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Principled or Pragmatic? Morality Politics in Direct Democracy

  • Céline Colombo (a1)


Political scientists often distinguish between two types of issues: moral versus non-moral issues or social-cultural versus economic issues. The implication is that these types of issues trigger different types of reasoning: while economic issues rely on pragmatic, consequentialist reasoning, social-cultural issues are said to be dependent on principles and deontological reasoning. However, it is not known whether this distinction is as clear-cut from a citizen's perspective. Scholars agree that understanding the morality of voters’ political attitudes has implications for their political behaviour, such as their willingness to compromise and openness to deliberation. However, few studies have analysed whether citizens reason in principled or pragmatic ways on different issues. This study takes an exploratory approach and analyses the determinants of principled versus pragmatic reasoning in direct democracy, in which citizens make direct policy decisions at the ballot box. Using a unique dataset based on thirty-four ballot decisions in Switzerland, it explores the justifications voters give for their ballot decisions in open-ended survey answers. It distinguishes between pragmatic (or consequentialist) arguments and principled (or value-based) arguments. The analysis shows that principled justifications are not tied to particular issues. Voters use both types of justifications almost equally frequently. Moral justifications are more likely when an issue is personally relevant, as well as when a proposition is accepted, while pragmatic justifications prevail when a proposition is rejected. Furthermore, right-wing voters more often argue in pragmatic terms. Finally, the framing of the issue during the campaign significantly affects moral versus pragmatic justifications.


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Principled or Pragmatic? Morality Politics in Direct Democracy

  • Céline Colombo (a1)


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