Thursday, July 1, 2010

Initiatives, Thoughtful Thursday

Shaun Bowler, Todd Donovan, "Measuring the Effect of Direct Democracy on State Policy: Not All Initiatives Are Created Equal" State Politics and Policy Quarterly Volume Four, Number Three, Fall 2004, pages 345 to 363.

States vary in

  1. how difficult it is to get an initiative on the ballot.
    1. Some states simply need more signatures
    2. there is little time to get the signatures. I. E. the people have to collect the signatures, e. g. between March Seventh and April Fourteenth
    3. One needs a specific number of signatures in each county. In other words, it is not enough just to get 100,000 signatures. For example, one must get at least 2000 in at least half the counties.
    4. Some states don't accept initiatives in all areas.
  2. And the Legislature may have some power:
    1. Worse in some states, the legislature can simply repeal the initiave by voting against it, sometimes immediately.
    2. States restrict initiatives to one item
    3. States limit the substance of the initiative
    4. some states only allow the people to vote on ordinary statues and not amend their constitution

As one would expect, these affect the number of initiatives per year. 1.58 versus 0.50. And the second set of restrictions is correlated highly (0.74) with the first set. And the states that added an initiative in the 1900's have initiatives easy to get on the ballot; the legislature cannot undo these. Other states added initiatives later but here the legislature can easily reverse the effect and worse, and they are hard to get on the ballot in the first place.

Drs. Bowler and Donovan looked at how closely the State abortion policy matched public opinion. The states that made it easier to get an initiative on the ballot had a policy that closer matched public opinion on this controversial question.

States that frequently used the initiative and states that made it easier to enact initiative and keep them in place, had stronger campaign finance policies.

And states that had a progressive initiative policy were more likely to have term limits on their state legislatures and to have stricter ones. Twenty-one states have legislative term limits. Twenty of these hd initiative policies! (I note that the Federal Government has no initiative and no legislative term limits.)

The point of this article is that making the initiative easy and not restricting it will have real effects on how it is used and will make the laws of the state reflect what the citizens want and not what the legislators want. Drs. Bowler and Donovan criticize earlier studies for simply looking at the initiative as an either-or proposition (a dummy variable in regression terms)--that is the point of the article.

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