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CHAPTER 9 Conclusions about Voter Reasoning in Direct Democracy What do the findings in this book tell us about voters' ability to deal with the demanding choice context of direct democracy? What do our results say about how voters might reason when making decisions about propositions? We find that voters can and do think about and decide upon propositions in ways that make sense and in ways that take advantage of readily available information. Although our impression of direct-democracy voters might be more sanguine than those formed by previous scholars who have examined this arena, we do not intend to imply that the behavior we have examined reflects something approaching classical models of the ideal voter. The mass electorate engaged in direct democracy is not likely to be fully informed, nor do they deliberate long, nor do they always evaluate policy from an objective, public-regarding perspective , but many have an ability to respond to the steep information demands presented to them. They are likely to reason in ways that conserve cognitive resources , time, and energy, and they often vote on the basis of subjective, instrumental concerns. More interesting, perhaps, is that many voters, particularly the well educated , decide across a wide range ofissues on the basis of their partisan and ideological orientations. Moreover, we have identified instances when opinions of less-educated voters are also structured by these "cognitively broad" factors. With these basic findings in mind, we can draw two broad sets of substantive conclusions from the findings in this study. The first relate specifically to direct democracy, the second relate more generally to our understanding ofvoting behavior . Implications for Our Understanding of Direct Democracy We should restate that at the outset, we sought to avoid evaluating the merits of direct democracy in terms of the actual policy outcomes that result from the process. We feel that for too long, scholars have dismissed voter competence in direct democracy in part because ofsome ofthe distasteful policies that this majoritarian system can occasionally produce. From this view, we are reduced to 165 166 Demanding Choices using logic that suggests that if a majority of voters reject a "good thing," it must be because they were duped, alienated, uninformed--or lacking some appropriate political ethos. The same assumption holds if the majority passes a "bad thing." Many previous studies of proposition voting have simply been unable to separate normative evaluations of policy content from theoretical and empirical explanations of decision making. As some studies of legislative decision making have advanced our understanding of choice by examining behavior, rather than focusing on occasionally "inappropriate" policy outcomes (Kingdom 1989; Kozak 1987; Matthews and Stimson 1975), we have attempted to evaluate the process of choice through which the mass electorate produces policy outcomes in direct democracy. Rather than assess the fundamental desirability of direct democracy, we have attempted to examine how voters behave when making decisions. Just as studies of legislative decision making avoid wholesale condemnation of the legislative process on the basis of outcomes (and representative government), we avoid damning the process of direct democracy here on the basis of outcomes. When, for example, legislatures produce antirninority policies or laws that, from a few years in retrospect, appear unwise (or unconstitutional), we rarely question the merits ofrepresentative democracy and the legislative process. We assume that the basic process of is sound, in part because we assume that most of the time, legislators are able to make decisions that are based on information (if only cues) and that their decisions are consistent with their preferences and interests as politicians representing their constituents (Miller and Stokes 1963). In part, some might also approach legislators with the "civics class" perspective that assumes they occasionally make decisions that set aside partisanship and ideology-indeed, populists such as Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot seek to gain favor by attacking Congress for its failure to live up to this expectation. Thus, when the Tennessee state legislature approved a resolution on posting the Ten Commandments in public places and moved to fire teachers who taught evolution as fact in 1996, we were unlikely to see the blame placed upon the process of representative government. The fundamental process was not at issue when Utah's legislature risked losing hundreds of millions of federal aid dollars after voting to keep gay clubs out of its public schools that same year (after watching a political-religious group's antigay propaganda film in closed session that detailed homosexuals' "needs" to "recruit" through school...


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