Chapter

An American Institution

in For the Many or the Few

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780226510811
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226510873 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226510873.003.0001
An American Institution

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The initiative process embodies the simple idea that ordinary citizens should have the right to propose and pass laws without the consent of their elected representatives. The initiative has been a part of state and local government for more than one hundred years now, making it an older institution than universal women's suffrage, term limits for the president, direct election of U.S. senators, and so on. Opinion polls consistently reveal strong support for the initiative process at all levels of government—even the federal—from residents of both initiative and noninitiative states. Yet despite its enduring popularity, the initiative continues to trouble some observers, who question whether voters are sufficiently informed to decide complicated policy issues and whether the initiative ultimately promotes democracy or works to the advantage of the special interests. This chapter provides background information on the initiative—its history and current use—partly to dispel some misconceptions. It then discusses some important lessons from the previous literature, and explains the empirical approach of the book.

Keywords: initiative; citizens; elected representative; opinion poll; democracy; government; law

Chapter.  5732 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: US Politics

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