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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Who Gets On Top in Democracy? Elections as Filters

  • Author(s): Cooter, Robert D.
  • et al.

Economic models of politics usually assume that all politicians maximize their narrow self-interest, so the constitution and other laws should be designed to constrain the worst people. In contrast, I assume that different politicians have different traits of character, so the constitution and other laws should be designed to promote the best and demote the worst. Successful filtering of politicians partly determines whether a country enjoys good or bad government. In my model, each election serves as a filter, so, up to a point, more elections filter better. Countries that suffer bad government do so partly because politicians face too few elections for the citizens to identify the worst characters and remove them from office. These countries, however, should not necessarily shorten the term of office in order to have more frequent elections. Rather, these countries should reduce the depth of administration and create a federal structure with more elected governments. Similarly, these countries should tilt influence towards voters and away from party leaders by favoring winner-take-all elections.

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