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Manin, Przeworski, and Stokes: Elections and representation

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Manin, Przeworski, and Stokes. 1999. Elections and representation. In Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, ed. Przeworski, Stokes, and Manin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Intuitively, one might think that democracy means representativeness. However, in reality, there are major principal-agent problems here. Some institutional features may help make politicians more representative of their constituents.

Two conceptions of represnetation: mandate and accountability.

The mandate conception of representation:

Candidates offer programs. Voters select a program (not a candidate), thus election is a "mandate" to pursue the winning program. For this to be true, (1) campaigns must actually make clear what policy the winner will really follow, and (2) the winning platform must actually be in voters' best interest. Necessary conditions for mandate representation to work: politicians and voters have similar interests, politicians want reelection and think that fulfilling their promised platform is the best route to reelection, and politicians want future promises to be credible. Even if we're generous, these conditions aren't realistic. Interests change over time, as do the needs of the people, thus conditions (1) and (2) change. And hidden action weakens (3). The authors point out other reasons for and against this conception. Interesting, no democracy has upheld suits against politicians who failed to implement their mandate. Given that conditions change, this is probably a good thing.

The accountability conception of representation:

Voters may not be able to force politicians to keep their promises, but they can control government through the threat of sanction at reelection time. The goal is to prevent politicians from seeking rents or shirking by making them choose between either getting rents but losing office or serving faithfully and keeping office. However, it is very difficult to monitor politicians and know, first, what they could have done at best, and second, what they actually did. Of course, if politicians also don't know level of performance the voters will demand for reelection, they have an incentive to perform as well as possible. Nonetheless, there are problems.

Voters have only one instrument (their vote) but two goals: (prospectively) selecting the best people and policies, and also (retrospectively) sanctioning politicians (thus encouraging those they selected already to perform well).