Democracy is based on the idea that elections are the principal vehicle for popular influence in government. And while democracy strives for equality in citizens' opportunities to participate in electoral contests, it also is designed to create unequal outcomes: for some to win, others have to lose. We argue that this inequality matters for political legitimacy because it generates ambivalent attitudes towards political authorities on the part of the losers. This book examines the causes and consequences of this ambivalence for the legitimacy of democratic institutions. While it should not come as a surprise that winners support the processes that make them successful, it should perhaps be more surprising that the losers, instead of refusing to accept the outcome and undermine the system, are frequently willing to consent to being governed by the winners. Because the efficacy of democratic regimes can be seriously threatened if the losers do not consent to their loss, the central themes of this book focus on losing: how institutions shape losing, and how losers respond to their loss. And this, we argue, is critical for understanding how democracy works since being able to accept losing is one of the central, if not the central, requirement of democracy.
While all of us have been working on questions related to the theme of the book for some time, the book has its most immediate origins in a conference organized in October 2002 by Chris Anderson with the help of the Center on Democratic Performance and the Department of Political Science at Binghamton University (SUNY). We are grateful to Ned McMahon (then Director of CDP) and Grace Schulman for helping to organize the conference and the George L. Hinman Fund for Public Policy for providing the necessary resources for bringing together the group of authors as well as a number of conference participants.
We would like to thank the following individuals for participating in the conference and providing thoughtful and constructive feedback during the sessions: Tom Brunell, Gretchen Casper, David Cingranelli, Lucy Goodhart, Will Heller, Rick Hofferbert, Bonnie Meguid, Dick Niemi, Jonas Pontusson, Bing Powell, David Rueda, Chris Way, and Antoine Yoshinaka. Portions of the book also were presented as papers at the Midwest Political Science Association National Conference, Chicago, April 3-6, 2003. Many thanks to Jeff Karp and the panel audience for providing stimulating comments and to Carol Mershon for allowing us to meet in so congenial an environment.