Political Behavior

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 535–559 | Cite as

Does Satisfaction with Democracy Really Increase Happiness? Direct Democracy and Individual Satisfaction in Switzerland

  • Isabelle Stadelmann-SteffenEmail author
  • Adrian Vatter
Original Paper


This paper takes the influential “direct democracy makes people happy”-research as a starting point and asks whether direct democracy impacts individual satisfaction. Unlike former studies we distinguish two aspects of individual satisfaction, namely satisfaction with life (“happiness”) and with how democracy works. Based on multilevel analysis of the 26 Swiss cantons we show that the theoretical assumption on which the happiness hypothesis is based has to be questioned, as there is very little evidence for a robust relationship between satisfaction with democracy and life satisfaction. Furthermore, we do not find a substantive positive effect of direct democracy on happiness. However, with respect to satisfaction with democracy, our analysis shows some evidence for a procedural effect of direct democracy, i.e. positive effects related to using direct democratic rights, rather than these rights per se.


Direct democracy Satisfaction with democracy Happiness Multilevel analysis 



This article was written as part of the research project on “Quality of Democracy in the Swiss Cantons” that was financially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). We are grateful to the anonymous referees and the editors for their helpful comments and suggestions, and Bianca Rousselot for linguistic assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Political ScienceUniversity of BernBern 9Switzerland

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