This paper aims to critique Downs's Economic Theory of Political Action in Democracy with experimental research that supports and refutes the assumptions and results of his model. First, I look at if legislators' policy making decisions are ideologically fixed or susceptible to constituent preferences. Next, I consider if voter choice in incumbency races is dependant on the incumbent's performance during their previous term. Then I examine the rationality of voting, specifically the assumption that all voters are self interested. Based on my findings in these areas I conclude that there are different mechanisms for local election and national elections.
[...] That is because measures of national accountability are part of information, voters don't need statistics on GDP to understand how the economy is doing, and they simply need to look at their bank accounts and the prices of the goods they buy. Downs's theory on the rationality of being informed is based on the axiom that all actors are self interested (137). However, Fowler's study of Altruism and Turnout suggests that voters are not self interested (680). This empirical study finds that voters make their decision to vote not based just on their own utility gained, but also by how many other voters there are, and as an extension of themselves, how much utility those other voters get as well (Fowler, 681). [...]
[...] A voter is much more likely to belong to similar networks and have connections with a local politician then with a national one. And similarly the vote of that one person with the connection is a lot more likely to matter in a local election then in a national one. One exception Berry and Howell found was the 2000 South Carolina school board election (857). During this election there had been extensive media coverage of student achievement scores. It was only in this year that a correlation was found between performance during their term and the outcome of the election for the incumbent. [...]
[...] The desired effect being that each candidate would get the same number of votes as they would have without trading, but Gore could potential win more electorate votes (Hartvigsen, 32). Throughout this paper I've examined several different aspects of Downs's Economic Theory of Political Action in Democracy”. The concept of politicians being accountable to their constituencies in order to maintain votes was supported by the California Assembly's shift to the right following the 2003 recall. This provides the desired results at the national and state level where retrospective voting is common, but not at the local level. [...]
[...] This contradicts the usefulness of politician accountably as presented by the first study, and therefore Downs's model. While politicians may adjust to electoral signals as they did after the 2003 California recall election (Kousser, Lewis & Masket 836), what use are these adjustments if the voters do not notice? Downs says in Economic Theory of Political Action in Democracy” that voters base their decisions on the performance of the incumbent during his previous term Berry and Howell's research suggests just the opposite. Therefore it seems Downs's theory does not apply to local elections. [...]
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