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Representative Democracy and Information

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Fooloso4
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Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Fooloso4 » October 31st, 2018, 2:38 pm

Can elected officials represent the will of the people and their interests if they do not know where the people stand on the issues?

From today’s New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/31/opin ... y_20181031


Whether the Democrats or the Republicans seize control of Congress after the midterms, you can be sure of one thing: They will have very little idea what laws the public actually wants them to act on.

The current Republican-controlled Congress is a good example. Its signature accomplishment is a tax-cut bill that hardly anyone likes or asked for and that is estimated to add about $2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Only about 30 percent of Americans supported it — unlike the well over 70 percent of Americans who consistently support raising the minimum wage, background checks for gun sales and taking action on the climate crisis. Bills were actually proposed on these issues, but you would hardly know it; they were barely considered, and it goes without saying that none passed.

Congress doesn’t know what policies Americans support. We know that because we asked the most senior staff members in Congress — the people who help their bosses decide what bills to pursue and support — what they believed public opinion was in their district or state on a range of issues.

In a research paper, we compared their responses with our best guesses of what the public in their districts or states actually wanted using large-scale public opinion surveys and standard models. Across the board, we found that congressional aides are wildly inaccurate in their perceptions of their constituents’ opinions and preferences.

For instance, if we took a group of people who reflected the makeup of America and asked them whether they supported background checks for gun sales, nine out of 10 would say yes. But congressional aides guessed as few as one in 10 citizens in their district or state favored the policy. Shockingly, 92 percent of the staff members we surveyed underestimated support in their district or state for background checks, including all Republican aides and over 85 percent of Democratic aides.

The same is true for the four other issues we looked at: regulating carbon emissions to address the climate crisis, repealing the Affordable Care Act, raising the federal minimum wage and investing in infrastructure. On climate change, the average aide thought only a minority of his or her district wanted action, when in truth a majority supported regulating carbon.

Across the five issues, Democratic staff members tended to be more accurate than Republicans. Democrats guessed about 13 points closer to the truth on average than Republicans.

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LuckyR
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by LuckyR » November 1st, 2018, 2:22 am

Well, if you get more campaign coverage from building a wall than protecting pre-existing conditions coverage, what are you going to work on? If your largest donors benefit from a law that rewords a few sentences in an arcane piece of the tax code, do you think a bill that no voters care about might get passed?
"As usual... it depends."

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Burning ghost
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Burning ghost » November 1st, 2018, 2:51 am

If the state is too distanced from the people it serves the state will fall.

If the majority of the “middle class” remain content enough nothing will change quickly. Apathy sets in, memories of the past turbulence fades into historical scrawlings, then slowly people start to wake up to the creeping decay and force the state to change or incite a revolution.

If the represetnatives the people on the key issues and keep them happy it doesn’t really matter if they get some things drastically wrong.

Another thing we have to accept is that people generally want something for next to nothing. If the return of their payment is too far flung into the future they won’t buy into it even if it predicts the best possible outcome. The role of the government is to do its best to measure and balance numerous possibilities, to give people the means to fulfill their potential and the freedom to explore and grow.

The aim is generally to find a position where equality of opportunity is at its height and then let humanity play out as it does.

When it comes to many issues it is sometimes hard to make radical changes because many knock-on effects that seem unrelated may come to the surface and cause more problems than before.

People en masses don’t like to hear bad news. I don’t want to represent the interests of mob mentality and I imagine that is likely how many politicans feel due to their inside knowledge which may drastically oppose public opinion. The task is then about politicans making strides in saying what needs to be said without creating a negative mindset and repulsing votes. Essentially I don’t see how there cannot be some gamesmanship in such a process. Can you?
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Georgeanna
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Georgeanna » November 1st, 2018, 4:24 am

'Can elected officials represent the will of the people and their interests if they do not know where the people stand on the issues?'

A question well-packed with interesting issues.

The concept of democratic representation - most people probably have a clear idea in their head of what this means.
There is a simple definition and a more complex which looks at different aspects.
For a more in-depth look, here is an article:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/poli ... sentation/

As for 'the will of the people' - this phrase has been repeated ad nauseam in UK politics. Related to the Brexit referendum. Identifying the Leave victory as the 'will of the people' has meant that some have tried to silence further democratic debate. As with the election of Trump. He won, get over it. His aggressive attack on rights and liberties to be accepted because this is a democracy. Well, perhaps we need to look again at this political system...

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/s ... -democracy

'the interests of the people' - What are they ? Which people ? How do we know what is in our best interests on any singular issue ? We don't always have the best information to hand.

From The New York Times article cited above:
The current Republican-controlled Congress is a good example. Its signature accomplishment is a tax-cut bill that hardly anyone likes or asked for and that is estimated to add about $2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Only about 30 percent of Americans supported it — unlike the well over 70 percent of Americans who consistently support raising the minimum wage, background checks for gun sales and taking action on the climate crisis. Bills were actually proposed on these issues, but you would hardly know it; they were barely considered, and it goes without saying that none passed.
Sometimes, it is not just that our political representatives don't know the level of support for an issue, they simply don't care.
In the UK, we talk of the Westminster bubble and the gap between London politics and the rest of the UK.

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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Georgeanna » November 1st, 2018, 4:33 am

'Can elected officials represent the will of the people and their interests if they do not know where the people stand on the issues?'

I think the short answer is 'Yes, they can. But will they ?'
If 'the will of the people' is taken as a narrow victory in a referendum. The representatives can sail off over the cliffs of Dover...taking us all with them.

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Burning ghost
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Burning ghost » November 1st, 2018, 5:19 am

How dilute can democracies become? If spread too thin can democracy function well enough?

By this I mean the contrast between centralised political power and a system that is more of a collection of independent democratic groups.

Looking at this from an evolutionary and anthropological perspective we can easily see that humans have historically worked well together in teams of a certain size. We can see this in sports teams, businesses and in political organizations. Inevitably the big decisions fall on around a dozen people who work together.

For me there is the question about how representative work together to achieve and mutually beneficial outcome AND how each representative is given a balanced view of the current situation by those working under them (so all the way down each strata of the political heirarchy needs to be robust enough to have a meaningful effect on those below and above.)

I know this is not a new problem, and know it falls into many different systems - basically the problem of having too many levels within an organisation so that it gets to the point that the system becomes clogged, perplexed and and confused by misinformation, and ultimately ends with those at the top doing the best they can with the data they have yet being given poor/confused/inaccurate data due to the number of levels within the system.

Obviously with a low population of 100 the people can come together and vote in an informed manner on te immediate needs of the community (of their community) and act upon census directly. The problem with 100 people is there is boudnto be a lack of expertise in certain areas of understanding so as the population develops and grows areas of expertise expand and develop more and more. This progresses all the way up to the current situation with nations of millions/billions of people all supposedly being able to have a meaningful voice for the whole nation - this seems naive at best to me. Since the French revolution a certain political evolutionary process was set into motion. Elitism was done away with, democracy flourished and people prospered with their new found freedom and created a better life for themselves and for others due to free markets and personal ownership of goods and produce.

Is the current system sophisticated enough to deal with representing huge populations of people or not? If not how both information and political power be rebistributed to lesse the social pressure? Does it need to be redistributed? What is the optimal target for this? How many “levels” of representatives fits the human social structure best?

If we look to business models it is clear enough that complex structures - having multiple levels of heirarchy - fail fairly rapidly. What we see there is that a certain flavour of “elitism” is needed. Meaning someone needs to be in a position to get things done quickly based on relevant information that has not been twisted through several levels of a intricate structure where at each level the persons in position are always vying for their own personal benefits (meaning “personal” to their representative position, their area of interest/expertise.)

So do “representatives” try to represent too many people? If so and the number is reduced do we then find that distributing representation more causes another problem; that of too many levels of interest?

From this is it fair to suggest that given a certain population size the shape of democracy changes and leans more toward “elitism” rather than some aptly named “democratic representation”? In terms of nations would it be better to have independent nations of managed populations whom interact and work together? This is, generally speaking, the interesting contrast between Europe and the United States. Europe certainly acts as a unit in many ways, yet their is sovereign indepence too. The US has a quite different set up, yet very similar one too. For me the most telling aspect of this difference in the language barrier and I often wonder if Europe would’ve ever become a nation liek the US if a common language was shared?

Another point about populations is the ease with which differences can be seen within smaller populations. What is the optimal condition for talents abilities to be seen and allowed to flourish? At some point can an individual takent be drowned out by noise and is there a social optimal environments, setting in which these beenifical attributes can rise up and help everyone? (Capitalism is this scheme today and yet we are also aware of its failings yet cannot come up with a better economic model that is applicable.)
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Fooloso4
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Fooloso4 » November 1st, 2018, 1:10 pm

Georgeanna:
The concept of democratic representation
One thing that struck me when reading the article you cite is that the contrast between Madison’s concept of representative government and Burke’s. Burke is the father of modern conservatism. While conservatives attack the “nanny state” what they want is the “daddy state”. Father knows best:
Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interest each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole…
Madison identifies a key flaw in daddy's idealism:
Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.
When enlightened statesmen are not at the helm the daddy state becomes the authoritarian state.
As for 'the will of the people' -
In his Gettysburg Address Lincoln famously said:
… government of the people, by the people, for the people …
This address was given during the Civil War, when the people were deeply and irreconcilably divided. Lincoln envisioned a nation united by a:
new birth of freedom
But the south saw this as anything but freedom for themselves, it was a threat to their way of life.

Lincoln begins the address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
It is this, Lincoln says, that represents the will of the people.

Were they dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal? Are we? “We the people” is understood by many today to mean us and not them.

'the interests of the people' -
Ironically, liberals seem closer to Burke’s notion of the interest of the whole than conservatives (although the study shows that this may be more the case with conservatives in power and vocal advocates of conservatism than the average person). Consider the issues the polls asked about:

Environmental protection versus my job or business or ability to do whatever I want on my property

Minimum wage for all versus profits for business owners

Healthcare for all versus healthcare for those who can afford it

Background checks for gun sales intended to protect us all versus the individual’s right to buy and own guns

Infrastructure that benefits all versus not raising my taxes to pay for it.

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LuckyR
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by LuckyR » November 1st, 2018, 3:45 pm

Well this issue is a confluence of two realities:

1- One person equals one vote, so in order to win elections a party needs to pander to the issues that the rabble care about. Immigration, gay rights, abortion, school prayer blah, blah, blah. Very few of these "social issues" impact power or wealth very much.

2- The power elite care about... power and wealth accumulation. They generally are perfectly willing to do whatever on social issues to get what they want on what really matters to them.
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Eduk » November 2nd, 2018, 4:44 am

Governments concentrate firstly on electability and secondly on promoting general welfare.
Neither of those major concerns has anything to do with the 'will of the people'.
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Georgeanna
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Georgeanna » November 2nd, 2018, 5:41 am

Fooloso4:
One thing that struck me when reading the article you cite is that the contrast between Madison’s concept of representative government and Burke’s. Burke is the father of modern conservatism. While conservatives attack the “nanny state” what they want is the “daddy state”. Father knows best.
Yes. This contrast is explained fully under the title 1.1 Delegate v Trustee. Here the different concepts of representation place contradictory demands on behaviour.
Delegate conceptions of representation require representatives to follow their constituents’ preferences, while trustee conceptions require representatives to follow their own judgment about the proper course of action. Any adequate theory of representation must grapple with these contradictory demands.

Hanna Pitkin argues that theorists should not try to reconcile the paradoxical nature of the concept of representation. Rather, they should aim to preserve this paradox by recommending that citizens safeguard the autonomy of both the representative and of those being represented. The autonomy of the representative is preserved by allowing them to make decisions based on his or her understanding of the represented’s interests (the trustee conception of representation). The autonomy of those being represented is preserved by having the preferences of the represented influence evaluations of representatives (the delegate conception of representation). Representatives must act in ways that safeguard the capacity of the represented to authorize and to hold their representatives accountable and uphold the capacity of the representative to act independently of the wishes of the represented.
Of course, the problem then lies in what is understood by the 'interests of the people'. And do they even have enough information to know where their best interests lie.
People can be torn between different priorities - as expressed above in your list of competing issues.
There is a problem in identifying objective interests. Perhaps, indeed there are only subjective preferences ?
And it is there that the real problem or tension lies.
For Pitkin, assessments about representatives will depend on the issue at hand and the political environment in which a representative acts. To understand the multiple and conflicting standards within the concept of representation is to reveal the futility of holding all representatives to some fixed set of guidelines. In this way, Pitkin concludes that standards for evaluating representatives defy generalizations. Moreover, individuals, especially democratic citizens, are likely to disagree deeply about what representatives should be doing.
I think that the issue of accountability is an important one. And I'm not sure that theories of representation have anything concrete to offer.
They focus mainly on the formalistic representation. However, given the change in contemporary global, international and domestic politics we can see it's not simply about the relationship and contrasts as discussed above.
There are issues of trust and betrayal. Morals of the representatives.
Young provides an alterative account of democratic representation. Specifically, she envisions democratic representation as a dynamic process, one that moves between moments of authorization and moments of accountability (2000, 129). It is the movement between these moments that makes the process “democratic.” This fluidity allows citizens to authorize their representatives and for traces of that authorization to be evident in what the representatives do and how representatives are held accountable.

The appropriateness of any given representative is therefore partially dependent on future behaviour as well as on his or her past relationships.

Russell Hardin (2004) captured this trend most clearly in his position that “if we wish to assess the morality of elected officials, we must understand their function as our representatives and then infer how they can fulfil this function.” For Hardin, only an empirical explanation of the role of a representative is necessary for determining what a representative should be doing.

Following Hardin, Suzanne Dovi (2007) identifies three democratic standards for evaluating the performance of representatives: those of fair-mindedness, critical trust building, and good gate-keeping.
This is all well and good. However, in practice who is ever held to account for the lies and taking countries to war, against the wishes of the people.
I'm thinking of the Iraq war, 2003 -2011. Waged on false and overstated intelligence.
Most now are strongly aware of strings being pulled behind the scenes. The interests of the few outweighing those of the many...
Far away from any idea of democratic representation.

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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Steve3007 » November 5th, 2018, 11:59 am

Regarding the OP:

One would think, on the face of it, that the elected representatives would have a vested interest in finding out what their electorates want. If representatives are not supporting legislation that their electorates want, why don't those electorates remove them from office? If, for example, most Americans don't support the tax-cut bill and do support such things as raising the minimum wage, why don't they express that view at the ballot box?

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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Eduk » November 5th, 2018, 12:05 pm

One would think, on the face of it, that the elected representatives would have a vested interest in finding out what their electorates want. If representatives are not supporting legislation that their electorates want, why don't those electorates remove them from office?
This is a trick question? Surely there is a massive difference between promoting welfare (which should be the role of government) and appearing to support the electorate (which is very different from promoting welfare) and actually supporting the electorate (which is again very different from appearing to). Governments need only be electable.
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Re: Representative Democracy and Information

Post by Steve3007 » November 5th, 2018, 12:13 pm

Not so much a trick question as, perhaps, a naive question.

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