Thursday, 11 February 2021

Does Direct Democracy have draw backs?

 I recently added ‘Direct Democracy’ to my Google alerts which this week gave me a link to a book by Lascher and Dyck called “Initiatives Without Engagement: A Realistic Appraisal of Direct Democracy's Secondary Effects"

In the politics of the United States the process of ‘initiatives and referendums’ allow citizens of many U.S. States to place new legislation on a popular ballot, or to place legislation that has recently been passed by a legislature on a ballot for a popular vote. Initiatives and referendums, along with recall elections and popular primary elections, are reforms originating from the ‘Progressive Era’(1896-1920(. They are written into several state constitutions, particularly in the West.

In the book, they develop and test a theory that the ‘ballot initiative’ process fails to provide the public benefits commonly claimed for it nor increases political participation. Ultimately, they argue that the basic function of DD creates more conflict in society by constraining minority rights and push the public to act on polarizing issues like the death penalty and immigration. Their analysis is something that runs counter to the way ‘ballot initiatives’ are often framed by scholars and democracy reformers.

I haven’t read the book but I still feel I can make this key point which is that while minority rights are important and should be protected, they are not more important than the rights of the majority and for far too long the minority tail has been wagging the majority dog.

So given the authors are critical of the principles of DD I think is it fair to assume that their preferred type of governance is one based more on epistocracy than sortition and is certainly a long way from the true meaning of democracy or ‘People Power’.

It is with the above points in mind that when framing our six demands, and in particular our fourth demand ‘The People’s Consent’, that we sought to counter the possibilities of ‘mob rule’.

 As I’ve often explained our fourth demand is in three parts however each share the following basic principles. First, before a petition demanding a referendum it has to reach a threshold of signatures before it can be called. Second, once held benchmarks would be set on turnout and margins to legitimise the result.

The three parts to our fourth demand are - First, the people can initiate a referendum on any topic but the result if won is only a recommendation. This is vital safeguard to prevent any well organised group hijacking a referendum for their own ends.

Second, a referendum can be called to say no to any piece of government legislation before parliament.

Third, the public can challenge, via a referendum, certain types of decision by elected and appointed officials, including ministers and judges, in local or national government or official bodies.

It is vitally important to protect minorities and the vulnerable in a democracy but if real democracy is to mean anything then the views of the majority need to be heard respected and where appropriate acted on.


  1. Agreed 4. The people’s consent is an important power, but I feel that it must go hand in glove with 3. Separation of powers otherwise the government can be manipulated by minority interests, as seems to be happening at present.

    The executive, legislature, and judiciary must be kept separate and "have defined abilities to check the powers of the others." (Montesquieu)

  2. Yes we are quite clear our six demands come as a package but that doesn't mean some bits may not come about before others. High on the list could be a part of our third demand - An elected PM to put a stop to the changing of PM without the people having a say.