A crisis of democratic legitimacy for the U.S.?

At National Review, Lyman Stone challenges the currently popular idea that American electoral processes are in the grip of a crisis of democratic legitimacy. While there is real room for process improvement, as with the issue of gerrymandering, it is less clear that imperfections in our electoral system 1) have worsened a lot or 2) are especially different from than those found in other mature democratic systems. It is also far from clear that over the long run the imperfections systematically benefit one “side”: at the moment Republicans hold more seats than their share of votes would predict, but one needn’t go far back in time to find periods when Democrats held the same sort of edge.

Two areas where the U.S. is unusual: we have low voter turnout, well below that of most advanced countries, and each member of our House of Representatives represents a very large number of people.


  • Are US House constituencies (districts) too large?

    There is a rough rule-of-thumb that legislatures should not have more than about 500 members; otherwise it becomes too difficult for everyone (including key leaders) to follow what is going on. The British House of Commons is a notable exception (650 members), but they curb the power of individual MPs, who are not even guaranteed seats when the House is full. China’s supreme legislature has about 3,000 members, but their key decisions are made elsewhere.

  • It’s a feature not a bug. Democratic republic, not a pure democracy. Ya’ll all know that, especially if you had civics in school. Maybe that’s the problem, bring back civics!

    • Cecil, “it’s that way on purpose” really isn’t responsive to an argument that something is bad.

      • Steve,

        That’s true, but in the case the only real argument they have for why it’s bad is that it isn’t working out in their favor, so “it’s that way on purpose” is the level of response it deserves.