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Preferences, Priorities, and Plebiscites

24 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2003 Last revised: 13 Oct 2015

Lynn A. Baker

University of Texas School of Law

Date Written: November 1, 2003


This Essay, which was prepared for a symposium on "Direct Democracy" at the University of San Diego School of Law, explores a "populist" critique of plebiscites: that they "cannot be trusted to reflect the voice of the people accurately or meaningfully." At the center of the critique are two concerns: that previous discussions of plebiscites have been based on a too narrow understanding of "what it means to hear the voice of the people," and that "single-issue direct democracy lacks a mechanism for reflecting voter priorities among issues." The Essay examines both claims and ultimately finds them unpersuasive. The Essay concludes with an examination of the related claim that the mere availability of direct democracy distorts the "voice of the people" as expressed through candidate elections and representative lawmaking, and concludes that representative lawmaking need not be exclusive.

Keywords: direct democracy, legislation, referenda, voting, initiatives

JEL Classification: K1, K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Baker, Lynn A., Preferences, Priorities, and Plebiscites (November 1, 2003). 13 Journal of Contemporary Legal issues 317 (2004); U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 56. Available at SSRN: or

Lynn A. Baker (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
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