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The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics

Fiorina, Morris P. (1980) The Decline of Collective Responsibility in American Politics. Social Science Working Paper, 320. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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In the American constitutional system the formal powers of government are sufficiently fragmented that no single official, including the president, is individually responsible for the outcomes of government activity. Thus, American officials face the continual temptation to "pass the buck"—to avoid any difficult or politically dangerous decision in the hope that some other official(s) will get stuck with the consequences of acting or failing to act. The American citizen in turn, faces the difficult task of assessing responsibility on numerous officials all of whom deny that they share in that responsibility. The only remedy for such a situation is some form of collective responsibility by which all officials who share authority are held equally responsible for acting or failing to act. Thus far in our history the political party has been the only vehicle by which collective responsibility has been enforced. Strong parties provide the leadership to organized and maintain national policymaking coalitions, and in doing so become clearly responsible for the policies which emerge. Unfortunately, the political party has undergone a steady decline in American politics, a decline evident in the organizational, electoral and governmental spheres. As a result there is a crisis of collective responsibility in contemporary American politics. This situation contributes to more often discussed contemporary problems such as immobilism in our policymaking processes, the increasing importance of single-issue groups, and the increasing political alienation of the American populace.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
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Additional Information:My thinking on the matters discussed in this essay has benefited from the critical commentary of Lawrence Joseph and Robert Salisbury. Published as Fiorina, Morris P. "The decline of collective responsibility in American politics." Daedalus (1980): 25-45.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Subject Keywords:Political parties, Political candidates, Political campaigns, Political elections, Government, Voting, Presidential elections, Congressional districts, Collective responsibility, Congressional voting
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:320
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20171010-162446260
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:82272
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:11 Oct 2017 18:07
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:52

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