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Voting and Participating in Direct Democracies

Applicant Hofer-Jaronicki Katharina Eva
Number 151992
Funding scheme Doc.Mobility
Research institution Department of Economics University of Pennsylvania
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Economics
Start/End 01.11.2013 - 30.09.2014
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Keywords (8)

Popular Initiatives; Voting; Direct Democracy; Institutions; Turnout; Gender; Voting Transparency; Roll Call Votes

Lay Summary (German)

Ausgehend von einem gesteigerten öffentlichen aber auch wissenschaftlichen Interesse befasst sich das vorliegende Forschungsprojekt mit Aspekten der direkten Demokratie, wobei ein Fokus auf Abstimmungen sowie Wahlbeteiligung liegt.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

Das Forschungsprojekt besteht aus drei Teilen, welche auf direktdemokratischen Prozessen im Schweizer Kontext basieren. Im ersten Teil wird der Einfluss der gesammelten Unterschriftenzahl für Volksinitiativen auf deren Erfolgswahrscheinlichkeit sowie das Abstimmungsverhalten der unterschreibenden Bürger beleuchtet. Die Analyse erfolgt anhand von historischen Daten und ermöglicht damit eine Langzeitanalyse. Der zweite Teil nutzt die Einführung des eidgenössischen Frauenstimmrechts in 1971 sowie die Einführung des kantonalen Frauenstimmrechts zu verschiedenen Zeitpunkten aus, um auf geschlechterspezifische Präferenzunterschiede bzgl. Staatsausgaben sowie Wahlbeteiligung zu schliessen. Die Einführung eines elektronischen Abstimmungsverfahrens im Ständerat im Frühjahr 2014 und dessen Einfluss auf das Abstimmungsverhalten der Parlamentarier stellt den dritten und letzten Teil des Forschungsprojekts dar.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext des Forschungsprojekts

Meine Forschung leistet einen Beitrag zum besseren Verständnis direktdemokratischer Prozesse. Insbesondere wird der in der wissenschaftlichen Forschung bisher stark vernachlässigte Aspekt des Zustandekommens von Volksinitiativen und der Unterschriftensammlung beleuchtet.  Ausserdem trägt das Forschungsprojekt zur wissenschaftlichen Debatte über geschlechterspezifische Interessen bezüglich Staatsausgaben bei. Da die Arbeit sich darüber hinaus mit aktuellen politischen Themen wie der Volksinitiative und parlamentarischen Abstimmungsverfahren beschäftigt, steuert sie neue Erkenntnisse zur gesellschaftlichen Diskussion über diese Themen bei.


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 03.12.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Lukas Schmid / HSG Switzerland (Europe)
- Publication
Christian Marti & Monika Bütler Switzerland (Europe)
- Publication
Christine Benesch & Monika Bütler Switzerland (Europe)
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Sinergia Workshop Talk given at a conference Ready to Reform: How Popular Initiatives Can Be Successful 19.09.2014 Zürich, Switzerland Hofer-Jaronicki Katharina Eva;
Pre-IPSA Workshop on Electoral Integrity Talk given at a conference Campaigning in Direct Democracies: Initiative Petition Signing, Turnout, and Acceptance 18.07.2014 Montreal, Canada Hofer-Jaronicki Katharina Eva;
Annual Meetings of the Public Choice Society Talk given at a conference Campaigning in Direct Democracies: Initiative Petition Signing, Turnout and Acceptance 07.03.2014 Charleston, United States of America Hofer-Jaronicki Katharina Eva;

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
130648 The Swiss Confederation: A Natural Laboratory for Research on Fiscal and Political Decentralization 01.10.2010 Sinergia


In today’s economically turbulent times characterized by uncertainty and locally high unemployment rates in the European Union, dissatisfaction with politicians’ representation is growing. At the same time, calls for more direct policy influence for voters become louder. In recent years, not only political but also scholastic interest in direct democratic institutions which are at the core of my thesis has surged. My thesis consists of two chapters with two papers each. I am currently also working on a fifth project that is expected to last beyond my Ph.D. studies. The overarching topic is “Voting and Participating in Direct Democracies”. All papers have in common that they are based on the Swiss institutional setup, Switzerland being the world’s most active user of direct democracy.The first chapter of my thesis deals with the signature collection phase for initiatives - an important direct democracy instrument that allows voters to propose constitutional amendments upon collecting a certain amount of signatures. Both papers of this chapter shed light on the question why initiative petitioners usually collect decidedly more signatures than required to qualify the initiative - many more than could be explained by coordination failures. This is puzzling since signature collection constitutes a costly activity. In paper 1, based on cantonal data from 1978 to 2000, I explore the motivational effect of petition signing on acceptance and turnout behavior. I find that signers are more likely to accept initiatives even after controlling for voter preferences. However, no effect on turnout can be found. Paper 2 (joint with Monika Bütler and Christian Marti, both SEW-HSG) analyzes whether a higher number of signatures increases the initiative’s probability of changing the status quo by signaling high approval among citizens: this can either happen through acceptance at ballot or by politicians proposing a compromise which meets some of the initiative’s concerns. The analysis is conducted with complete historical data of all Swiss initiatives from 1891 to 2010 in an ordered probit framework. Findings indicate a positive relation with stronger effects for initiatives dealing with ideological topics or those proposed by inexperienced and resource-wise weak petitioners. Potentially, the signal sent by these petitioners is more trustworthy since they would usually have higher signature collection costs. Both papers of the second chapter revolve around the introduction of female voting rights in Switzerland. In paper 3, I analyze the gender gap in preferences for government spending by comparing very similar referendum votes about the tax system before and after federal female enfranchisement in 1971. I make use of the discontinuous change in the electorate to explain changes in voting results. Surprisingly, I find stronger male preferences for government spending, which questions the common notion in literature that giving women the right to vote leads to increases in government expenditure. Paper 4 sheds light on the question whether the existence of voting institutions increases voters’ turnout probability by allowing them to accumulate political capital. Using individual data from post-ballot surveys at federal level, I exploit variation in the timing of introduction of female voting in Swiss cantons. Using distance-weighted radius matching, I plan to analyze whether living in cantons with female cantonal voting increases the turnout probability as compared to cantons with weak female institutions.Paper 5 (joint with Monika Bütler, SEW-HSG and Christine Benesch, SIAW-HSG) deals with the effect of voting transparency on members’ of parliament (MPs’) voting behavior in a bi-cameral system. This paper makes use of the change in voting procedure from hand rising to an electronic system with published votes by name planned in the upper house of the Swiss parliament for spring 2014. Intuitively, under transparency MPs are subject to more pressure by parties, constituencies and interest groups. The objective of the paper is to explore whether the difference in voting results will change relatively to the lower house that already votes electronically.My plan is to complete chapters 1 and 2 during my research stay at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Philadelphia PA. My stay at the Penn Institute for Economic Research will be hosted by the institute’s director Prof. A. Merlo. His main research interest being political economy, Prof. A. Merlo is an expert in voting and turnout models, voting in parliament as well as politicians’ careers. I am convinced to greatly benefit - in terms of personal and academic career development - from my research stay and hope to especially improve my skills in voting theory and voting models. After the research stay in Philadelphia I will return to St.Gallen to complete my Ph.D. studies. The expected date of my thesis submission is October 2014. I am confident that my stay at UPenn will consolidate the pathway to a successful academic career after graduation.