Working Paper BETA #2024-14

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Title : Democratic Uncertainty: From Boulding’s Images to Downs’s Ideology

Author(s) : Julien Grandjean, Cameron M. Weber

Abstract : Reading Boulding’s The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society (1956) in light of recent work in public choice homo politicus theory sheds light on today’s partisan politics. Complex depersonalized societies and limited time in the democratic process means that voters make non-logical decisions based on expressive images as simple as “good” and “bad” (Brennan 2008). We find that this work by Boulding can be related to Downs (1957). In his well-known An Economic Theory of Democracy, Downs develops the importance of political ideology in electoral processes. But what is ideology if not expressive images? In this paper, we relate these two works, written at the same time, about the same subject but without referencing each other. Both Boulding and Downs build models which place an emphasis on the role of mental ideas to overcome imperfect information in representative democracy. Additionally, both theorists find that this uncertainty is what can make democracy a fragile form of governance.

Key-words : Anthony Downs, Kenneth Boulding, Political ideology, Images, Democracy

JEL Classification : B2, B31, D72, D81