Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 October 2009
Since the 1970s, the “Third Wave” of democratic transitions has, by greatly enlarging the number and type of democracies, raised a host of new research questions on the dynamics of democratic accountability and responsiveness. After an initial period of scholarly attention to the process of regime transition, there has recently been a major effort to explain the origin and effects of democratic institutions, such as electoral laws, federalism structure, or presidential and parliamentary systems. After more than a decade's worth of research, however, it now seems that the explanatory power of formal democratic institutions for democratic process features is more limited than many had hoped. Party systems vary tremendously even among single member district plurality electoral systems. Furthermore, institutional arguments have little to say about the substantive alignments that rally citizens around rival contenders or the strategic appeals made by leading politicians in each camp.
One important area that has not received sufficient attention is the wide variation in patterns of linkages between politicians, parties and citizens. The political science literature has, since the 1950s, been dominated by the “responsible party government” model, the logic of which forms the basis of both rational choice theories (Downs 1957) as well as historical-comparative approaches (e.g., Lipset and Rokkan 1967). This model sees politics as the result of interaction of principals (citizens, voters) and agents (candidates for electoral office, elected officials), characterized by five essential ingredients.