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Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era:
A Reexamination of Electoral Accountability in the United States, 1828-2000
Peter F. Nardulli

Paperback | 2007 | $38.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691133935
272 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 6 halftones. 32 line illus. 18 tables.
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Social scientists have long criticized American voters for being "unsophisticated" in the way they acquire and use political information. The low level of political sophistication leaves them vulnerable to manipulation by political "elites," whose sway over voters is deemed incontrovertible and often decisive. In this book, Peter Nardulli challenges the conventional wisdom that citizens are "manageable fools," with little capacity to exercise independent judgment in the voting booth. Rather, he argues, voters are eminently capable of playing an efficacious role in democratic politics and of routinely demonstrating the ability to evaluate competing stewards in a discriminating manner.

Nardulli's book offers a cognitively based model of voting and uses a normal vote approach to analyzing local-level election returns. It examines the entire sweep of United States presidential elections in the democratic era (1828 to 2000), making it the most encompassing empirical analysis of presidential voting to date. Nardulli's analysis separates presidential elections into three categories: those that produce a major, enduring change in voting patterns, those that represent a short-term deviation from prevailing voting patterns, and those in which the dominant party receives a resounding endorsement from the electorate. These "disequilibrating" elections have been routine in American electoral history, particularly after the adoption of the Progressive-Era reforms.

Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era provides a dramatically different picture of mass-elite linkages than most prior studies of American democracy, and an image of voters as being neither foolish nor manageable. Moreover, it shows why party elites must take proactive steps to provide for the core political desires of voters.


"Nardulli hopes to influence the way in which social scientists conceptualize and investigate democracy. If researchers change how they approach their work, they might discover genuine political problems and ultimately make better real-world recommendations."--Nicole Mellow, Political Science Quarterly

"Nardulli deserves compliments for his effort in building a valuable subnational election data archive, his caution in drawing inferences from aggregate data, his creativity in devising aggregate indicators of voting patterns and their possible determinants, his methodological sophistication (including his ingenious estimates of electoral college impacts), and the novel results his analysis has produced. . . . This is an important book for scholars of voting behavior, American politics, and democratic theory."--Paul Allen Beck, Perspectives on Politics

"This is an important book for scholars of voting behavior, American politics, and democratic theory.... Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era has added valuably to our understanding of political accountability in America."--Paul Allen Beck, Perspectives on Politics


"Nardulli's book is an important contribution to the field of U.S. electoral behavior and to the study of U.S. political parties. It employs a massive new data set to provide major insights about democracy in America."--Paul Abramson, Michigan State University

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