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date: 23 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

Elections are the defining feature of representative democracy. Though they are very blunt instruments, elections do function to reward and punish sitting politicians. Their effectiveness varies in numerous ways: Policy and performance matter more to voters with proximity to Election Day, with the extent to which responsibilities are clear, and with the extent of electoral and party competition. Only competitive elections in high clarity countries yield good accountability, and then only in regard to items that voters focus on. The very fact of elections encourages politicians to pay attention to—and respond to—what the public wants even at times far removed from elections. This appears to work best where accountability is most evident. Of course, elected officials do not completely control the things that matter to voters. This is especially true for aspects of performance, such as the economy. But public opinion and government policy do matter on Election Day. And policymakers do represent public opinion in between elections. Electoral accountability, inefficient as it may be, is both a critical, and in many instances an effective, element of representative democratic governance.

Keywords: policy, performance, public opinion, institutions, representation

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