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Where Politicians Gave Power to the People: Adoption of the Citizen Initiative in the U.S. States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Amy Bridges*
University of California, San Diego, CA, USA
Thad Kousser
University of California, San Diego, CA, USA
Amy Bridges, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., SSB 389, San Diego, CA 92093 Email:


What led elites in some U.S. states to surrender policy-making power to voters between 1898 and 1918, while leaders elsewhere retained only representative democracy? The authors argue that progressives behaved as strategic politicians by supporting direct democracy when they were stymied at achieving their goals in the legislature and were confident that the voters who would be empowered by initiatives that agreed with progressive policies. They made their delegation of power conditional on who would receive it. The presence of these underlying conditions made adoption of the citizen initiative likely, the authors posit, while the timing of reforms came when insurgent reformers had a strong presence in state government, when the results of a galvanizing election sent a clear signal, or when the adoption of the initiative in one state diffused to its neighbors. Exploring these hypotheses by analyzing a new data set, the authors find strong support for their expectations about the conditions that created fertile ground for direct democracy.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s) 2011

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