A Democratic Conundrum

There exists an interesting dilemma in democratic society involving a citizenry’s ability to make intelligent decisions in how society should be governed. Kay Lehman Schlozman explores this at some length in her piece “Vox Populi: Public Opinion and the Democratic Dilemma,” namely how democratic societies find an appropriate balance between governance based on citizen preferences and on the judgments of political officials.

The relationship between the judgments of officeholders and the views of their constituents is a contentious one to say the least. There exist multiple points of contention in how these views interact. A politician adopting the same views as his or her constituents may either be considered pandering or responsive. Moreover, a politician trying to influence his constituents to adopt a different view may be seen as leadership or inability to listen to the constituency. It may simply depend on the spin.

The contention continues in polls concerning citizens’ views influencing officials’ actions. One Kaiser Foundation poll asking whether respondents believed public officials should mainly use their own judgments when governing or their constituents’ views was split 42% to 54% respectively.

As I read this article, Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion continued to pop in my head. This dilemma of views in the American political system is very complex, but what makes it vastly more convoluted is the fact that these views, according to Lippmann, are all shaped by different intermediaries, which enable each person to construct their own view of reality and subsequently act on it.

So with Schlozman’s explaining the convolution in whose views influence whom between officials and constituents, what entities cause them to adopt their respective views, or as Lippmann would say “constructs” in the first place? Moreover, are these constructs an accurate lens through which a person can best view reality? Lippmann would argue in the negative, claiming, “man is no Aristotelian god contemplating all existence at one glance.” Their views are shaped by their respective surroundings and their experiences, which can greatly differ from those of a person across the country. Simply stated, a person cannot be well versed and hold accurate views on every issue concerning the U.S. Yet, that person is expected to vote on many of these issues? Therein lies the flaw in majoritarian democracy that Schlozman highlights briefly in this piece: poor decisions made by an easily influenced, predominantly uninformed citizenry.

Yet this potential flaw in democracy is forgiven when compared to the restrictions of citizens expressing their views in autocratic and dictatorial societies. Connecting Schlozman’s piece with Lippmann’s introduction really sparked my interest in how the human race sees fit to govern themselves and what flaws in the system they choose to forgive in order to further what they believe to be the greater good of society.