Political Behavior

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 3–25 | Cite as

When Ballot Issues Matter: Social Issue Ballot Measures and Their Impact on Turnout

Original Paper


Evidence for whether direct democracy positively affects turnout is mixed, which can be attributed to a theoretical ambiguity about the proper way to measure the institution. The most common measure, a count of the number of initiatives on the ballot, is incomplete, because it unrealistically assumes that all propositions have an equal impact on turnout and focuses exclusively on initiatives. These deficiencies are addressed by looking at the issue content of all ballot measures. I find that the number of social issues on the ballot, because they are highly salient, tap into existing social cleavages, help to overcome barriers to voting, and fit within a framework of expressive choice, had a positive impact on turnout for all midterm and some presidential elections since 1992. In contrast to previous findings, however, the total number of propositions on the ballot was rarely associated with an increase in turnout. I discuss the implications of these findings in the conclusion.


Direct democracy Initiative Voter turnout Voter behavior Social issues 



I would like to thank Michael Hanmer, Karen Kaufmann, Geoffrey Layman, John McTague, James Gimpel, the editors, the three anonymous reviewers, and participants in the UMD American Politics Workshop for their thoughtful and insightful comments.

Supplementary material

11109_2010_9113_MOESM1_ESM.doc (56 kb)
(DOC 56 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Government and PoliticsUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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