Election 2002 and the Problems of American Democracy

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In the midterm elections on November 5, 2002,there exists the real possibility of change in the partisancontrol of either or both houses of Congress,which makes each potentially competitive raceimportant to national policy and politics. This situationlends itself to looking at the election as a seriesof horse races and the overall outcome as the TripleCrown of politics. As a result, respective partisanfortunes are expected to dominate political discussionduring the next 60 days. This is unfortunate.

Our analysis offers a different perspective.Although the horse race aspect of this year’s electoralcontest is interesting, the preoccupation withpartisan details obscures broader, more importantaspects of the national policy mood and the healthof our political system. In this study, we examinethe attitude of Americans toward big government,the declining competitiveness of our elections, andsome mistaken conventional wisdom aboutAmerican democracy.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, acrossAmerica there exists a measurable popular preferencefor less, rather than more, government intervention.Therefore, in the fall of 2002, the electoratewill favor candidates who support defense spending,civil liberties, and smaller government outsideof defense. At the same time, the political system’shealth is seriously weakened by a lack of competition.Unfortunately, the mismeasurement of, andpreoccupation with, voter participation serves onlyto divert attention away from the pressing problemof an uncompetitive political system.

An election that either ushers in a new era ofexpanded government or further cements the advantagesof incumbency will serve neither the representativenor democratic functions of our political system.

John Samples and Patrick Basham

John Samples is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Representative Government. Patrick Basham is a senior fellow at the center.