Home

Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

12.1 - THE QUASI CONTRACTUAL RELATIONS BETWEEN PARTIES AND VOTERS

In parts 9 and 12 I have shown that, in the constitutional setting discussed here, the parties have a considerable capacity for delivering. It may also be said that they have a considerable capacity for credible commitment towards the voters, and from there it is not long to think about tacit deals, or quasi contracts, between the parties and their voters in various target groups.

In a real deal, or a contract, as we know, each of the parties undertakes to do something in return for the undertakings of the other parties. Here we may think of a contract like this: The party says that it will give favors to the members of the target group in return for their votes, and the members of the target group say that they will vote for the party in return for the favors. Obviously there is no contract like this, but there is something that may be considered as an approximation, and it is interesting to see how this approximation differs from the imagined real contract.

In the imagined real contract situation the party would not go ahead fulfilling its promises without making sure that the voters had fulfilled theirs. In the political situation there is obviously no such possibility - voting is anonymous and the party has no way of controlling the voters. A main rationale for anonymity, in fact, is to prevent parties and voters from bargaining. Joseph Schlesinger, for instance, writes (1991, p 146) that "... benefit seekers need some mechanisms to assert their claims. ... One of the principal arguments for the secret ballot is that it makes it difficult for benefit seekers to prove their support and be paid for their vote". But even if anonymity certainly makes real contracts impossible it cannot prevent quasi contracts universally.

In such a quasi contract situation the party, in its own interest, is likely to go ahead in good faith once it has made its commitment. It will try to get into the executive, and it will try to get the promise incorporated in the executive's program. Or, in short, it will behave as in a real contract situation and thereby, for future needs, enhance its own credibility.

The voters, in contrast to the party, have not even made a public commitment, but just listened to the party. Still, even they, to the extent they are attracted by the offer, are likely to behave as in a real contract situation, and thus vote for the party. True, a voter might speculate that she will get the favor anyway, and therefore use her vote for some other purpose. But that means taking a risk and if the voter really wants to add the party in its efforts to fulfil its part of the deal, the best the voter can do is to vote for the party and thereby contribute to its chances of becoming a member of the executive, and to get the proposal included in the governmental program.

Obviously there is no real contract in the situation described. There is no formal agreement, no control, and no enforcement. Still the parts are likely to behave as if they were parts to a real contract, and it is therefore quite reasonable to talk about a quasi contract between the party and the attracted voters in the target group. The factor which mainly accounts for the possibility of such a quasi contract is the party's capacity for delivering, or for credible commitment. That capacity is linked to the particular constitutional setting dealt with here.