DP2857 Issue Unbundling via Citizens' initiatives

Author(s): Timothy J. Besley, Stephen Coate
Publication Date: June 2001
Keyword(s): citizens' initiatives, direct democracy
JEL(s): D70, H10
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=2857

The role of citizens' intitiatives figures prominantly in contemporary debates on constitutional change. A basic question is why are initiatives necessary in a representative democracy where candidates must already compete for the right to control policy? This Paper offers one answer to this question. In a representative democracy, the bundling of issues, together with the fact that citizens have only one vote, means that policy outcomes on specific issues may diverge far from what the majority of citizens want. In such circumstances, allowing citizens to put legislation directly on the ballot permits the 'unbundling' of these issues, which forces a closer relationship between policy outcomes and popular preferences. To the extent that it is condsidered socially undesirable for outcomes on specific issues to stray too far from what the majority wants, this creates a role for citizens initiatives.