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9 - Does Democracy Require Transparency?

from Part II - Transparency and The Mass Public

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2022

Justin H. Kirkland
Affiliation:
University of Virginia
Jeffrey J. Harden
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

Finally, Chapter 9 brings our findings together and assesses their collective message for understanding representation in American politics. Our analyses in and out of state legislatures suggest a cynical account of the role of transparency. Open meetings laws create a public more confident in but less knowledgeable about its legislature, while not actually changing legislators’ decisions and behavior. Transparency also does nothing to stimulate electoral competition, a key source of political accountability. In fact, open meetings create an environment in which interest groups can expand their reach and keep the status quo in place. The sum of our analyses depicts a political landscape in which legislators have no need to change their behavior in the wake of transparency laws’ passage. We draw analogies to firms that use the appearance of transparency to improve public relations while remaining mostly opaque to the public. Our evidence suggests that open meetings laws in state legislatures have similar effects, creating the perception of transparency – or the illusion of accountability – without any of the actual positive effects for democracy.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Illusion of Accountability
Transparency and Representation in American Legislatures
, pp. 244 - 260
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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