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Frustrated Majorities: How Issue Intensity Enables Smaller Groups of Voters to Get What They Want, Seth J. Hill

Reviewed by Zachary Albert
 

Why do elected officials often fail to take action in line with the preferences of the majority of voters? This ambitious question sits at the heart of democratic theory; much ink has been spilled on the topic. Seth J. Hill's intervention into this field in Frustrated Majorities is all the more impressive for these reasons. Hill develops and probes a parsimonious theory that explains “frustrated majorities” as the byproduct, in part, of imbalances in issue intensity. When voters care intensely about a particular issue and engage in “costly political action” to convey that intensity to elected officials, rational office-seekers will sometimes side with a vocal and intense minority over the preferences of a less intense majority. The sure-to-be controversial implication is that antimajoritarian actions are not always a sign of democratic underperformance.

The author develops the argument using mathematical models and game theory, but he writes clearly and mercifully sets aside complex formal models for the appendix. The theory of why and under what circumstances politicians might side with a minority is clearly articulated in chapters three, four, and five. The remainder of the book contains empirical tests of particular aspects of the theory. Using stem cell research and gun control policy as case studies, Hill provi

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