Direct Democracy and Public Choice


USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 08-20

USC CLEO Research Paper No. C08-16

42 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2008 Last revised: 12 Jan 2009

Date Written: January 9, 2009


Public choice, with its focus on interest groups, relationships among institutions, and the importance of procedures and institutions in shaping policies, has been a significant influence on the literature studying direct democracy. Direct democracy encompasses two methods of providing voters with direct lawmaking authority - the initiative and the referendum - as well as a third method of directly influencing lawmakers outside of the regular electoral process - the recall. Twenty-seven states provide for the initiative, the popular referendum or both; and the legislative referendum is required in every state for adoption of constitutional amendments. When one considers that about half of the nation's cities also provide for some form of direct democracy, it is not surprising to find that 70 percent of Americans live in a state or city or both that allows them access to direct democracy. This chapter will discuss the contributions of public choice to our understanding of direct democracy in three areas: 1) the role of organized interest groups and the influence of money; 2) the ability of citizens to vote competently on initiatives and therefore enact policies that align with their preferences; and 3) the strategic behavior of political actors in a hybrid democracy where initiatives can shape candidate elections and where the successful implementation of direct democracy depends on the actions of often hostile elected and public officials.

Suggested Citation

Garrett, Elizabeth, Direct Democracy and Public Choice (January 9, 2009). THE ELGAR HANDBOOK ON PUBLIC LAW AND PUBLIC CHOICE, Forthcoming ; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 08-20; USC CLEO Research Paper No. C08-16. Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Garrett (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-0064 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

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