Does Direct Democracy Hurt Immigrant Minorities? Evidence from Naturalization Decisions in Switzerland
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science
London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)
January 15, 2013
MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2013-1
Do minorities fare worse under direct democracy than under representative democracy? We provide new evidence by studying naturalization requests of immigrants in Switzerland, which were typically decided at the municipal level in citizens' assemblies. Using panel data from 1,400 municipalities for the 1991--2009 period, we exploit recent Federal court rulings that led municipalities to transfer the naturalization decisions to an elected municipality council. We show that naturalization rates surged by 50% once politicians in the council, rather than citizens in popular referendums, began deciding on local naturalization applications. Whereas referendums enable citizens to freely vote on their prejudice, discriminatory rejections are less likely in the council because accountable politicians are constrained to justify potentially arbitrary rejections. Consistent with this mechanism, we find that the increase in naturalization rates caused by switching from direct to representative democracy was much stronger in areas where voters held stronger anti-immigrant preferences and among more marginalized immigrant groups from Yugoslavia and Turkey. Overall, our results suggest that direct democracy should no longer be used for naturalization decisions to reduce the risk of discriminatory rejections.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 52
Keywords: direct democracy, representative democracy, minority rights, accountability, citizenship
JEL Classification: D7, H1working papers series
Date posted: March 16, 2012 ; Last revised: January 31, 2013
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