Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Sources of Variation in the Frequency of Statewide Initiatives: The Role of Interest Group Populations

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Sources of Variation in the Frequency of Statewide Initiatives: The Role of Interest Group Populations

Article excerpt

In this article I study the factors that determine the number of initiatives that appear on statewide ballots, with an emphasis on the characteristics of state interest group populations. In particular, I test whether the size of state citizen or economic group populations influences the frequency of initiative use. The relationship between these two categories of groups and initiative use is important in light of recent claims that the initiative process no longer benefits citizen groups and is now dominated by economic interests. In addition, I consider the role of other factors, including initiative regulations, state political characteristics, state economic performance and state demographic characteristics. My results indicate that states with more citizen groups have more initiatives overall and in specific issue areas and that the number of economic groups has a negative or negligible effect.

Increasing attention has been paid lately to whether the direct legislation process, which permits citizens and interest groups to draft and propose legislation directly to voters, has been co-opted by economic and business interests. Whereas the original intent of Populist and Progressive reformers was to break business interests' perceived stranglehold on state legislatures, critics of the process charge that it is merely another tool with which wealthy economic interest groups can further their agendas.

Whether economic interests are now the most important users of the initiative process is an important question given that recent research has shown that the initiative process can help increase the representativeness of state interest group populations. In particular, initiative states have more interest groups and a higher percentage of citizen groups (Boehmke 2002). This decrease in bias is important given that economic interests typically dominate political arenas relative to their prevalence in the general population-specifically in their ability to represent their interests in the legislative process-both in Washington D.C. (Baumgartner and Leech 2001; Schattschneider 1960; Schlozman 1984) and in state capitals (Gray and Lowery 1996). If the initiative process is to continue to help ameliorate this bias, then it must be an avenue available to citizen groups and not just another part of the political process dominated by economic groups. Otherwise, the representational effect of the initiative process will evaporate and perhaps even start to work against citizen groups.

Investigations of the primary beneficiaries of the initiative process have led to two very different conclusions. Consistent with the intent of direct legislation reformers during the Progressive era, who saw the initiative process as a check against business dominance and a way to increase the involvement of the common citizen in the political process, a variety of academic studies have found that the initiative process can spur citizen involvement and benefit broader interests (Boehmke 2002; Gerber 1999; Matsusaka 2004; Smith and Tolbert 2004).1 One of the key assumptions underlying the theories behind these studies is that broader interests are better situated to use the initiative process, providing an additional motivation for determining if citizen groups are responsible for ballot measures. The other side, composed mainly of politicians, journalists, and a few academics, argues that the initiative process is in fact another way for business to get what it wants (Broder 2000; Schrag 1998).

The goal of this article is to provide additional information on which category of groups use the initiative process. To do this I examine how a variety of factors influence the frequency of ballot measures across all initiative states from 1976 to 2000. Primary among these factors are the number of economic and citizen groups in each state. States with more citizen groups having more initiatives is consistent with the argument that they benefit more from its use and that it has not been co-opted by economic interests. …

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