Can Democratic Innovations Reconcile Citizens with Representative Institutions?

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Pierre-Etienne Vandamme
Palgrave Macmillan
Acta Politica


Can democratic innovations (DIs) offer a cure for the widespread loss of support for electoral institutions? This widely held assumption among advocates of DIs should be questioned more thoroughly. Insufficient attention has been paid so far to the impact of different types of DIs on electoral legitimacy, defined as the support for the principles grounding electoral representation. What is at stake is the compatibility and equilibrium between different parts of the new democratic systems that are developing in many political contexts.

To address this issue, the article offers an innovative typology, distinguishing five types of DIs based on their relationship with traditional representative institutions. This allows to identify DIs that do have the potential to strengthen electoral legitimacy (initiative, recall, abrogative referendums, deliberative town-halls) from others overtly attacking it (lottocracy, liquid democracy) or potentially challenging it (citizen-initiated referendums and empowered citizens’ assemblies). The article shows that it is not because an innovation is conceived as complementary to electoral representative institutions that it cannot challenge the latter’s foundations. Finally, it identifies several issues on which empirical knowledge is lacking, opening perspectives for future research.