Analytical Democracy: A Microfoundational Approach


A prominent and publicly influential literature challenges the quality of democratic decision making, drawing on political science findings with specific claims about the ubiquity of cognitive bias to lament citizens’ incompetence. A competing literature in democratic theory defends the wisdom of crowds, drawing on a cluster of models in support of the capacity of ordinary citizens to produce correct outcomes. In this Letter, we draw on recent findings in psychology to demonstrate that the former literature is based on outdated and erroneous claims and that the latter is overly sanguine about the circumstances that yield reliable collective decision making. By contrast, “interactionist” scholarship shows how individual-level biases are not devastating for group problem solving, given appropriate conditions. This provides possible microfoundations for a broader research agenda similar to that implemented by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues on common-good provision, investigating how different group structures are associated with both success and failure in democratic decision making. This agenda would have implications for both democratic theory and democratic practice.

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