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Educated by Initiative

The Effects of Direct Democracy on Citizens and Political Organizations in the American States

Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert

Publication Year: 2004

This body of research not only passes academic muster but is the best guidepost in existence for activists who are trying to use the ballot initiative process for larger policy and political objectives. --Kristina Wilfore, Executive Director, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center and Foundation Educated by Initiative moves beyond previous evaluations of public policy to emphasize the educational importance of the initiative process itself. Since a majority of ballots ultimately fail or get overturned by the courts, Smith and Tolbert suggest that the educational consequences of initiative voting may be more important than the outcomes of the ballots themselves. The result is a fascinating and thoroughly-researched book about how direct democracy teaches citizens about politics, voting, civic engagement and the influence of special interests and political parties. Designed to be accessible to anyone interested in the future of American democracy, the book includes boxes (titled "What Matters") that succinctly summarize the authors' data into easily readable analyses. Daniel A. Smith is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Caroline J. Tolbert is Associate Professor of Political Science at Kent State University.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxii

This book is about democracy. Like many other valued skills—read-practiced lest we forget how to be democratic citizens. Citizens in ademocracy are expected not only to vote in elections and participatein civic affairs but also to be knowledgeable about public issues, to beinterested in the making of public policy by elected officials, and to be...

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1. The Progressive Era Vision: Instrumental and Educative Justi‹cations of Direct Democracy

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pp. 1-30

“I tell you,” Woodrow Wilson stressed to a reporter in May 1911, “the people of this state and this country are determined at last to take over the control of their own politics.”1 Well before his successful run for the presidency the following year, the New Jersey governor had begun broadening his appeal to a national audience, selectively ...

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2. The Education of Citizens: Voting

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pp. 31-52

Of all the secondary effects that might be derived from citizen law-making, Progressive Era reformers most often singled out how the process could directly boost electoral participation. Following the strong-party era during the Gilded Age, when levels of voting participation reached historic heights, turnout began dropping precipi- ...

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3. The Education of Citizens: Civic Engagement

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pp. 53-71

Along with declining voter turnout, civic disengagement was one of the principal concerns voiced by advocates of direct legislation at the dawn of the twentieth century. Progressives, educators, and activists argued vociferously that direct forms of democracy would stimulate various types of political participation beyond voting.1 Citizen lawmaking, ...

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4. The Education of Citizens: Confidence in Government

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pp. 72-86

One of the distinguishing features of American politics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is a pervasive sense of public distrust of, frustration with, and alienation from government from Washington, DC, to state capitals. A mid-1990s Gallup Poll, for example, revealed that only 20 percent of respondents said that they ...

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5. The Education of Special Interests

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pp. 87-111

Progressive Era reformers expressed high hopes that the initiative process would help eliminate or at least curtail the power of special interests, particularly within the legislative process. At the time, the corrosive influence of corporate interests was visible in many state legislatures, as party bosses and their legislative minions frequently ...

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6. The Education of Political Parties

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pp. 112-135

Political parties represented one of Progressive reformers’ principal targets, second only to the problem of economic interests unduly swaying elected state officials. Many Progressives offered vociferous criticisms of how party bosses routinely disregarded public opinion. The “wishes” of the political machines, scholar William B. Munro ...

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7. The Educative Possibilities and Limitations of Citizen Lawmaking

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pp. 136-148

Summarizing the “historical legacy” of direct legislation, historian Thomas Goebel grouses that citizen lawmaking “has not lived up to the expectations of its advocates one century ago.” On instrumental grounds alone, he contends that the initiative has not bridled corporate interests, which continue to dominate many state legislatures. In ...


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pp. 149-164


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pp. 165-200


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pp. 201-218


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pp. 219-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780472024254
E-ISBN-10: 0472024256
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068708
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068709

Page Count: 252
Illustrations: 3 drawings, 15 tables, 11 charts
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 587497296
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Educated by Initiative

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Direct democracy -- United States -- States.
  • Political participation -- United States -- States.
  • Referendum -- United States -- States.
  • Progressivism (United States politics).
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