Legislative Referendums and Voter Turnout in the United States
Woods, Jacqueline Anne
Recent studies of the relationship between direct democracy and civic engagement in the United States have focused on the effect of ballot initiatives, those measures that are placed on the ballot by a citizen-initiated process. However, only 24 of the 50 states currently allow for ballot initiatives of some type. In contrast, all but one state (Delaware) allows for citizens to have a say in policy initiatives through legislative referendums, those measures which are referred to the ballot by the legislature. Some of these referendums are votes on controversial policy issues, and can attract the same sort of campaign activity and media attention as ballot initiatives might. I therefore build on existing literature by examining whether legislative referendums have an effect on civic engagement, specifically voting turnout. Using data on presidential and midterm elections from 2000 to 2012, I examine the effect of legislative referendums on voting eligible turnout in those elections using regression analysis. I find that while the number of legislative referendums alone does not increase turnout, the number of competitive referendums - those measures that pass or fail by a margin of less than 10 percent, are predicted to increase turnout.
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