Referendums and public policy: do more opportunities for direct participation affect policy outcomes?

Abstract

Research on the effects of referendums and citizens’ initiatives in the USA and Switzerland have shown that provisions for institutions of direct democracy (referendums and initiatives) are statistically associated with lower inequality, lower budget deficits and higher levels of GDP per capita at the state/canton level. This paper breaks new ground by replicating the American and Swiss research on nationwide referendums in European democracies. The results differ in some respects from the Swiss and American results. While, this paper to a degree corroborates the association between equality and citizens’ initiatives, there is no evidence in support of the proposition that citizen-initiated referendums are correlated with lower public debt. And, contrary to the findings of the earlier research, the paper finds evidence that provisions for referendums lead to lower GDP per capita. Moreover, the analysis cannot point to specific exemplars of countries that showcase the relationships. It remains difficult to point to any specific policy effect of referendums and initiatives in Europe.

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Correspondence to Matt Qvortrup.

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Qvortrup, M. Referendums and public policy: do more opportunities for direct participation affect policy outcomes?. Eur Polit Sci 18, 617–629 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-018-0197-0

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Keywords

  • Referendums
  • Equality
  • Initiatives
  • Direct democracy
  • Budget deficits