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Mobilized by Direct Democracy: Short-Term Versus Long-Term Effects and the Geography of Turnout in Ballot Measure Elections


  • *Direct correspondence to Joshua J. Dyck, Political Science Department, 520 Park Hall, University at Buffalo, SUNY, Buffalo, NY 14260 〈〉. We are willing to share data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. This research was generously funded by the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Special thanks to Fred Boehmke, James Gardner, Lynn Mather, and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions. We alone are responsible for all the analyses, conclusions, and any errors present in the article. A previous version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, August 2007.


Objectives. A number of recent studies find that direct democracy increases voter turnout. In this article, we ask: Who does direct democracy mobilize to vote and how are they mobilized? We distinguish between long-term and short-term effects on voter turnout, noting that much of the current literature has focused on participatory theory.

Methods. Our research design harnesses the power of geographic information systems and examines turnout in special initiative-only elections using registered voter lists. Our model draws on individual and Census tract data, incorporated using a hierarchical generalized linear model.

Results. The findings demonstrate how partisan context mitigates the potential for direct democracy to mobilize from the middle, and clarifies the dominance of short-term as opposed to long-term effects in increasing voter participation in ballot initiative elections.

Conclusion. Mobilization via direct legislation occurs mostly because voters are actively mobilized by partisan campaigns, not because of an increase in participatory fervor.