DP15089 Political activism when voters have a limited attention span

Author(s): Iwan Barankay
Publication Date: July 2020
Keyword(s): direct democracy, limited attention, Political openness
JEL(s): D72, D91
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15089

We discuss the relationship between two forms of political activism and openness. We focus on direct democratic institutions and measure political activism by the number of direct democratic ballots and voter participation in those ballots. Openness is measured by the signature requirement that has to be met in order to qualify for a ballot. We show that in models where the status quo policy that elicits the political activity is invariant to changes in openness, more openness leads to more political activism results. However, looking at the empirical evidence on the frequency of ballots in Swiss Cantons, we find no relationship between openness and the number of ballots. This can be explained by allowing voters to have a limited attention span or that the status quo policy adapts to the more acute threat. We also find empirical evidence that more openness increases voter participation, which is due to the information externalities of signature collections.