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October 21, 2022

Putting Elections in Perspective

Can more parties fix American democracy?—and other questions about our electoral system as the midterms approach.

U.S. congressional elections are around the corner. Earlier this year some predicted that Democrats would defy the typical midterm incumbency penalty, but in recent weeks momentum appears to have shifted back to Republicans. We at Boston Review see little point to election forecasting, however—at least for those of us not running campaigns. “Democracy is a habit,” political theorist Melvin Rogers has written in our pages; we should practice it. Whatever the polls are saying, we hope you get out and vote.

Instead of crowding the field with more election prognostication, this week’s reading list surveys the institutional dynamics and historical trends that characterize modern electoral politics. We will know the winners and losers of this year’s contests once the votes have been counted, but knowledge of how the system works will remain indispensable long after the dust of this election settles.

The essays collected here ask big-picture questions about politics and procedure alike. Can more political parties cure our ailing two-party system? How might our electoral systems be reformed to better serve democracy and eliminate the corrupting influence of money and power? How do social movements shape electoral politics, and where does our focus on elections fall short? And what if the threat of election disinformation has less to do with foreign powers and social media platforms than Republican Party bigwigs and Fox News?

We invite you to consider these questions and more as the final weeks of campaigning come to a close.

Alberto Polimeni

Rather than seeking to quash "populism," we should broaden our vision of politics and make democracies more responsive to citizens.

Lisa L. Miller

In the age of Trump, some progressives have embraced the division of power between state and federal government as a boon to democracy. We should be skeptical.

Yochai Benkler
The party’s fifty-year strategy has reached an electoral dead end.
Justin H. Vassallo

Without pressure from social movements, they won’t produce meaningful and deeply needed reform.

Jennifer M. Piscopo

If women’s suffrage was the battle of the twentieth century, women’s representation will be the battle of the twenty-first.

Jan-Werner Müller

Some candidates who lose elections strengthen democracy, but others threaten the democratic system itself.

Sam Rosenfeld

Some think it would cure two-party gridlock. But what works in parliamentary governments might not help in our presidential system.

Melvin Rogers

John Dewey cautioned that institutions alone won't save us.

Niko Kolodny

New theories of voting behavior explain bad outcomes, but are they convincing?

Kenneth A. Taylor

The Electoral College once served an urgent political purpose. The time has now come to abolish it.

Our weekly themed Reading Lists compile the best of Boston Review’s archive. Sign up for our newsletters to get them straight to your inbox before they appear online.

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