The Second Installment of the PACE Lecture Series: “When Democracy Doesn’t Work”

By: Abby Bivens

Staff Writer

@abigaillorene

Dr. Eric Rittinger, an assistant professor of Political Science at Salisbury University, typically focuses on Latin American politics and international relations.

Having observed the subsequent collapse of democratic systems around the world, Dr. Rittinger gave a controversial lecture Monday night, asking why democracy might not be the best option for the United States.

The idea that democracy, direct or indirect, is simply the best form of government is an idea that is ingrained and deeply embedded in the minds of many Americans.

The United States has a practice of supporting democratic regimes in other countries, particularly to resist communism in a post WWII era.  However Dr. Rittinger pointed out that democracies tend to be an unstable type of government.

One of the major concepts of a democracy is free and fair elections that produce responsive government officials.

Dr. Rittinger argues that largely, citizens do not know what they want from the government.  People have a hard time evaluating politicians, and they truly do not know much about policy.

He realizes that a vast majority of the public simply does not have the time to do intense research about policy and will resort to political elites and the media to tell them how they feel about a given topic.  Although they do not realize this.

Dr. Rittinger referenced a number of surveys done in recent decades to address the fact that a large portion of voting citizens are misinformed.

npr chart

Source: npr.org

Dr. Rittinger used this particular survey from NPR, “Public Overestimates Share Of Budget Going To Foreign Aid”, to demonstrate the extensive plague of misinformation amongst voters.  The results indicate that the average American assumed the country spent over thirteen times more on foreign aid than it actually does.

His research also concludes that Americans come to their opinions about the state of the country mainly based on whether or not their own political party is controlling Washington at the time.

Such behavior makes it difficult to objectively judge politicians and their work.  Therefore, constituents have trouble determining what candidate most closely mirrors their personal values.

Dr. Rittinger explains that while democracy is typically associated with “good” things such as a strong economy, rule of law and civil rights, the overall nature of its structure is unstable.

“It was surprising to learn that our voting system does not necessarily work as well as we believe  it should,” Dani Walker, senior at SU said.  “Our democracy may be more at risk than we think it is.”

Dr. Rittinger left the audience with this question: “Can the US avoid the pitfalls of a presidential democracy?”  This question is a concern that many political scientists are investigating.

The next “Democracy Across the Disciplines” lecture will be given by Dr. Alex Halperin, who will be discussing “Mathematics of Democracy” on Sept. 25.

PACE lectures are open to any SU student and members of the Salisbury community.  They are held Mondays at 7 p.m. in Fulton Hall, Room 111.

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