Issue Unbundling via Citizens' Initiatives
Timothy Besley, Stephen Coate
NBER Working Paper No. 8036
The role of citizens' initiatives figures prominently 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 considered socially undesirable for outcomes on specific issues to stray too far from what the majority wants, this creates a role for citizens' initiatives.
Published: Besley, Timothy and Stephen Coate. "Issue Unbundling via Citizens’ Initiatives." Quarterly Journal of Political Science 3, 4 (December 2008): 379-397.