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How do voters react to complex choices in a direct democracy? Evidence from Switzerland

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  • Zohal Hessami

    (Department of Economics, University of Konstanz, Germany)

Abstract

Direct democracy may impose significant information demands on voters especially when individual propositions are highly complex. Yet, it remains theoretically ambiguous how proposition complexity affects referendum outcomes. To explore this question, I use a novel dataset on 153 Swiss federal referendums that took place between 1978 and 2010. The dataset includes hand collected data on the number of subjects per proposition based on official prereferendum information booklets as a measure of complexity. My estimation results suggest that the relationship between proposition complexity and the share of yes-votes follows an inverse U-shape. Using micro-data from representative post-referendum surveys, I provide evidence for two opposing channels. More complex propositions are supported by a more diverse group of voters. On the other hand, voters find it more difficult to estimate the personal consequences of complex propositions and are therefore more likely to reject them.

Suggested Citation

  • Zohal Hessami, 2016. "How do voters react to complex choices in a direct democracy? Evidence from Switzerland," Working Paper Series of the Department of Economics, University of Konstanz 2016-01, Department of Economics, University of Konstanz.
  • Handle: RePEc:knz:dpteco:1601
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    Cited by:

    1. Stadelmann, David & Torrens, Gustavo & Portmann, Marco, 2020. "Mapping the theory of political representation to the empirics: An investigation for proportional and majoritarian rules," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 548-560.
    2. Stadelmann David & Portmann Marco & Eichenberger Reiner, 2016. "How Lobbying Affects Representation: Results for Majority-Elected Politicians," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 16(4), pages 1-7, October.
    3. Zohal Hessami, 2016. "How Do Voters React to Complex Choices in a Direct Democracy? Evidence from Switzerland," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 69(2), pages 263-293, May.
    4. Baskaran, Thushyanthan & Hessami, Zohal & Khasanboev, Temurbek, 2022. "Political Selection When Uncertainty Is High," IZA Discussion Papers 15509, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Anna Maria Koukal & Marco Portmann, 2020. "Political Integration of Foreigners How does foreigners suffrage impact natives’ attitudes?," CREMA Working Paper Series 2020-05, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    6. Hessami, Zohal & Resnjanskij, Sven, 2019. "Complex ballot propositions, individual voting behavior, and status quo bias," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 82-101.
    7. Benesch, Christine & Loretz, Simon & Stadelmann, David & Thomas, Tobias, 2019. "Media coverage and immigration worries: Econometric evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 160(C), pages 52-67.
    8. Ho Fai Chan & Ahmed Skali & David Stadelmann & Benno Torgler & Stephen Whyte, 2021. "Masculinity cues, perceptions of politician attributes, and political behavior," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(1), pages 148-171, March.
    9. David Stadelmann, 2018. "Testing Proposals for a “Democracy of the Future”," Homo Oeconomicus: Journal of Behavioral and Institutional Economics, Springer, vol. 35(1), pages 123-126, June.
    10. Stadelmann, David & Torrens, Gustavo, 2020. "Who is the ultimate boss of legislators: Voters, special interest groups or parties?," VfS Annual Conference 2020 (Virtual Conference): Gender Economics 224562, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    11. Stutzer, Alois & Baltensperger, Michael & Meier, Armando N., 2018. "Overstrained Citizens?," Working papers 2018/25, Faculty of Business and Economics - University of Basel.
    12. Portmann, Marco & Stadelmann, David & Eichenberger, Reiner, 2022. "Incentives dominate selection – Chamber-changing legislators are driven by electoral rules and voter preferences," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 193(C), pages 353-366.
    13. Stutzer, Alois & Baltensperger, Michael & Meier, Armando N., 2019. "Overstrained citizens? The number of ballot propositions and the quality of the decision process in direct democracy," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 483-500.
    14. Roger D. Congleton & Alberto Batinti & Rinaldo Pietratonio, 2017. "The Electoral Politics and the Evolution of Complex Healthcare Systems," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 70(4), pages 483-510, November.
    15. Thomas, Tobias, 2020. "Zur Rolle der Medien in der Demokratie," Research Papers 12, EcoAustria – Institute for Economic Research.
    16. David Stadelmann & Marco Portmann & Reiner Eichenberger, 2018. "Military Service of Politicians, Public Policy, and Parliamentary Decisions," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 64(4), pages 639-666.
    17. Skali, Ahmed & Stadelmann, David & Torgler, Benno, 2021. "Trust in government in times of crisis: A quasi-experiment during the two world wars✰," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 277-289.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Direct democracy; Complexity; Voting behavior; Random errors; Political economy of reforms;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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