Facing the Challenge of Democracy: Explorations in the Analysis of Public Opinion and Political Participation

Facing the Challenge of Democracy: Explorations in the Analysis of Public Opinion and Political Participation

Facing the Challenge of Democracy: Explorations in the Analysis of Public Opinion and Political Participation

Facing the Challenge of Democracy: Explorations in the Analysis of Public Opinion and Political Participation


Citizens are political simpletons--that is only a modest exaggeration of a common characterization of voters. Certainly, there is no shortage of evidence of citizens' limited political knowledge, even about matters of the highest importance, along with inconsistencies in their thinking, some glaring by any standard. But this picture of citizens all too often approaches caricature.

Paul Sniderman and Benjamin Highton bring together leading political scientists who offer new insights into the political thinking of the public, the causes of party polarization, the motivations for political participation, and the paradoxical relationship between turnout and democratic representation. These studies propel a foundational argument about democracy. Voters can only do as well as the alternatives on offer. These alternatives are constrained by third players, in particular activists, interest groups, and financial contributors. The result: voters often appear to be shortsighted, extreme, and inconsistent because the alternatives they must choose between are shortsighted, extreme, and inconsistent.

Facing the Challenge of Democracy features contributions by John Aldrich, Stephen Ansolabehere, Edward Carmines, Jack Citrin, Susanna Dilliplane, Christopher Ellis, Michael Ensley, Melanie Freeze, Donald Green, Eitan Hersh, Simon Jackman, Gary Jacobson, Matthew Knee, Jonathan Krasno, Arthur Lupia, David Magleby, Eric McGhee, Diana Mutz, Candice Nelson, Benjamin Page, Kathryn Pearson, Eric Schickler, John Sides, James Stimson, Lynn Vavreck, Michael Wagner, Mark Westlye, and Tao Xie.


All but one of the scholars that we invited to contribute to this book immediately accepted; all made the deadline for the review of the manuscript by external referees; all did the additional work that we asked of them; all made or beat the deadline for submission of the final version of their chapters—all right, one was three days late.

This is not the customary experience for a collaborative work, it hardly needs saying. Why did virtually everyone accept our invitation? Why did all do all what we asked of them? the only reason that we can come up with is the same reason that motivated us to do the book: a desire to honor Raymond Wolfinger.

For all who are familiar with his work, it is obvious why. His work— all his work—is authoritative, displaying three qualities. He has guillotine logic in deducing empirical implications of others’ arguments. He has a rare power of imagination in thinking up empirical tests. and he is ruthless in putting his own views to the test. Richard Feynman defined a scientist as one who tries to prove himself wrong. By that standard, Ray Wolfinger is a genuine scientist.

There is another characteristic that we have heard attributed to Ray’s work—that it is atheoretical. There is a sense in which we think that is right. He is offended by what Frederick Maitland, a legal historian of genius, described as “glittering generalizations.” and he is offended for the same reason as Maitland: because of their combination of pretentiousness and imprecision. On the other hand, having invested a good deal of time in a close reading of all—or nearly all—of his work, from the earliest to the latest, we will tell you that his work is theoretical, right to its core, and in exactly one of the senses in which the word “theoretical” does real work in the social sciences.

Here is an example of what we have in mind. Robert Merton characterized political machines as serving an integrative function for immigrants by distributing resources to them in exchange for their votes. Wolfinger makes a stabbingly smart observation. Political machines are not in the business of handing out resources. They give big rewards to their leaders and chicken feed to the rest. This is the kind of observation that only a person who knows firsthand how things work in politics would make. When we say how “things” work, we mean political institutions all in all—political machines yes, but also Congress and parties and voting regimes, because he has made lasting contributions in all these fields.

And then there is another quality that distinguishes Ray’s work. It has an aesthetic quality—precision, drive, economy of expression, and above . . .

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