California's Hybrid Democracy

40 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2005


Legal scholars are beginning to engage in sustained study of direct democracy: initiatives, referendums and recalls. More than merely assessing constitutional issues implicated by the initiative process, we are studying the legal structure that shapes direct democracy. Legal scholarship still tends to analyze direct democracy on its own, however, just as the study of representative institutions by legal scholars tends to focus on them in isolation. Yet, for most Americans, policy is determined at the local or state level by a combination of direct and representative institutions. A complete analysis of any democratic institution necessarily involves understanding that it operates in a Hybrid Democracy - neither wholly representative nor wholly direct, but a complex combination of both at the local and state levels, which in turn influences national politics. My objective in this Article is to underscore the dynamic nature of our Hybrid Democracy to establish the proposition that any complete assessment of democracy must take these interactions into account. I will describe interactions that occur in three ways in Hybrid Democracy. These interactions are dramatically seen in California politics, but they are present in other areas of the country with hybrid systems. First, candidate elections can be influenced by the presence of initiatives on the ballot. Hybrid Democracy can affect turnout in candidate elections, issues discussed in candidate campaigns, and the effectiveness of campaign finance laws. Second, democratic structures and the laws regulating elections are likely to be different in a Hybrid Democracy than in a wholly representative democracy. This occurs because initiatives offer a way around legislators when their self-interest clashes with reforms favored by a majority of voters. Third, the fact of Hybrid Democracy affects the policies that lawmakers adopt because they are aware that the political game includes the possibility of initiative and referendum. Strategic politicians, notably Arnold Schwarzenegger, take advantage of Hybrid Democracy as they negotiate using the threat of initiative as a bargaining tool.

Suggested Citation

Garrett, Elizabeth, California's Hybrid Democracy. 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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