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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.


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.