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Department of Political Science

Innovations in Direct Democracy


Maija Setälä
University of Turku, Finland



Thomas Widmer
University of Zurich, Switzerland





Keywords: political participation, citizens' initiatives, referendums, online participation, voter knowledge

Description: Direct democratic devices such citizens’ initiatives and referendums have been criticized on various grounds. The biggest concern is that direct democracy makes political decision-making susceptible to uninformed and unreflected opinions of mass publics. Moreover, there are worries that direct democracy might reinforce rather than level inequalities in political participation. While normative democratic theory provides yardsticks for the evaluation of existing practices of direct democracy, there are also more practical proposals on how the aforementioned problems could be avoided. There are models for enhancing voter knowledge and judgement through practices of deliberative citizen forums (e.g. Citizens’ Initiative Review). There is also some evidence on how practices of online participation could help mobilize otherwise politically passive citizens.

This panel examines different models and practices that could help avoid the shortcoming of direct democracy. It invites papers, for example, on novel practices of initiatives and referendums, the use of online and offline democratic innovations in conjunction with direct democratic practices, and new ways of coupling initiatives and referendums with representative practices.