An interesting aspect of this US Presidential election cycle is how two populist candidates are particularly unpopular among key voting demographics. A FiveThirtyEight poll showed that 37 percent of Americans have a ‘strongly unfavorable’ view of Mrs. Clinton, while Mr. Trump clocked the same statistic at a whopping 53 percent. While the numbers are alarming, this proves that it’s still anybody’s election. This truly is a choice between the lesser of two evils.
However, with that benchmark in mind, we’ll try to answer a separate, but related question on political theory – In an election, do candidates adopt the view/ideology of the voters or do voters adopt the beliefs held by the candidate?
The Political Models of Representation – A Crash Course
First theorized by Mr. Edmund Burke, a prominent Irish Statesman in the House of Commons in mid-1700s in the UK, his early political models of representation give us a general idea of the expectations of the voters and their candidates. In a speech to the electors of Bristol, among his many points, he proclaimed that even though he was as an elected official from Bristol and represented them in the Parliament, he would now serve as a Member of the Parliament first. In his mind, serving national interests at the outset would make the Parliament a more deliberative body and truly serve the nation.
Although there is more than one political model of representation (namely Pitkin’s four views), the three levels below provide a brief outlay:
The Politician presents personal preferences to voters and they vote him or her in. Then the voters trust the politician to follow through, but the voters will vote based on their own personal preferences (this was Edmund Burke’s preference and the one he highlighted in the Bristol Speech).
The Politician acts largely as a proxy for voter preference on issues. In this model, the voters are the authority and their elected official merely acts as a single person enacting their will.
A modified and complex version of the two above models. In this model, a Politician enacts agenda in accordance with what they think their voters would approve of, given more information and incorporating his/her expertise.
Do Voters influence Candidates or is it the Other Way Round?
Well, according to political scientific theory, it’s a mixture of both. Since our benchmark was the 2016 Presidential election, let’s try to explain this conundrum with examples from the race.
In general, candidates, by necessity adopt the views of their constituency in order to be elected. So, for example, Mr. Jeb Bush and Mr. Rubio have to adhere to the beliefs and ideologies of their constituency to become elected officials in Gubernatorial races, State House and The House of Representatives and Senate. This is a generic, if not particular, example of the Delegate model discussed above.
While this seems extreme that a small population of constituent voters might select an official to run the entire country, this is actually a good thing when it comes to the Presidential Elections. This is because it helps “responsible party governance” come into effect – essentially, any politician who wins the Presidency using this model will pretty much represent the beliefs of about 40 percent of the electorate, guaranteed, and if we elect that person, we’re guaranteed the ability to test out how well those beliefs work for the country.
On the flip side, the Trustee model also plays a major role in how constituencies adopt beliefs of their choice politicians. For instance, if a new issue (such as the Syrian refugee crisis) arises, and I, as a somewhat uninformed voter, don’t know what to think, I’m looking for beliefs to ‘steal’ from candidates whom I believe are informed. So, if I go Republican on most everything else and I agree with most of Mr. Trump’s beliefs, I’ll listen to what HE has to say on the subject and likely adopt that stance as my own.
I think it is fair to say, in the technologically connected era with greater information about our candidates at our tips, the modern political scene will always be a mixture of the Trustee and Delegate models of representation. The models of representation will always be a sort of symbiotic cycle, wherein – the Candidates will adopt the beliefs of voters in order to win elections, and the voters will adopt his/hers, because they like him/her and agree with the Republican/Democratic platform otherwise.
For most people, THIS election is choosing between the lesser of the two evils. We can only hope that after November 8th, the voters keep focusing on how to elect better government officials, who not only represent them, but individuals with fair and logical political preferences for the nation as a whole. It might be a tough task, but one easily solvable by an informed electorate.
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on Political Science and Theories, and this is my personal view. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or via the Contacts Link.