The Long View
Modern democratic political systems claim that all citizens have equal opportunities to shape the composition of their elected governments (and hence the policies those governments adopt). In the classical model of democracy, governments are responsive to the mass public, making public policies favored by a majority of citizens while respecting the rights of minorities. In such a world, participation is said to foster learning and engagement on the part of all citizens such that compromise, reasoned debate, and consensus would become possible.
Of course in the real world, no model of democracy has ever proved capable of achieving such a neat equality of representation and the balancing of competing interests. Democracy in practice falls short, perhaps inevitably so, of the ambitious theoretical goals associated with it for the past 2,500 years. For example, one person/one vote rules seem clear enough, but other “inputs” besides votes inevitably influence the relative power of individuals and groups. These “other” inputs—money, networks, media use, policy ideas, social movements—are far less evenly distributed than the right of each citizen to cast a single ballot. However representatives are chosen, the resulting governing coalition inevitably privileges the wishes of some voters over others. And even representative public opinion (derived from
Jeff Manza is a professor of sociology and department chair at New York
University. His research is in the area of social stratification, political sociology,
and public policy. He is the coauthor (with Clem Brooks) of Social Cleavages
and Political Change and (with Christopher Uggen) Locked Out: Felon
Disenfranchisement and American Democracy. He is finishing a book entitled
Whose Rights? Counterterrorism and the Dark Side of American Public Opinion.