Individual voters are not denied a meaningful choice as they are in the median voter scenario. Instead, the parties would be expected to diverge in terms of the programs they offer. Another similarity between the two-party median voter scenario and the multidimensional uncovered set scenario is that it does not necessarily matter who forms the government. In the median voter scenario it does not matter because both parties propose the same median program. In the case of the uncovered set, who is in government may not matter much because whoever is in government has to implement a program in the uncovered set.
That is, in order to govern, it is necessary to form a coalition and defend it against counter-offers from the excluded parties. Thus, the excluded parties matter in terms of negotiating government policy, not just the parties in the governing coalition. This explains why non-government parties often have considerable power in multiparty systems, and why this power is often given institutional form, for example in strong committee systems. All of the preceding comments assume legislative decision making by majority rule.
However, most legislatures do not use simple majority rule. Senate to overcome a filibuster. In most cases, however, it is some division of power, such as bicameralism especially when the legislatures are elected with different methods and calendars or presidentialism, that makes it easier to block legislation than pass it.
Super-majoritarian rules make voter choice far more complicated.
There is no good model of social choice in multiple dimensions under super-majority rule. Congress with one policy dimension. Modeling super-majoritarian choice is far more complex than modeling majority rule. With majority rule we can predict that the outcome will be in a relatively small region, based solely on the current preferences of voters and legislators. However, with super-majority rule, the outcome also depends on the status quo from the previous period. In the short run, super-majoritarian systems are more stable and prone to gridlock.
In the long run, however, there is little understanding about how public opinion conditions the evolution of policy. Up to this point it has been argued that social choice results such as the median voter result and the uncovered set suggest that collective choice depends on the overall distribution of public opinion.
The relationship of this to individual choice has been considered as if it was a problem. However, there is a different point of view. It could be argued that the dependence on aggregate features of the public opinion is a virtue.
They address the common argument that American voters are typically poorly informed. They argue that even if this is the case, public opinion effectively aggregates the information that exists. This essentially relies on a law of large numbers principle. Some voters may hold random, irrational beliefs and attitudes. However, when public opinion is aggregated, these random components cancel out, leaving an accurate assessment of the situation.
Thus, democratic accountability is possible through collective choice, even when individuals are poorly informed.
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Policy seems to some degree to follow public mood—as public opinion becomes more conservative, government policy reflects this. However, public opinion also reacts to policy. As policy becomes more liberal, public opinion moves in a conservative direction. This can be compared to the thermostatic model of Wlezien In this model the public has a preference for a certain level of public expenditure. If that expenditure is exceeded, then public opinion moves to the right to correct it, and vice versa when expenditure falls. Quite apart from its intrinsic interest, the macro-polity approach provides an intriguing way to test rational choice models of collective choice.
Both the macro-polity approach and rational choice predict that policy outcomes should depend on the overall distribution of public opinion.
The fact that only the overall distribution matters here is extremely important. Individual level data that is comparable over time is difficult to obtain, as panel studies are rare.
However, public opinion surveys asking relevant questions for which the aggregate results can be compared over time are far more common. What is needed is a way to generate a measure of public opinion on say government spending over time, even though the same questions are not asked every year. James Stimson in Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson and elsewhere provides an algorithm that does just this, and there are newer methods based on item response theory. This provides a new opportunity to test the relationship between public opinion and policy predicted by rational choice theory.
It also returns us to the normative questions central to theories of democracy—can the public hold politicians accountable through electoral democracy and can elections bring about the policies people desire? Rational choice makes a crucial contribution to the understanding of voter choice and of democracy. Rational choice as a theory of individual choice has been distinguished from rational choice as a theory of collective choice.
In case of individual voter choice, mathematical social choice theorists are certainly not alone in claiming that voters are rational.
A Cross-Cultural Theory Of Voter Behavior
Rational choice theory, for example, has assisted the development of some of the statistical tools, such as logit and probit, that are used to test theories of voting behavior. The question of whether voters are rational is of crucial normative importance. Democracy requires that people are able to hold politicians to account. If voters do not act rationally, it is hard to see how this is possible. Democracy is also based on the principle of political equality—the idea that everyone has an equal say in making collective decisions.
But this equal say is surely empty if people cannot rationally choose representatives who advance the kind of collective decisions they desire. There is a very large literature in political science that questions whether electorates have the information and cognitive capabilities to make democracy work in a meaningful way. Whether voters have the required knowledge and rationality is, of course, an empirical question.
The starting point of rational choice theory, however, tends to be that people or at least enough people do. The main contribution of rational choice theory is to the understanding of collective choice by voters. It provides a theoretical mechanism linking voter preferences on one hand, and political outcomes on the other.
It also challenges preconceptions of the way democracy works. Often majority rule means that there are multiple, overlapping majorities. Sometimes parties who are not in power may have considerable influence because they could have been in power or might be in the next government. We are still in the process of coming to terms with the consequences of the advances in voting theory that have occurred since the late 20th century.
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In particular, the consequences of these models are just beginning to be tested empirically. Abramson, P.
Comparative Political Studies , 43 1 , 61— Find this resource:. Achen, C. Mass political attitudes and the survey response. American Political Science Review , 69 , — Adams, J. A unified theory of party competition: A cross-national analysis integrating spatial and behavioral factors. Cambridge, U. Arrow, K.
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