How Initiatives Don’t Always Make Citizens: Ballot Initiatives in the American States, 1978–2004
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Advocates claim that when citizens can make law through voter initiatives, they become better citizens. This paper puts that claim into context. Using data from the Current Population Survey November Supplement and American National Election Studies for each election between 1978 and 2004, it demonstrates that voter initiatives in the American states have limited effects on turnout, and on political knowledge and efficacy. Initiatives increase voters’ likelihood of turning out to vote in six of seven midterm elections under study, but show no effect on turnout at presidential elections. For knowledge among non-voters and for political efficacy among all respondents, the results show null effects; for knowledge among voters, they indicate modest effects.
KeywordsInitiatives Behavior Citizenship Direct democracy
We thank Mark Smith for providing data, and Zoltan Hajnal, Gary King, Kay Schlozman, Caroline Tolbert, anonymous referees, and participants in the Harvard American Politics Research Workshop and the 2006 Midwest Political Science Meetings for helpful comments. Authors’ names listed alphabetically.
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