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Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

9 - THE MAIN ACTORS AND THE VOTERS

In the preceding part I said that the main actor interaction constituted an important aspect of the political competition in democratic societies.

The voters obviously are of crucial importance for the main actors. A main actor without electoral support is unthinkable. Each main actor is supported by voters, and without that support the main actor would not be a main actor. For this reason electoral support can never be substituted completely by, or traded for, other goods appreciated by the main actor such as, for instance, beneficial relations with lobbyists or extensive and favorable publicity in media. Such goods are subordinated to votes, even if they may be used in the hunt for votes. Ultimately, and in the final count, a main actor depends on its electoral support. Trying to attract voters a campaigning actor may use various ideological arguments, support various interests, or, if we are dealing with an individual actor, emphasize its own personal qualities. Furthermore, the actor may address the electorate at large, or, perhaps, particular target groups within the electorate. In these activities, however, the actor obviously also runs the risk of repelling voters, and it is therefore important to keep the net result positive. A good strategy attracts more voters than it repels.

As for the voter, the decision about which actor to vote for may be quite complex. The voter may consider the actors' positions on various ideological or interest-related issues, or the actors' personalities when the actors are individuals. The voter may also entertain ideas about the relative importance of these different aspects, and so forth. By weighing all this together the voter reaches a decision about how to vote. We may call this kind of voting compound voting. The contrast is voting on a single issue, for example in a referendum. In such a case the voting is straightforward rather than compound. The citizen just votes its position on the issue to be decided, and that is all. Voting, which aims at appointing main actors, is however usually compound.

In order to bring the analysis further ahead it is necessary to be more detailed about the relations between voters and politicians. In politics, and political analysis, it is common to talk about mandates from voters to politicians. Using another, and perhaps more modern terminology, it may also be said that the relationship between voters and politicians is a principal-agent relation, the voters being the principals and the politicians the agents (for an introduction to this terminology see, for instance, Milgrom & Roberts). The relation can take different forms. It is convenient to distinguish between two main types of such forms, namely delegation and instruction.

Delegation is, in a way, the simpler of the two relationships and many people have experience of it from everyday life. When people in typical voluntary associations like the local sports club or charity association elect presidents, cashiers, secretaries, and so on, they usually do not require more than having confidence in the persons elected. They just want to be able to rely on them to act in a way that is in accordance with common sense and the purposes of the club. Feeling such confidence they delegate the decision-making to the people elected. This rather simple kind of relationship is present not only in clubs and the like, but to a considerable extent also in politics.

Instruction, on the other hand, prevails when the voters do not limit themselves to a simple confidence in the ones elected but rather require that they shall execute a certain program, which may be worked out in a rather detailed way. Therefore, at the same time as people are elected, a program, or an instruction, which the ones elected shall realize, is adopted. It should be noted that the program may very well be, and often is, formulated by the people who wants to get elected. Different candidates for political positions thus offer voters to carry through different programs if elected. Even so, however, and as soon as a candidate is elected, the program can, from a formal point of view, be considered an instruction from the voters to the elected.

Here delegation and instruction have been presented as two rather pure, or archetypal, relationships. In reality, however, it is easy to see that mixtures of the two types often appear. Sometimes the element of delegation may dominate, sometimes the element of instruction, and it is interesting to ask about the reasons why. Before taking up that issue it should however be noted that instructions may be of different kinds. They may be specific or general. This distinction is closely is related to the one between generality and particularity made by Buchanan (1993).

General instructions may be based on ideological ideas about the ideal character or construction of society, or they may be derived from ideas about the common, or public, or general, interest. Often general instructions are about new rules or laws, and those supporting such new laws tend to emphasize the incentives created by the laws. The likely ambition is to create incentives which enhance the societal development, and people's general welfare, in the long run.

Specific instructions, on the other hand, are independent of notions about ideal societies, or about the common good. If general instructions often deal explicitly with rules and incentives, specific instructions are, rather, interventionistic. Their implementation usually means that some people, on purpose, satisfy their special interests at the expense of others. In these cases, therefore, the incentives created are not a main concern of those favoring the interests, and there is usually not much talk about incentives. But obviously some incentives will be affected, or created, as unintended side-effects of the instructions, and those incentives are worth investigating. They may very well be destructive.

Now, in their campaigning, the political actors may try to establish relationships of delegation, or instruction, or some mixture of the two. When considering what they are likely to do it is important to realize that the possibilities to effectuate instructions, that is to deliver, to a large extent depend on the constitutional setting. These matters will be dealt with in detail in the following parts, but generally speaking it may be said the possibilities to deliver are, on the whole, greater when the conditions for coordination are good than when they are not. Furthermore, if the possibilities to deliver are slim, it is likely to be more prudent for the actor to strive for a relationship of delegation rather than instruction. From this point of view we should therefore expect delegation, at least to a large extent, to be associated with individual main actors and instruction with party main actors.

In addition to this there is another argument which points in the same direction. The argument is that a consolidated party, with a recognizable identity over a considerable time span, has great, and perhaps even crucial, advantages in relation to individuals for developing and "marketing" instructions, and in particular such a bundle of instructions which constitute a political program.

This, however, is just a tentative conclusion. The final discussion about these matters will be left to the relevant parts for the four constitutional types, that is to the parts 12, 16, 20 and 24.