It has been a little while since I posted something with a bit more meat to its bones, so here is a short essay on US politics –
What is the impact of democratic overload in USA elections?
It is paradoxical that in the country that is the world’s greatest advocate of democracy, turnout at elections is among the lowest in the democratic world, particularly as other forms of participation, such as pressure group activity, are high. Federalism and the separation of powers mean that there are numerous elections at different levels of government from the president down to local civic officials and the resulting sense of permanent campaigning cause voters to switch off. Americans vote ‘for the president to the local dog-catcher’ in 80,000 units of government, leading to almost permanent campaigns and ‘bed-sheet ballots’ which may lead to voter fatigue, higher alienation levels and abstention through too many opportunities.
The United States has perhaps the most complicated electoral system in the world. Voters are asked to make more decisions and asked to do so more frequently than citizens of other democracies. The electoral structure in the US does provide the greatest opportunity for input, but at a cost—by demanding so much of the public it means that many are overwhelmed by the complexity of the system and ultimately fail to vote (“democratic overload”). When voters feel alienated and lack enthusiasm about an election, which democratic overload can undoubtedly cause, they are far more likely to abstain from voting hence lowering turnout at USA elections.
Samuel Huntington provided the first influential formulation of this argument in the Trilateral Commission’s Report on the Governability of Democracies.’ A “democratic surge” in the 1960s had raised the level of popular expectations and group demands on the government, he argued, and this had resulted in both an expansion of governmental activity and a decline in governmental authority. He saw a widening gulf between expectation and institutional capacity, which led him to worry about the viability of democracy. To avoid “overload,” he urged moderation in the level of democracy; less democracy is the proposed remedy in order to encourage voter turnout at US elections.