Is democracy a lie?

Lily Lin 11/06/2018

In Hannah Pitkin’s excerpt from The Concept of Representation, she pointed out the “mandate- independence controversy”. Pitkin argued that representation, in other words, substantive acting, “is that the represented thing or person is present in the action”. Pitkin then argued the dilemma of political representation: How should a representative choose? On one hand, mandate theorists indicate that one should do what his constituents want; on the other hand, independence theorists see the representation as a free agent, who should choose what he thinks that is the best to him in pursuit of the constituent’s welfare. This dilemma becomes more complicated in a diverse political constituency. Further arguments emerged such as one is bound to the wish of his political party, and one need to regard parties as a link between local and national interests. (1)

In a New York Times article, “Congress Has No Clue What Americans Want”, authors Fernandez, Mildenberger, and Stokes criticized that the Congress does not know what policies Americans support. In a research paper, the authors compare responses from some senior staff members in the Congress and the public in their districts about bills to pursue and support. The result shows that “congressional aides are wildly inaccurate in their perceptions of their constituents’ opinions and preferences”. Overall, they concluded, Democratic staff members tended to be more accurate than Republicans, but still not good enough. (2)

What causes the representation errors? If these errors continue to occur and enlarge, how would the regime still considers Democracy?

There are several reasons explaining this situation. The representative’s own idea and interests of his group largely influenced the decisions he or she make. The self-centered bias is common even outside of politics, but it is influential when it comes to democratic representation. The second reason, interests within one group, largely reflect potential corruption. The interaction between the legislature and their constituency should not only tied to one specific group of people, either the interest groups, or the underprivileged. The communication between one representative and his or her constituency is the most important part, and lack of communication can eventually lead to failed representation and democracy.


(1) Hannah Pitkin. The Concept of Representation. (Berkeley: University of California Press 1972).

(2) Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Matto Mildenberger, and Leah C. Stokes. “Congress Has No Clue What Americans Want”. The New York Times (Oct 31, 2018).

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