California Constitutionalism: Trust in Government and Direct Democracy

45 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2008

Date Written: March 2008


This article provides a fresh perspective on direct democracy by focusing on its origins and persistence in California and by employing evidence from historical and social science research. My main thesis is that the origins and persistence of direct democracy has to do with the problem of trust in government. Focusing on the problem of trust establishes a new context for understanding direct democracy. In particular, I argue that the problems of direct democracy cannot be solved without confronting the equally serious problems citizens perceive with representative government. The two are twinned for all practical purposes.

In order to show this, I retell in Part I the story of the adoption of direct democracy to highlight the difficult situation faced by California as a new state that featured the large-scale failure of the founders' eighteenth-century representative institutions to cope with the conditions present in late-nineteenth century America. In Part II, I first review the contemporary status of direct democracy in California in relation to the problem of trust in government. I then present a detailed historical explanation of the decline of trust in government in the U.S. by reviewing the most relevant social science evidence. The discussion shows that the problem of trust in government is a national problem extending back to the 1960s and that the use of direct democracy in California and other states will persist until the problems citizens have with representative government are acknowledged and addressed.

Keywords: Direct democracy, constitutionalism, political trust, trust in government

Suggested Citation

Griffin, Stephen M., California Constitutionalism: Trust in Government and Direct Democracy (March 2008). Tulane University School of Law, Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series No. 08-04, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen M. Griffin (Contact Author)

Tulane University Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
504-865-5910 (Phone)
504-862-8857 (Fax)

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