Skip to main content

Democracy for Busy People

Advances an alternative approach to democratic reform that focuses on building institutions that empower people who have little time for politics.
How do we make democracy more equal? Although in theory, all citizens in a democracy have the right to participate in politics, time-consuming forms of participation often advantage some groups over others. Where some citizens may have time to wait in long lines to vote, to volunteer for a campaign, to attend community board meetings, or to stay up to date on national, state, and local news, other citizens struggle to do the same. Since not all people have the time or inclination to devote substantial energy to politics, certain forms of participation exacerbate existing inequalities.
Democracy for Busy People takes up the very real challenge of how to build a democracy that empowers people with limited time for politics. While many plans for democratic renewal emphasize demanding forms of political participation and daunting ideals of democratic citizenship, political theorist Kevin J. Elliott proposes a fundamentally different approach. He focuses instead on making democratic citizenship undemanding so that even busy people can be politically included. This approach emphasizes the core institutions of electoral democracy, such as political parties, against deliberative reforms and sortition. Timely and action-focused, Democracy for Busy People is necessary reading.

256 pages | 12 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2023

Political Science: Comparative Politics, Political and Social Theory


"Highly original and thought-provoking, Elliott takes a quotidian concern—not enough hours in the day to do all that we have to do—and illuminates its implication for democracy and equal citizenship. The unequal distribution of time to do stuff—including, and especially, political stuff like voting, going to a meeting, or keeping up with the issues—has deep implications for inclusive citizenship. From the democratic significance of unequal temporal opportunity to participate in politics, Elliott builds a rich, empirically grounded, and institutionally sophisticated normative picture of how to safeguard the ideal of equal citizenship in 21st century democracies."

Simone Chambers | University of California, Irvine

"Democracy for Busy People is an important book about trade-offs. It's about the trade-offs ordinary people must make in the use of their time, and the real sacrifices of time that people must make to take part in, learn about, or even care about democratic politics. And it's about the trade-offs in institutional design that necessarily follow: how more complicated, frequent, and deliberative modes of democratic politics exclude those with less time on their hands. Kevin Elliott has made a major contribution to empirically-informed democratic theory, both in his arguments for wide-ranging reforms to favor inclusivity and reduced time demands, and in his defenses of elections, parties, and broad-based participation not only against democracy's opponents but also against its too-ambitious advocates."

Jacob T. Levy | McGill University

“Kevin Elliott offers a highly original and extremely engaging analysis of the demands of political participation and the implications for democracy. He begins by acknowledging that people are busy and only have so much time to attend to the requirements of effective democratic participation. But, unlike many who argue that the problem rests with the individual citizen, he argues quite persuasively that the problem lies in the complexity of the system itself. In doing so, he makes a compelling case that busyness is an important determinant of inequality in a democratic society and thus must be remedied as a matter of justice. Democracy for Busy People is an impressive argument that will reward the time spent reading it—regardless of how busy you are.”

Jack Knight | Duke University

Table of Contents

1. The Demands of Democratic Citizenship 

Part I: How Much Democratic Citizenship?
2. Democracy’s Floor: The Case against Apathy
3. When Does Democracy Ask Too Much? Realism and the Paradox of Empowerment
4. The Citizen Minimum: Inclusion and Stand-By Citizenship

Part II: Democratic Institutions for Busy People
5. How to Democratize Elections: Annual Elections and Mandatory Voting
6. Engines of Inclusion: Political Parties in Competition
7. Putting Deliberation and Sortition in Their Place
Conclusion: Too Much Democracy?

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press