Proponents of direct legislation maintain that the initiative and popular referendum empower ordinary citizens to set the agenda of politics. Some argue it shifts “ultimate authority from representatives in state legislatures, city councils, and even Congress to the people themselves” (Schmidt 1989, vii). Such elections, so the argument goes, produce greater voter interest in elections and higher voter turnout. Those in favor of the process also contend that it is an important check on special interests which exert too much control over elected politicians (Magleby 1984, chap. 2; Cronin 1989).
Critics of direct democracy raise concerns about the quality of deliberation voters give to issues. Voters can be confused by ballot question wording or respond negatively to the length of the ballots. Moreover, because voters lack the simplifying devices of partisanship and candidate appeal, they may be more susceptible to the manipulations of campaign consultants.
How well do these longstanding arguments for and against direct legislation reflect our actual experience with the process in the 1990s? Arguments for direct democracy depend largely on how the process is conducted. If the process can be manipulated by special interests or relies on questionable tactics, then many of the advantages claimed for the process disappear. In this article, we argue that political consultants play a significant role in the conduct of direct democracy. These consultants normally work directly for organized interests without the constraints imposed by candidates or parties.