[EM] Multiple-option initiatives

Matthew Shugart mshugart at weber.ucsd.edu
Mon Mar 11 09:55:22 PST 1996

>My general theory on initiatives, having worked on at least 20 of them now,
>is that the more things that are included, the more likely a voter will find
>something that he/she doesn't like . . . and therefore encourages them to
>indulge their natural tendency to vote "no" (as we all know, American voters
>are more easily led to oppose something than to support something).

It's not just American voters.  Look at Switzerland, which has more
national-level initiatives than any other country, and most are defeated.
It's always easier to build a bnegative coalition, for exactly the reasons
given here.

>I suspect the main arguments that will be used against the multiple-option
>initiative are
>(1) it will make an already-crowded ballot too crowded (the usual elitist
>argument), and that will result in bad laws

Elitist or not, it is a serious argument.  Longer, more complicated ballots
impose more of an informational burden on voters.  Most voters rely on
"cues" anyway (like" I hate Nader and he's fer it, so I'm agin' it"), and
they'll have to do it even more the more options are on the ballot--or else
not vote.

I think it's no accident that Swiss initiatives--again, they are the most
referendum-intensive country in the world--have very low turnout.  They
have so many of them, and usually don;t combine them with other elections
(unlike, fortunately for us, California).

>(3) "it goes too far" -- just rhetoric, of course, but we won't able to point
>to other places where it's being done; at least not anyplace that most
>Californians have heard of!

I've never heard of anywhere that does it.  Has anyone?

>On the other hand, I think there are a sizeable number of elites who have
>learned to accept the initiative process as a necessary evil and who might
>welcome the multiple-option provision as a way of avoiding the worst-case
>situations stemming from "extremist" initiatives which people support because
>there's no other way of expressing their emotions about particular issues.
>-- K.D. Weinert

Actually, I think your "elites" would like it:  instead of fighting one
initiative with another on the saem ballot, and then fighting it out in
court to have the other overturned if both win, but their "more moderate"
one gets more votes, they can have multiple options and spend money trying
to get their option chosen by the most voters.

Matthew Shugart
Associate Professor of Political Science

Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519

Phone:  619-534-5016
Fax:     619-534-3939
E-mail:  mshugart at ucsd.edu

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