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Enduring Questions and Unsatisfactory Answers About Direct Democracy  

Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan

Direct democracy elections bring into sharp focus several enduring questions about the role of voters in elections. Questions of voter competence, majority rule, spending effects, and process concerns are all highlighted. Many of these questions form the basis of often very pointed debates within the literature. The study of direct democracy throws into sharp relief some of the most enduring questions relating to elections and electoral democracy. So far, however, the answers have not proved satisfying to many observers. In some cases, these debates have persisted despite an accumulation of empirical evidence that would seem to resolve the issues. Contrary to the claims of repeated criticisms, voters are capable of voting on ballot propositions in accord with their own interests and are supportive of the process as a means of making decisions. While direct democracy does have its flaws, the flaws identified by many critics are not really as damning as the critics would seem to believe. For whatever reason, however, the criticisms repeat.

Article

Direct Democracy and Political Decision Making  

Shaun Bowler, Reagan Dobbs, and Stephen Nicholson

Direct democracy in the United States is the process whereby voters decide the fate of laws, through either an initiative or a referendum. Initiatives allow voters to approve or reject a policy proposal, whereas referendums permit voters to decide the fate of laws passed by the legislature. Although some high-profile ballot measures, especially those related to ‘moral’ issues, may induce people to vote, most ballot measures are unfamiliar to voters and so have a limited effect on participation. Rather than mobilizing voters, the more choice confronting voters faced with ballot measures is whether to “roll-off” or abstain from voting on them. The subsequent decision, how to vote, is intimately related to the decision over whether to vote and is largely motivated by the same factors. In deciding whether and how to vote, voters must know what a ballot measure is about, discern the political motivation underlying it, and match that information to their political predispositions to cast a Yes or No vote; otherwise they abstain. The more voters know about a given proposition, the more likely it is that they will vote and, furthermore, that the vote they do cast will reflect their underlying political values. In contrast both to the claims made by many critics of direct democracy and, also, some current studies in political science, votes in direct democracy are often underpinned by substantive, policy-based considerations. Voters are thus capable of meaningfully participating in the direct democracy process.

Article

Constitutions in Latin American Politics  

Jonathan Hartlyn and Alissandra T. Stoyan

Constitutions have been an important part of Latin America’s history since independence. While exhibiting frequent change, there have been continuities primarily regarding their republican form and presidentialism. Extensive scholarship exists on the origins of constitutions, their evolving design, and their effects concerning democratic stability and rights, particularly with regard to trends and patterns since the third wave of democratization in the late 1970s. Large-scale “refounding” constitutional reforms have gained traction with citizens and civil society groups, and populist leaders have promoted them as a solution for socioeconomic and political exclusion. Politicians have also favored both large- and small-scale changes as ways to continue in office, concentrate power, gain or maintain support, or defuse crises. With frequent changes and longer and more complex texts, sharp distinctions between constitutional moments defining the rules and ordinary politics occurring within the rules have blurred. The research on these issues regarding constitutions confronts challenges common to the analysis of weak institutions in general, including particularly endogeneity to existing power distributions in society and thus seeking to understand when and why key actors respect constitutional rules of the game. Some scholarship advances actor-centered linkage arguments connecting the origin, design, and effects of constitutions in a causal progression, on topics such as presidential powers, unequal democracies emerging from authoritarian regimes, or judicial independence. These arguments differ regarding the direct impact they ascribe to constitutions compared to other factors, particularly with more extended time horizons. They typically examine the narrow strategic interests of the key players while also considering when they may contemplate broader goals, especially when no one player is dominant. Though diffusion has played a role in constitutional process and design in the region, most scholars downplay its relative importance. Since the 1990s, there has been a significant expansion in a unidirectional, path-dependent fashion in the incorporation of social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as decentralization and participatory mechanisms. Unlike presidential re-election and presidential powers, which have seen more frequent and sometimes mixed evolution, once these rights and mechanisms are granted they are not formally reversed in subsequent reforms. Yet, their effective realization has been partial and uneven, typically requiring some combination of societal mobilization and institutional activation. Thus, other endogenous or exogenous factors are typically incorporated into explanations regarding their possible effects. Future research in many areas of constitutionalism could be enhanced by a more systematic cross-national multidimensional data collection effort, facilitating further quantitative and multi-methods empirical work. This will assist scholars in addressing the theoretical and methodological challenges in this field common to institutional research generally. At the same time, it is critical not to lose sight of the normative dimension of constitutionalism, given its symbolic and aspirational value as well as practical importance for democracy.

Article

Switzerland and European Integration  

Clive H. Church

Despite its economic importance, Switzerland is surprisingly little studied. Hence it can be misunderstood. For many, it seems to have a successful relationship with the European Union (EU). In reality, Europe has become a problematic issue for the Swiss. Swiss policy has been reactive and largely driven by a conflict between pragmatic Swiss, inspired by traditional views of the needs of a neutral and federal country, and a growing body of populist Europhobes. The former are doubtful about the “European idea” but know that a price has to be paid for vital economic advantages. The latter detest the EU and want little involvement with it, regarding identity and political independence as more important than economic gains. The conflict between the two views can be bitter, and destabilizing. Because of this, the key aim of Swiss policy has been to achieve some kind of third way, combining non-membership with deep economic integration. Achieving this has become increasingly difficult despite the country’s central geographical and cultural position. This means transport links and population movements are important elements in Swiss relationships with the EU, alongside its economic and legislative involvement. Yet, at the same time, Switzerland has preserved a notable detachment from Europe’s political institutions. Swiss relations with the EU have been evolving since 1945. The present difficulties are merely the latest, as well as perhaps the most challenging, phase of a long-standing attempt at integrating Europe. There have been five phases in Swiss postwar relations with European integration. Initially, there was considerable reluctance to get involved, but, after some hesitation, the country entered the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and secured a free trade deal with the European Community (EC). This worked well, bringing Switzerland into what the Swiss liked to see as quasi-membership. This began to change in the mid-1980s, when Swiss needs and EC change led to a second phase, of seeking a deeper relationship. This led to the European Economic Area (EEA) negotiations and, when this was judged to be insufficient by the government, to a membership application. The defeat of the EEA proposal on December 6, 1992, by an emerging populist force unleashed increasing contestation over Europe. It also forced the country into a third phase of seeking bilateral makeweights for exclusion from the EEA. By the early years of the new century, this led to the present situation, which is more complicated than is often realized and is driven by indirect Europeanization. At the same time, the bilateral approach became both increasingly popular with a majority and sometimes contested on the right. Moreover, a fourth phase saw bilateralism increasingly contested by the EU as well as by the Right, causing a long, drawn-out impasse. This was partly because the “Stop Mass Migration” initiative of February 9, 2014, and the Limitation Initiative of September 27, 2020, both threatened to undermine the existing bilaterals. The first was bypassed by a parliamentary implementing bill and the second was roundly defeated in 2017. Then, the country faced a new decision over whether to ratify a proposed Institutional Framework Agreement designed to regularize its sprawling range of EU deals. The sudden rejection of this agreement by the Swiss government on May 26, 2021, has propelled Switzerland into a fifth phase of great uncertainty, during which it is likely that it will rethink the whole range of its possible policy options on Europe, which could involve challenging choices and possible political conflicts and realignments at home.

Article

Direct Democracy and LGBT Politics  

Daniel C. Lewis

While many landmark policies affecting LGBT rights have been determined by legislatures and courts, voters have also often played a more direct role in LGBT politics through direct democracy institutions, such as the initiative and referendum. For example, in 2008 California voters approved Proposition 8, barring same-sex marriage in the state and setting the stage for a key federal court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013). This followed on the heels of 31 ballot measures to ban same-sex marriage in the previous decade. Direct democracy has also been employed frequently to consider a range of other important issues relevant to the LGBT community, including bans on same-sex couple adoptions, nondiscrimination policies, education policies, and employment benefits. Further, as issues addressing transgender right have emerged on the political landscape, local referendums have addressed public accommodation discrimination, including so-called “bathroom bills,” like the high-profile Houston referendum in 2014. Most of these prominent direct democracy contests have resulted in negative outcomes for the LGBT community, spurring concerns about subjecting the rights of marginalized groups to a popular vote. However, some ballot measures, such as Washington’s 2012 vote to legalize same-sex marriage, have expanded or protected LGBT rights. Yet the effects of direct democracy institutions extend beyond the direct policy outcomes of elections and have been shown to shape the decision-making of elected officials as well. Still, studies of both the direct and indirect effects of direct democracy on LGBT rights reveal mixed results that are contingent upon public attitudes and how the issues are framed. When the public is supportive of LGBT rights and views them through a civil right frame, direct democracy has been used to expand and protect these rights. However, when the public views the LGBT community more negatively and views the issues through a morality or safety lens, LGBT rights are put at risk by direct democracy. As such, direct democracy institutions function as a double-edged sword for the LGBT community, simultaneously offering an opportunity to elevate LGBT rights issues onto the public agenda with a civil rights frame and posing a threat to the community when these issues are viewed in a more hostile manner.

Article

The Evolution of Same-Sex Marriage Policy in the United States  

Sarah Poggione

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and newspapers across the country declared that gay couples could now exercise this right in all 50 states. While the Obergefell decision was an important moment in history and a significant victory for the LGBT movement, it was not an immediate and complete change in policy. Rather, the change emerged slowly over decades from numerous complex interactions among federal, state, and local governmental actors. These same actors continue to influence marriage equality even after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling. A careful consideration of the path of marriage equality demonstrates the importance of federalism in the evolution of policy in the U.S. context. Not only does the extent of federal involvement influence state decision-making, but state policies also respond to the policymaking processes in other states. Examining the progression of marriage rights for same-sex couples also illustrates how variation in state government institutions shape policy outcomes in the U.S. system. For example, aspects of state courts such as judicial capacity influence the nature of state policy responses on the issue of gay marriage. Finally, focusing on marriage equality provides an opportunity to consider how institutions of government and political actors strategically interact to influence the policymaking process. For example, advocacy coalitions make strategic choices to focus on levels and institutions of government that are more responsive to their interests. Overall, same-sex marriage policy and the scholarship that investigates it highlight the complex and sometimes convoluted development that characterizes the policymaking process on many important issues in American politics and society.

Article

Referendums in the European Union  

Derek Beach

Referendums are frequently used to ratify European Union (EU)–related propositions. Since 1972 there have been in total 46 EU-related referendums, excluding third-country referendums on EU-related matters. While referendums are constitutionally mandated in some countries in order to ratify new treaties, other referendums are held for either normative or for political reasons. Referendums deal with topics that are less familiar to voters, where key issues typically do not map onto domestic political cleavages. This means that we should expect that campaigns and the information they provide about the issues and the positions of political actors might matter more in framing issues than in first-order national elections. While there is by no means a scholarly consensus, recent research has shown, for instance, that an issue that dominates media coverage can impact how voters evaluate a proposition. Finally, what do we know about voter behavior? While referendums on EU affairs have been criticized as being decided by “second-order” factors such as government popularity, there is evidence that when a proposition matters for voters, voting behavior is more dominated by issue-voting. Recent research has drawn on advances in cognitive psychology to investigate the impact of attitude strength and personality characteristics for voter behavior.

Article

Regime Type and Foreign Direct Investment: A Transaction Cost Economics Approach to the Debate  

Austin P. Johnson and Quan Li

A debate exists in international political economy on the relationship between regime type and foreign direct investment (FDI). The central point of contention focuses on whether multinational firms generally prefer to pursue business ventures in more democratic or autocratic countries. A considerable amount of theory has been developed on this topic; however, the arguments in previous studies lack consistency, and researchers have produced mixed empirical findings. A fundamental weakness in this literature is that while FDI has largely been treated conceptually as a homogeneous aggregate, in reality, it features divergent characteristics on multiple dimensions. Three possible dimensions that FDI can be decomposed on are: greenfield vs. brownfield, ownership type (wholly owned vs. joint venture), and horizontal vs. vertical. The most relevant dimensions to the problem at hand are: greenfield vs. brownfield, and horizontal vs. vertical. Five propositions, based on the notion of asset specificity, other investment attributes, and host nation domestic factors, are derived to predict how regime type might affect four types of FDI: vertical-greenfield; vertical-brownfield; horizontal-greenfield; and horizontal-brownfield. Depending on the type of FDI, multinational corporations may have no regime preference, an autocratic preference, or a democratic preference. This research contributes to empirical international relations theory by providing a useful example on how to resolve a scholarly debate, theoretically, and by laying out testable propositions for future empirical research.

Article

Elections and the Role of LGBT Issues in the United States and Abroad  

Gabriele Magni

LGBT issues have played an important role in elections. They have been the focus of direct democracy, that is referenda and ballot initiatives in which citizens voted on LGBT rights. The issues considered evolved over time from nondiscrimination ordinances in the 1970s to same-sex marriage bans in the 2000s and transgender rights in the 2010s. Religiosity, partisanship, and ideology generally predicted electoral outcomes. While supporters of LGBT rights have often been defeated at the ballot box, the tide started to change in the 2010s. Beyond direct democracy, LGBT issues have played a role in general elections. The religious right exploited them to mobilize the conservative electorate or to persuade voters to reconsider their party loyalties. The 2004 US presidential election, when same-sex marriage bans were on the ballot in several states, offers an important case study. LGBT actors are also important in elections. LGB voters have generally been more progressive and more supportive of the Democratic Party than the general population. Additionally, the number of openly LGBT candidates has significantly grown over time. In the early years, gays and lesbians running for office faced an electoral penalty but made up for their disadvantage by strategically competing in more favorable districts. By the late 2010s, however, large subsets of the electorate, including Democrats, progressives, nonreligious voters, and people with LGBT friends no longer penalized gay and lesbian candidates. The penalty remained stronger for transgender candidates. LGBT issues have also been important outside the United States, as shown by same-sex marriage referenda in Europe and beyond and by the increasing success of lesbian and gay candidates in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Future research should explore issues concerning minorities in the LGBT community, the shifting position of right-wing parties on LGBT rights, and the role of LGBT issues and candidates in elections outside the Western world.

Article

Theoretical Underpinnings of a Global Social Contract  

Takashi Inoguchi

In modeling a global social contract, theoretical underpinnings are provided, drawing from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract and John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. The thoughts of these two great philosophers regarding democracy have been insufficiently examined, reflecting the constraints of life in 17th- and 18th-century Geneva and England, respectively. It is on this basis that their ideas may be adapted to what may be called global democracy in the dawn of the new millennium. The key drivers of their concepts of democracy were empathy and compassion (for Rousseau) and human reason and pragmatism (for Locke). Given the technological, economic, political, social, and cultural environments at the dawn of the new millennium, captured by accelerated globalization and digitalization, transnational direct democratic and transnational representative democratic models of a global social contract are feasible and justified (see Inoguchi & Lien, 2016). To illustrate this dramatic change, a contrast is made between the years 1912 and 2016–1912 when Normal Angel forecast the advent of peaceful years ahead and 2016, at the time of this writing.