Why Party Democrats Need Popular Democracy and Popular Democrats Need Parties

02 Feb 2012 02:25pm Ethan J. Leib & Christopher S. Elmendorf 

Too often, popular political power-whether it is in the form of direct democracy or other more innovative forays in participatory or deliberative democracy-presents itself principally as a counterweight to the political power parties wield. Yet setting up "popular democracy" and "party democracy" in opposition to one another in the American political landscape is not only unnecessary but also pathological: this oppositional posture risks the ossification of party democracy and keeps popular democrats insulated from the substantial improvements the power of parties could bring to the polity. This Article, accordingly, seeks to enrich both party democracy and popular democracy by showing how each might draw strengths from the other, and how each needs the other to function more effectively. A new literature in political theory explores the central role of partisanship in democratic functioning, and we will deploy that theory in service of some practical applications in institutional design here. We have been involved-on the ground level-in two recent policy conversations that really would have been improved with a complementary vision of the parties and the people. We could have better exercises of party democracy and popular democracy, if only we started to see how they might be brought into pragmatic symbiosis.

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