Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-8tfrx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-27T10:35:08.398Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The Democratic Effect of Direct Democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2016

University College London
University of Salzburg & University of Zurich
Lucas Leemann is Lecturer, Department of Political Science, University College London, United Kingdom ( URL:
Fabio Wasserfallen is Assistant Professor, University of Salzburg, Austria & Senior Research Associate, University of Zurich, Switzerland ( URL:


A key requirement of democratic governance is that policy outcomes and the majority preference of the electorate are congruent. Many studies argue that the more direct democratic a system is, the more often voters get what they want, but the empirical evidence is mixed. This analysis explores the democratic effect of initiatives and referendums theoretically and empirically. The prediction of the formal model is that “bad” representation (i.e., a large preference deviation between the electorate and the political elite) is good for the democratic effect of direct democracy. An empirical investigation of original voter and elite survey data, analyzed with multilevel modeling and poststratification, supports this argument. Building on the literature, the findings of the analysis suggest that the extent to which direct democratic institutions are conducive for policy congruence—and may thus be advisable as democratic correctives to representative systems—depends on the political conflict structure.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Achen, Christopher, H. 1978. “Measuring Representation.” American Journal of Political Science 22 (3): 475510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Angrist, Joshua D., and Pischke, Jörn-Steffen. 2008. Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist’s Companion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Besley, Timothy, and Coate, Stephen. 2008. “Issue Unbundling via Citizens’ Initiatives.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 3 (4): 379–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
BfS. 2012. Swiss Census Data (2000 Census). Neuchâtel: Swiss Federal Statistical Office.Google Scholar
BfS. 2013. Statistik der Nationalratswahlen (Election Results for the Lower Chamber). Neuchâtel: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. Scholar
Bochsler, Daniel, and Bousbah, Karima. 2015. “Competitive Consensus: What Comes After Consociationalism in Switzerland?Swiss Political Science Review 21 (4): 654–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William Roberts, and Golder, Matt. 2006. “Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses.” Political Analysis 14 (1): 6382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Broder, David S. 2000. Democracy Derailed. New York: Harcourt.Google Scholar
Dahl, Robert A. 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Erikson, Robert S., Wright, Gerald C., and McIver, John P.. 1993. Statehouse Democracy: Public Opinion and Policy in the American States. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Feld, Lars P., and Kirchgässner, Gebhard. 2000. “Direct Democracy, Political Culture, and the Outcome of Economic Policy: A Report on the Swiss Experience.” European Journal of Political Economy 16 (2): 287306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Freitag, Markus, and Vatter, Adrian. 2006. “Initiatives, Referendums, and the Tax State.” Journal of European Public Policy 13 (1): 89112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frey, Bruno S., and Stutzer, Alois. 2000. “Happiness, Economy and Institutions.” The Economic Journal 110 (466): 918–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gelman, Andrew, and Hill, Jennifer. 2007. Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Gelman, Andrew, and Little, Thomas C.. 1997. “Poststratification Into Many Categories Using Hierarchical Logistic Regression.” Survey Methodology 23 (2): 127–35.Google Scholar
Gerber, Elisabeth R. 1996. “Legislative Response to the Threat of Popular Initiatives.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (1): 99128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gerber, Elisabeth R. 1999. The Populist Paradox: Interest Group Influence and the Promise of Direct Legislation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Gerber, Elisabeth R., Lupia, Arthur, McCubbins, Mathew D., and Kiewiet, Roderick D.. 2000. Stealing the Initiative: How State Government Responds to Direct Democracy. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
Golder, Matt, and Stramski, Jacek. 2010. “Ideological Congruence and Electoral Institutions.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (1): 90106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Held, David. 1996. Models of Democracy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Herron, Michael C. 1999. “Postestimation Uncertainty in Limited Dependent Variable Models.” Political Analysis 8 (1): 8398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hug, Simon. 2004. “Occurrence and Policy Consequences of Referendums. A Theoretical Model and Empirical Evidence.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 16 (3): 321–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hug, Simon. 2009. “Some Thoughts About Referendums, Representative Democracy, and Separation of Powers.” Constitutional Political Economy 20 (3/4): 251–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hug, Simon. 2011. “Policy Consequences of Direct Legislation Theory, Empirical Models and Evidence.” Quality & Quantity 45: 559–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kaiss, Stephanie. 2010. Das Verhältnis zwischen Exekutive und Legislative in den Schweizer Kantonen – Das Ausmass der Exekutivdominanz auf kantonaler Ebene. Zurich: University of Zurich.Google Scholar
Kastellec, Jonathan P., Lax, Jeffrey R., and Phillips, Justin H.. 2010. “Public Opinion and Senate Confirmation of Supreme Court Nominees.” Journal of Politics 72 (3): 767–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kitschelt, Herbert, and Rehm, Philipp. 2014. “Occupations as a Site of Political Preference Formation.” Comparative Political Studies 47 (12): 1670–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kriesi, Hanspeter. 2005. Direct Democratic Choice. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
Kriesi, Hanspeter, Grande, Edgar, Lachat, Romain, Dolezal, Martin, Bornschier, Simon, and Frey, Timotheos. 2008. West European Politics in the Age of Glabalization. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lascher, Edward L., Hagen, Michael G., and Rochlin, Steven A.. 1996. “Gun Behind the Door? Ballot Initiatives, State Policies and Public Opinion.” Journal of Politics 58 (3): 760–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lax, Jeffrey R., and Phillips, Justin H.. 2009a. “Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and Policy Responsiveness.” American Political Science Review 103 (3): 367–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lax, Jeffrey R., and Phillips, Justin H.. 2009b. “How Should We Estimate Public Opinion in The States?American Journal of Political Science 53 (1): 107–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lax, Jeffrey R., and Phillips, Justin H.. 2012. “The Democratic Deficit in the States.” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1): 148–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leemann, Lucas. 2014. Origins of Direct Democracy and Cleavage Structure. Chapter 1, Ph.D. thesis. Columbia University.Google Scholar
Leemann, Lucas. 2015. “Political Conflict and Direct Democracy – Initiative Use 1920–2011.” Swiss Political Science Review 21 (4): 596616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levendusky, Matthew S., Pope, Jeremy C., and Jackman, Simon D.. 2008. “Measuring District-Level Partisanship with Implications for the Analysis of U.S. elections.” Journal of Politics 70 (3): 736–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lewis, Jeffrey B., and Linzer, Drew A.. 2005. “Estimating Regression Models in Which the Dependent Variable Is Based on Estimates.” Political Analysis 13 (4): 345–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lupia, Arthur. 1992. “Busy Voters, Agenda Control, and the Power of Information.” American Political Science Review 86 (2): 390403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mansbridge, Jane. 2009. “A “Selection Model” of Political Representation.” Journal of Political Philosophy 17 (4): 369–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsusaka, John G. 1995. “Fiscal Effects of the Voter Initiative: Evidence from the Last 30 Years.” Journal of Political Economy 103 (3): 587623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsusaka, John G. 2001. “Problems with a Methodology Used to Evaluate the Voter Initiative.” Journal of Politics 63 (4): 1250–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsusaka, John G. 2004. For the Many or the Few. How the Initiative Process Changes American Government. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
Matsusaka, John G. 2005. “Direct Democracy Works.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 19 (2): 185206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsusaka, John G. 2010. “Popular Control of Public Policy: A Quantitative Approach.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 5: 133–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsusaka, John G., and McCarthy, Nolan M.. 2001. “Political Resource Allocation: Benefits and Costs of Voter Initiatives.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 17 (2): 413–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2006. Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald W.. 1963. “Constituency Influence in Congress.” American Political Science Review 57 (1): 45–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pacheco, Julianna. 2012. “The Social Contagion Model: Exploring the Role of Public Opinion on the Diffusion of Antismoking Legislation across the American States.” Journal of Politics 74 (1): 187202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Park, David K., Gelman, Andrew, and Bafumi, Joseph. 2004. “Bayesian Multilevel Estimation with Poststratification: State-Level Estimates from National Polls.” Political Analysis 12 (4): 375–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Romer, Thomas, and Rosenthal, Howard. 1978. “Political Resource Allocation, Controlled Agendas, and the Status Quo.” Public Choice 33 (4): 2743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Romer, Thomas, and Rosenthal, Howard. 1979. “Bureaucrats versus Voters: On the Political Economy of Resource Allocation by Direct Democracy.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 93 (4): 561–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1942. Capitalism, Socialism, & Democracy. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
Stadelmann-Steffen, Isabelle, and Freitag, Markus. 2011. “Making Civil Society Work: Models of Democracy and Their Impact on Civic Engagement.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 40 (3): 526–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stadelmann-Steffen, Isabelle, and Vatter, Adrian. 2011. “Does Satisfaction with Democracy Really Increase Happiness? Direct Democracy and Individual Satisfaction in Switzerland.” Political Behavior 34 (3): 535–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steenbergen, Marco R., and Jones, Bradford S.. 2002. “Modeling Multilevel Data Structures.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (1): 218–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stock, James H., Wright, Jonathan H., and Yogo, Motohiro. 2002. “A Survey of Weak Instruments and Weak Identification in Generalized Method of Moments.” Journal of Business & Economic Statistics 20 (4): 518–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Streunenberg, Bernard. 1992. “Referendum, Initiative, and Veto Power: Budgetary Decision Making in Local Government.” Kyklos 45 (4): 501–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stutzer, Alois. 1999. “Demokratieindizes für die Kantone der Schweiz.” Working Paper No. 23, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, University of Zurich.Google Scholar
Tausanovitch, Chris, and Warshaw, Christopher. 2013. “Measuring Constituent Policy Preferences in Congress, State Legislatures, and Cities.” Journal of Politics 75 (2): 330–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tausanovitch, Chris, and Warshaw, Christopher. 2014. “Representation in Municipal Government.” American Political Science Review 108 (3): 605–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tsai, Tsung-han, and Gill, Jeff. 2013. “Interactions in Generalized Linear Models: Theoretical Issues and an Application to Personal Vote-Earning Attributes.” Social Sciences 2 (2): 91113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vatter, Adrian. 2002. Kantonale Demokratien im Vergleich. Entstehungsgründe, Interaktionen und Wirkungen politischer Institutionen in den Schweizer Kantonen. Opladen: Leske und Budrich.Google Scholar
Warshaw, Christopher, and Rodden, Jontahan. 2012. “How Should We Measure District-Level Public Opinion on Individual Issues?Journal of Politics 74 (1): 203–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Leemann and Wasserfallen supplementary materials

Leemann and Wasserfallen supplementary materials

Download Leemann and Wasserfallen supplementary materials(PDF)
PDF 939 KB