Dreaming of Direct Democracy. (Politics & Government)

The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Dreaming of Direct Democracy. (Politics & Government)


"Direct Democracy during the Progressive Era: A Crack in the Populist Veneer?" by Daniel A. Smith and Joseph Lubinski, in The Journal of Policy History (2002: No. 4), Saint Louis Univ., 3800 Lindell Blvd., P.O. Box 56907, St. Louis, Mo. 63156-0907.

The corruption of American politics has gone so far, some critics say, that even initiatives and popular referendums have become tools of special interests and other malign forces. Call it small comfort, but Smith, a political scientist at the University of Denver, and Lubinski, a law student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, argue that their home state's experience shows that direct democracy never had a golden age.

In 1912, after Progressive era reforms made direct democracy possible, Coloradans faced for the first time a blizzard of ballot initiatives and referendums--32 in all. An exciting three-way contest for president drew voters to the polls, as incumbent Republican William Howard Taft faced Democrat Woodrow Wilson and ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, running as the Progressive Party candidate. Yet direct democracy didn't seem to stir much enthusiasm. On average, the ballot initiatives attracted votes from only 36 percent of those who voted for president. …

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