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Collateral Damage: The Endangered Center in American Politics

24 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2004 Last revised: 19 Sep 2013

Samuel Issacharoff

New York University School of Law


Focusing on the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor in California, this article examines the curious reemergence of direct democracy. The article begins by tracing the disfavored status of any direct democratic mechanism in the original constitutional design. In addition, the use of recalls further violates the Framers' commitment to fixed terms of office to insulate wise political leadership from immediate accountability to the potentially inflamed desires of political majorities. Despite this background, the Article argues that a significant part of the current impulse toward plebiscitary forms of governance owes to the increasing unaccountability of legislative branches of government toward median preferences. As a result of gerrymandering and other distortive features of modern districting, there is a growing gulf between increasingly polarized and fractious legislative delegations and the centrist preferences of the bulk of the voting public. Schwarzenegger provides a striking example with a candidate able to muster half the votes in a crowded field, yet running on a platform that could not have prevailed in the primary of either major party. This article was originally presented as the 2004 Cutler Lecture at William and Mary.

Keywords: Democracy, elections, competition

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Issacharoff, Samuel, Collateral Damage: The Endangered Center in American Politics. William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 46, 2004; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 04-65. Available at SSRN:

Samuel Issacharoff (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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