Ballot initiatives are designed to give the people a voice and a means to work around legislative politics, which has to be good for democracy, right? Our guests this week provide a different take on the story we're often told about direct democracy and civic engagement.
From gerrymandering to ranked-choice voting to expanding voting rights, the ballot initiative has been essential to expanding and reforming democracy in recent years. However, the initiative has also been used to constrain minority rights and push the public to act on polarizing issues like the death penalty and immigration.
Ted Lascher and Joshua Dyck are the authors of Initiatives Without Engagement: A Realistic Appraisal of Direct Democracy's Secondary Effects. In the book, they develop and test a theory that can explain the evidence that the ballot initiative process fails to provide the civic benefits commonly claimed for it, and the evidence that it increases political participation. Ultimately, they argue that the basic function of direct democracy is to create more conflict in society — something that runs counter to the way initiatives are often framed by scholars and democracy reformers.
Lascher is Professor of Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Sacramento. Dyck is Associate Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for Public Opinion at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Initiatives Without Engagement: A Realistic Appraisal of Direct Democracy's Secondary Effects
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