REDEM (II). Democracy, Rationality and Inequality

Notes from the conference Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective, organized by SciencesPo/CEVIPOF, and held in Paris, France, on 5 and 6 February 2020. More notes on this event: redem2020

Andrei Poama, University of Leiden

Is deliberation better than voting?

Voting insulates vulnerable citizens, citizens that do not know or just cannot argue in front of other citizens on a deliberation. But they may be good enough at casting an informed vote. Voting protects vulnerable citizens from influence from others (which may be good, but also bad).

Disenfranchising someone from their right to vote has been traditionally justified for criminals, although in many democracies disenfranchising is not allowed. There are other debates about enfranchising/disenfranchising vote for children or elderly people.

Alexandru Volacu, University of Bucharest & Bucharest Center for Political Theory

People usually have a negative view about the ethics of voting.

About individual duties concerning voting, some people believe that they have the duty to vote as a sense of responsibility on what would happen if only “the others” voted; another point of view is that it is a right that costed a lot to have recognized, and thus it would be disrespectful not using it; last, many people believe that voting grants a right to political critique —and, inversely, if you do not vote you should not critizise what you don’t like.

There is the debate whether people have the duty to “vote well”. But it may be more correct to speak about some instances where one can “vote badly” (e.g. most people would believe that selling your vote is not ok), but “voting well” is much more difficult to define.

A usually accepted of “bad vote” is when it goes against your own interests, taking “bad” as non-rational.

About institutional design, there’s the open debate on compulsory voting, allocating voting rights, the design of electoral systems, and the secrecy or openness of voting.

Jonas Pontusson, University of Geneva

There are cases where inequality has not increased (or actually decreased) and nevertheless voters have shifted towards populist/fascist options. So it is difficult to identify one single simple issue as the cause of the raise of populism.

We have a large number of studies that confirm that the poor are less represented, that they vote less, and that middle income (not middle class) voters do not have the weight in policies that they would have considering their number. The different of affluent voters and poor voters is huge and in favour of affluent voters.

Left parties seem to be increasingly shifting from poor voters to middle class / affluent voters. This implies a dispossession of poorer voters, leaving them with lesser options, while middle class voters have much more where to choose from.

On the other hand, people tend to penalize candidates without a certain level of education or skills, and also penalize people earning above a certain threshold (e.g. twice as much as the average income). The problem being that people usually know the educational or professional background of a given candidate, but not their income.

Dominik Gerber, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. Sustaining democracy: citizen’s duties and the problem of demandingness

Across the world, citizens are losing faith in democracy (perceived performance of democracy).

Four approaches of the value of democracy, based on two axes: instrumental/non-instrumental and epistemic/non-epistemic.

[I really could not follow this presentation]

Interesting readings on the epistemic value of democracy:

  • List, Goodin (2001). Epistemic democracy. Generalizing the Condorcet Jury Theorem
  • Warren (2017). A Problem-Based Approach to Democratic Theory
  • Estlund (2013). Epistemic approaches to democracy. In Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences, Volume 1


Chiara Destri: when we speak about parties, their characteristics and their behaviour, we should tell parties as an entity from parties as part of the party system. Quite often parties push in one way while the party system pushes to a different way.

Q: delegation of vote, how would that be considered in terms of voting well/badly? Volacu: cannot see anything “wrong” in vote delegation, always considering that there is no trading in it.

Q: usually, intuitions come first and then we rationalize them. What about if we have bad intuitions? Would that be voting badly even thought we honestly rationalized our voting?


Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective (2020)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2020) “REDEM (II). Democracy, Rationality and Inequality” In ICTlogy, #197, February 2020. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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