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Unveiling the mandate

Jensen Sass, University of Canberra

Tue 3 April 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


Elections are justified in light of two competing ends. On the accountability view, elections function retrospectively by enabling voters to 'kick the bastards out'. On the mandate view, elections operate prospectively by enabling voters to register their support for a suite of policies. The dual character of elections presents democrats with a dilemma. As currently designed, electoral processes do not reveal the intentions of the electorate. In consequence, they do not reveal whether voters intended to remove a government, or program a new one. A government elected on a wave of protest can claim a strong mandate and pursue legislation that enjoys little popular support. Voters cannot hold such a government accountable until the next election and, even if they remove the incumbents, this perverse cycle can play out again. Elections can only foster accountability in light of a mandate, and these presuppose the existence of (and knowledge about) stable and well-structured voter intentions. This dilemma is basic to all electoral processes but has received little serious attention from normative political theorists or scholars of institutional design. In this paper we propose a minimal reform of electoral processes to overcome this problem, one that would clarify voter intentions.  This would allow us to specify the scope of a government's mandate, as well as enabling elections to function more efficiently as accountability mechanisms. The overarching aim of the paper is to better align our existing political institutions with normative democratic theories and hence defend representative democracy against its recent detractors.

About the speaker

Jensen Sass is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra. His work at the Centre examines the way social norms and cultural meanings shape the character of deliberation within different contexts.

In addition to his work on deliberation, Jensen is undertaking a long-term project on the history of the Monsanto Company and its role in the development of agricultural biotechnology.

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