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7 - Negative politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 May 2010

Pierre Rosanvallon
Collège de France, Paris
Arthur Goldhammer
Harvard University, Massachusetts
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The age of “deselection”

The most obvious mode of the new form of preventive power is electoral in nature. Contemporary elections are not so much choices of orientation as judgments on the past. The very meaning of elections has changed accordingly. The etymological sense – to choose among candidates – no longer applies; the contest has become one of elimination, or what one might call “deselection.” We have entered an era of “democracy by sanction.” Electoral competitions can no longer be understood simply as a confrontation between equal candidates. What we find most commonly today is the “disputed re-election.” Not enough attention has been paid to what amounts to a significant transformation of the democratic process. In political science, the change has been masked by an interest in “incumbent advantage,” which is admittedly an equally important phenomenon. Certain distinctive features of American politics have tended to focus attention on this phenomenon. In the United States the probability that an incumbent will be re-elected is extraordinarily high (currently close to 90 percent for the Senate and House of Representatives). What is more, this probability has increased over the past twenty years, despite rising rates of abstention and growing citizen disenchantment with government. Quite apart from this fact, however, disputed re-elections are also interesting in their own right. In the early days of democratic government, such situations were rare, for the simple reason that short mandates were originally considered an essential feature of the representative system in both Europe and the United States.

Politics in an Age of Distrust
, pp. 173 - 190
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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