Elections, Polarization, and Democratic Resilience
"Elections, Polarization, and Democratic Resilience." In Democratic Resilience: Can the United States Withstand Rising Polarization? Suzanne Mettler, Robert Lieberman, and Kenneth Roberts, eds., pp.343-68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi.org/10.1017/9781108999601.014
Elections are at the core of democratic politics. This chapter lays out the tension between elections’ polarizing and integrative role, each of which is necessary if elections are to perform the tasks assigned them by democratic theory. I describe how elections’ polarizing logic has repeatedly led to electoral manipulation in American history, and then consider the types of institutional or normative constraints that have been devised to protect against this. The most reliable way that way that Americans have muted electoral manipulations has been by reducing and localizing political competition. Preserving America’s electoral integrity at the national level has been accomplished in no small part through manipulations that diffused the potentially corrosive effects of competition away from the center, empowering local elites and dissolving any pretext of equal citizenship. A central theme of this chapter, however, is that not all forms of electoral manipulations are equally suspect. The paradox of American elections might simply be that certain forms of electoral “hardball” (i.e., otherwise legitimate and legal changes that bias outcomes in favor of one party over the other), have been one of the most important forces advancing both democratic inclusion and democratic resilience.