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POL101Y1 Lecture Notes - Robert A. Dahl, Freeriding, Polyarchy

Political Science
Course Code

of 6
POL101 (Lecture 5)
Oct. 18th, 2010
Problems of Democracy
Democracy and Equality
Rules of the game
Distinct, discreet rules of the game (political institutions, how elections
are run, when and if you can vote)
Structural underpinnings of democracy are law; most importantly
human rights
About the rule of law as opposed to the rule of man (to a fair degree
democracies are predictable)
Managing diversity
Democracy seems to do a better job at managing diversity
Oftentimes characterized by their moderating powers (most voters tend
to vote somewhere in the middle) ->moderates excess, and radicalism
Adhere to the norms of inclusion, as citizens we are included in the
political system
Institutionalized uncertainty
What makes democracy stable is that we never know what the next
election outcome will be, meaning that if you lose this election you have
every expectation to win next time
Next election is always uncertain contributing to stability, different
Variations of democracy
Institutional make-up of democracies vary around the world
(presidential in the US, parliamentary in Canada)
No one model of democracy, every democracy is structured by a
different set of rules
Dynamism by which they can change the rules through constitution
Core principal of democracy
(I) Equal Opportunity
Political equality (all citizens treated politically equally, essence of
democracy is that we will all enjoy equality)
Procedural democracy (apply the rules of the game equally to all
individuals; equality of opportunity through fair elections)
Polyarchy (Robert Dahl): Public contestation > equality of
opportunity: all have the ability to contest, argue, fight it out with
words; inclusive participation > everyone enjoys the right equally
to contest
(II) Equality of opportunity is one of the core principals of
Equality of Outcome
(Consequences of democracy)
Political-economic equity
Procedural versus substantive democracy -> rules matter insofar that
they facilitate equal and fair outcomes
Example: democratic warfare state -> theory of the rise of the welfare
state (government that promote equitable socio and economic outcome)
Correlation between the size of the working class, the rates of
unionization, and the presence of an elected party (all erodes out of a
No democracy has ever experienced a famine.
Putting practices of equality into practice is where the real challenge exists
(some of the inherent problems of democracy)
Voter Turnout Rates
(Why do so few people vote despite equality of opportunity?)
Collective action problem:
(Collectivist reading) Not surprising due to the fact that it is not
rational to vote
Difficult to mobilize people to go out and vote
The cost of mobilizing and engaging in political action is costly
Costs of voting are high; information cost of voting is costly
Benefits of voting are not entirely clear, thus we tend to free ride;
certainly enjoying the benefits
As rational actors, people free ride someone else will vote, and they
will get the benefits
There really isnt any incentive to vote, or immediate material benefits
Sense of social solidarity by voting
One of the challenges of procedural democracy, we dont exercise or use
equality of opportunity
Challenges (#2)
2. The Fallacy of Democratic Pluralism
US Presidential Mid-Term
Democratic pluralism assumes political equality
Example: US health care reform
US has consistently failed to deliver universal healthcare
American political system is institutionally fragmented; a bill is
required to get passed in order to get anything done
Tremendous institutional fragmentation
Many veto points along the political process where someone can say no
Privileges the political power of the actors that are in the political
minority through the distribution of resources
Clinton could not pass medical reform due to minority groups: Medical
Association (that had disproportional power, but lots of money)
Tyranny of the minority
Small but rich interest groups can single-handedly kill a bill
The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with
a strong upper-class accent. Elmer E. Schattschneider
We may have democratic institutions founded on equality however
power is not equally distributed