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Direct Democracy, Popular Majorities, and Policy Choices: The Impact of Institutional Settings on Democratic Legitimacy

Applicant Gilardi Fabrizio
Number 137765
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Politikwissenschaft Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.04.2012 - 30.09.2013
Approved amount 34'498.00
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Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Conventional wisdom attributes a very distinct role for direct democratic institutions: they are believed to be an exceptionally powerful tool for the people to keep control over the legislator. In representative democracies, voters can only every four years or so decide whether they are satisfied with the performance of the incumbent government, or whether they prefer the opposition in office. The political context is drastically different when people can block or initiate legislation themselves via the use of direct democratic institutions. Simply put, direct democracy seems to ensure that policies are congruent with the will of the majority of voters. But is that empirically really the case?


Recent studies reveal surprising results. In a randomized field experiment, Benjamin Olken, an economist working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, finds no difference in the policy outcome between direct democratic and representative decision making. Empirical studies on the US corroborate this finding. Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips, both political scientists at Columbia University, show that congruence between the preferences of the majority of voters and the enacted policies are not greater in states with more direct democratic institutions. This is puzzling, as it suggests that institutionalized participation of the electorate does not enhance the general democratic performance defined within the concept of congruence. 


Given that cantonal electorates can - to different extents - participate in cantonal policy making, this project investigates whether the variation in direct democracy has an effect on congruence in Swiss cantons. More specifically, we first estimate the preferences of the cantonal electorates using advanced statistical modeling. The applied methods allow us to estimate cantonal measures of the cantonal electorates based on data collected within a standard national VOX-survey. In a second step, we investigate the extent to which cantonal legislation is congruent with the estimated preferences of the electorate. Finally, we analyze whether variation in congruence is systematically associated with differences in direct democratic institutions across cantons. 


Direct democracy is the core feature of the Swiss system. This project will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the general effects of direct democracy on policy outcomes.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Name Institute

Publications

Publication
Extending the Use and Prediction Precision of Subnational Public Opinion Estimation
Leemann Lucas, Wasserfallen Fabio (2017), Extending the Use and Prediction Precision of Subnational Public Opinion Estimation, in American Journal of Political Science, 61(4), 1003-1022.
The Democratic Effect of Direct Democracy
Leemann Lucas, Wasserfallen Lucas (2016), The Democratic Effect of Direct Democracy, in American Political Science Review, 110(3), 750-762.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Prof. Andrew Gelman, Columbia University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Prof. Jeffrey Lax, Columbia University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Lucas Leemann, Columbia University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Prof. Hanspeter Kriesi, European University Institute Italy (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Institutskolloquium, Department of Political Science, Webster University Individual talk MrsP - Improving Small Area Preference Estimation 12.02.2016 Wien, Austria Leemann Lucas;
Annual Conference of the PSA group for Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties Talk given at a conference The Democratic Effect of Direct Democracy 11.09.2015 Cardiff, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Leemann Lucas;
Institutskolloquium, Department of Political Science, University of Essex Individual talk MRmP - Improving Small Area Preference Estimation 21.04.2015 Colchester, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Leemann Lucas;
Institutskolloquium, University of Oxford Individual talk The Democratic Effect of Direct Democracy 24.02.2015 Oxford, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Leemann Lucas;
Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association Talk given at a conference The Democratic Effect of Direct Democracy 31.08.2014 Washington DC, United States of America Wasserfallen Fabio; Leemann Lucas;
Annual Conference of the European Political Science Association Talk given at a conference Beyond data restrictions: Extending Prediction Precision of MRP 19.06.2014 Vienna, Austria Wasserfallen Fabio; Leemann Lucas;
Annual Conference of the Swiss Political Science Association Talk given at a conference Extending the use and prediction precision of multilevel regression and post-stratification (MrP) 31.01.2014 Bern, Switzerland Leemann Lucas; Wasserfallen Fabio;
Dissertation Workshop Individual talk Beyond Data Restrictions: Extending the use and prediction precision of multilevel regression and post-stratification 04.11.2013 Columbia University, United States of America Leemann Lucas;
IPZ Publication Seminar Individual talk Direct Democracy, Representation, and Policy Congruence 04.10.2013 Universität Zürich, Switzerland Gilardi Fabrizio; Wasserfallen Fabio; Leemann Lucas;
International Conference of Europeanists (CES) Talk given at a conference Direct Democracy, Consociationalism, and Policy Congruence 25.06.2013 Amsterdam, Netherlands Leemann Lucas; Wasserfallen Fabio;
Annual Conference of the European Political Science Association (EPSA) Talk given at a conference Institutional Correlates of Democratic Deficit 20.06.2013 Barcelona, Spain Wasserfallen Fabio; Leemann Lucas;
Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Talk given at a conference Free Lunch: Linearity’s Advantage for Multilevel Regression with Post-Stratification 12.04.2013 Chicago, United States of America Leemann Lucas; Wasserfallen Fabio;
Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Talk given at a conference Direct Democracy, Consociationalism, and Policy Congruence 12.04.2013 Chicago, United States of America Leemann Lucas; Wasserfallen Fabio;
Jahreskongress der Schweizerischen Vereinigung für Politische Wissenschaft (SVPW) Talk given at a conference Institutional Determinants of Democratic Performance 01.02.2013 Universität Zürich, Switzerland Leemann Lucas; Wasserfallen Fabio;
Workshop on Political Legitimacy and the Paradox of Regulation Talk given at a conference Institutional Determinants of Democratic Performance 24.01.2013 Leiden University, Netherlands Leemann Lucas;
Comparative Politics Workshop Individual talk Democratic Deficit 30.11.2012 Columbia University, United States of America Leemann Lucas;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Other activities Online Umfragen mit www.20min.ch German-speaking Switzerland 2016

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
183120 Digital Democracy Lab 01.12.2018 Digital Lives

Abstract

There is a general understanding that direct democratic institutions can enrich the representative character of a democratic system. However, a number of recent studies challenge this view and argue that the effect lies only in the greater legitimacy of the process itself. This project takes advantage of the unique variation in direct democratic institutions in Swiss cantons and explores whether policies in cantons with more extensive direct democratic institutions are more aligned with citizens’ preferences. Policy congruence is measured over a wide range of issues in Swiss cantons by looking at how often voter preferences match policy outcomes. We are asking for very modest financial support in order to conduct a survey to obtain unique data on 20 policy issues. Using multilevel regression and poststratification, a novel technique that has yet to be applied to this topic, we investigate to what extent the strength of direct democratic institutions relates to congruence. The resulting dataset, which we will make publicly available, and the method are of interest for the study of Swiss politics beyond this project’s particular research question.
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