PSCI 1011 Billica
Elections and Democracy: Connecting Citizens to Their Government
The United States follows a republican form of government in which the people
select individuals to work and speak on our behalf; a concept developed from Plato’s
political theories that asserted an inherent ruler to represent less capable citizens.
American citizens use elections to choose their political leaders and to indicate their
stances on public policy. Elections serve as an expression of popular will; the process
helps to inform the government on the people’s opinions.
While elections have proven to
be an effective form of public sentiment and the most developed representation of today’s
democracy, they have also been unsuccessful in guaranteeing the true needs of citizens
and in gaining full participation.
A main strength of elections is their ability to educate citizens.
Because of the
frequency of elections, voters must continually learn about new policies and options in
order to decide their preferences.
Adding to their education, campaign advertising during
elections informs citizens through abundance and availability. Elections also serve as a
socialization tool for people, a way to introduce them to the customs and beliefs of their
Through civic participation, where citizens become involved in public
matters by joining clubs, voting, and attending governmental meetings, they gain insight
to their political culture. Through the election process, the voter’s choice is accepted
peacefully, and the opportunistic system can serve as an indication of freedom and
During the Iraqi election in 2005, masses of voters participated in their first
free election in fifty years.
Although the promising election did not guarantee the success
of democracy in their nation, it did signify a main initial change in the freedom and
representation of their people (Green 2007).
While elections have historically proven to be the most effective option for a
representative democracy, the process is still limited.
One concern is that electoral
success does not always mean policy change.
A voter has different motivations to
support a candidate, but they are not guaranteed that their motivations will be
For example, the 1980 presidential success of Ronald Reagan initially
indicated the public’s support of conservative policy, but later opinions showed that
many voters were not in support of these policy shifts, but rather were interested in
replacing the incumbent president Jimmy Carter (Green 2007).
Another weakness of
elections is their inability to mandate concerns for the general welfare. In its ideal form,
elections would force extended interpersonal deliberation, but voters tend to vote for their
private interests instead of collective, long-term goals.
Elections also face limitations
through unequal advantages.
If candidates have larger resources, more media coverage,
or limited opposition, the process becomes biased.
Another weakness of elections as a way of connecting citizens to government, and