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Public Opinion in European Union Politics  

Catherine E. De Vries

Public contestation regarding European integration is becoming increasingly important for the future of the European project. While traditionally European Union (EU) scholars deemed public opinion of minor importance for the process of European integration, public support and scepticism is now seen as crucial for the survival of the European project. One important reason for this change in perspective is the increasing politicization of the EU in domestic politics. In recent years, a burgeoning literature on public contestation concerning European integration has developed. Students of public opinion in the EU have primarily focused their attention on the explanations of fluctuations in support and scepticism. This work stresses both interest- and identity-based explanations showing that support for European integration increases with skill levels and more inclusive identities. Less attention has been given to the conceptualization of the precise nature of public opinion and its role in EU politics. When it comes to the politicization of European integration and its effects on public opinion, many scholarly contributions have aimed to explore the conditions under which EU attitudes affect voting behavior in elections and referendums. Yet, the way in which public opinion affects policy making and responsiveness at the EU level has received much less scholarly attention. This suggests that more work needs to be undertaken to understand the conditions under which public contestation of the EU constrains the room to maneuver of domestic and European elites at the EU level, and the extent to which it poses a challenge to, or opportunity for, further integrative steps in Europe. Only by gaining a better understanding about the ways public opinion limits the actions of domestic and European elites or not at the EU level, will scholars be able to make predictions about how public opinion might affect the future of the European project.

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.