ICJR Seminar: Wed, Oct 14th, 4pm, 67/1003 (Southampton Highfield Campus)
Prof Lisa L. Miller, Rutgers University
The Myth of Mob Rule: Violent Crime and Democratic Politics
Can majorities be entrusted to support rational policy ideas on issues like crime and security? or are they inevitably la bella multorom capitum, the many-headed beast, demanding impulsive, irrational and mercurial policies, even when actual risk is very low? Using the politics of crime and punishment as a lens through which to consider the perennial question of the wisdom of mass publics, I suggest that large publics in modern democracies are far more attuned to real risk than is often imagined and that the range of policies the public will support when issues like crime are politically salient is much broader than scholars assume. Drawing on a larger project comparing the public and political salience of crime across three countries, I illustrate the strong relationship between rates of serious violence and public and political concern about crime, and highlight the importance of political institutions in shaping policy responses, once that concern emerges. In particular, and contrary to much received wisdom, I argue that the most punitive nation in the world — the United States — suffers from a democratic deficit, rather than a democratic surplus, and that it is this deficit that leads to high crime and high rates of imprisonment.