The Policy Legitimation Process
To choose a government is not to choose governmental policies. Whereas the voters largely do determine the players in the game of American politics, they have far less control over the signals players will call, the strategies they will employ, or the final score. The popular will, as represented by a majority of voters, does not determine public policy.
--GERALD M. POMPER
ONLY GOVERNMENTS CAN claim legitimacy in the use of force to achieve policy goals. It is true that private individuals and organizations--from muggers, gangs, and crime families, to violent revolutionaries and terrorists--may use force to get what they want, but only governments can claim to use force legitimately--that is, people generally believe that it is rightful for government to use force when necessary to uphold the law. Achieving legitimacy, then, is essential in government policymaking.
Democratic governments have a special claim to legitimacy. These governments allow citizens to participate in the selection of leaders. People who disagree with a law are told to work for its change by speaking out, petitioning, demonstrating, joining interest groups, and participating in political party activity. They are told that they may vote to oust those elected officials who supported the law, or even run for public office themselves. Thus, democratic government imposes a special moral obligation on citizens to obey the law, inasmuch as citizens are granted the opportunity of "working within the system" to change the law.
Elites in a democratic society must work to ensure that their policies are viewed as legitimate by the masses: "Once it has been decided that a certain program is required as a response to a policy problem, that choice must be made a legitimate choice. . . . It is by means of the official process of government that substantive policy decisions are legitimated; that is, the policies have the legitimate authority of the state attached to them by the process." 1
Legitimacy in the top-down policymaking process is not achieved by popular vote. Popular policy initiatives and referenda votes are characteristic of only about