themselves on that issue.
Throughout this chapter, we refer to these characteristics as condi tion one, condition two, and condition three respectively. Conditions one and two can be expressed more precisely in sym- 8. However, the verbal argument preceding it does not depend upon this assumption; it is equally valid under purely ordinal assumptions. For proof of this assertion, see footnote 14 of this chapter. Condition one implies that the government does not always please the same set of men when it takes the majority position; i.
This outcome could never occur if a particular set of citizens, comprising more than 50 percent of the electorate, agreed upon all issues gov ernment faced. Therefore the coalition-of-minorities strategy works only when no majority of voters exhibits perfect consensus on all issues.
Furthermore, condition two means that once the government has been elected, most citizens would rather have it follow the minoritys views on every issue in S than the majoritys views on every issue therein. This does not mean they are antidemocratic, for a de mocracy requires majority rule only in choosing its government.
However, it implies that consensus is weak, since men are more vehement about their minority views than about the views they share with a majority of others. How these conditions favor the coalition-of-minorities strategy can be shown by an example. Assume that A, B, and C are the whole electorate, and government makes decisions on two issues. On the first issue, government takes a position which A and B favor slightly and C opposes strongly.
T he governments decision on the second issue is strongly opposed by A, but slightly favored by B and C. Thus government action pleases the majority in each case. Nevertheless, both A and C incur net losses from government activity, since the pleasure each receives on one issue is outweighed by the unhappi ness he gets on the other.
Consequently, each will vote for a party which espouses the minority view on both issues. In such a situation, it might seem wiser for the incumbents to adopt a minority-pleasing strategy themselves. However, condition three prevents them from gaining by doing so. W hen the opposition can refrain from committing itself until after the incumbents have acted, it can counteract whatever strategy they adopt.
If the govern ment employs the majority principle consistently, the opposition de feats it by supporting the minority on every issue. In short, the incumbents cannot win when all three conditions hold. If we retain the first two conditions but weaken condition three, the opposition still has an advantage, though it can conceivably lose. In this case, it is possible for the incumbents to defeat the opposition whenever voter B's preference for the ma jority view is stronger on the first issue than on the second.
The government chooses the majority view on the first issue in S as it always must , and the opposition counters with the minority view. But on the second issue, the government picks the minority view, forcing the opposition to support the majority.
C supports the opposition and A the government; hence the incumbents win even though con ditions one and two hold. Thus when the weakened version of condition three is in effect, the opposition can be certain of victory only if a fourth condition also holds:.
No matter what stands the incumbents take on all issues in S after issue 1, the opposition party can always match these stands.
W e refer to this characteristic of S as condition four. Condition four can be expressed more exactly in symbols as fol-. If S conforms to condition four, the incumbents cannot gain vic tory by forcing the opposition to adopt a heterogeneous strategy instead of a straight coalition of minorities. A heterogeneous strategy is one in which each party supports some minorities and some majorities in S, as in the example given above.
Though the incumbents can force the opposition to adopt such a strategy even when condition four holds, they cannot win by doing so. No ma neuvering on their part can overcome the advantage seized by the opposition when it supported the minority on issue 1 in S.
Thus when conditions one, two, and four hold, the incumbents are always defeated unless uncertainty is introduced into the model. O f course, once the opposition party gets into office, it faces the same dilemma that its predecessor could not solve.
Furthermore, if the same issues arise again, it must handle them in the manner indi cated by its campaign promises; i. Thus unless conditions one, two, or four change, the 6 For proof of a partys need to carry out its promises, see Chapter 7.
In short, the two parties regularly alternate in power, each lasting only one election period at a time. This conclusion may seem to undermine our hypothesis: The answer is twofold: Otherwise this maneuver is risky because no one knows with certainty whether conditions one, two, and four actually prevail. But when the "ins have been governing for several terms consecu tively, they have had to make so many decisions that 1 they have probably made many enemies and 2 the likelihood of a varying majority composition on several issues is high.
Depending on the ideological distribution of voters in a given political community , electoral outcomes can be stable and peaceful or wildly varied and even result in violent revolution. The likely number of political parties can also be identified if one also considers the electoral structure.
If the ideological positions of voters are displayed in the form of a graph and if that graph shows a single peak, then a median voter can be identified and in a representative democracy , the choice of candidates and the choice of policies will gravitate toward the positions of the median voter. Conversely, if the graph of ideological distribution is double-peaked, indicating that most voters are either extremely liberal or extremely conservative, the tendency toward political consensus or political equilibrium is difficult to attain because legislators representing each mode are penalized by voters for attempting to achieve consensus with the other side by supporting policies representative of a middle position.
Here is a list of the key propositions Downs attempts to prove in chapter eight:. The conditions under which his theory prevails are outlined in chapter two. Many of these conditions have been challenged by later scholarship. In anticipation of such criticism, Downs quotes Milton Friedman in chapter two that: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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