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Pivotal Politics and Initiative Use in the American States

The direct initiative process, often referred to as a gun behind the door, provides an incentive for legislators to pass legislation more in line with voters’ wishes. Concomitantly, legislative procedures such as the filibuster and executive veto often impede the ability of the legislature to pass policies. We explore the tension between these two forces by incorporating legislative procedures and initiative proposal into a spatial model of the policymaking process. We find that the ability to propose initiatives sometimes breaks legislative gridlock, but that other times pivotal players may prefer the initiative outcome and therefore prevent the legislature from preempting a ballot measure. In particular, we show that initiative use increases with the distance between pivotal actors and the median voter. An empirical analysis of initiative use in the American states provides support for this prediction.

Boehmke, F., Osborn, T., & Schilling, E. Pivotal Politics and Initiative Use in the American States. 68 4 665 - 677. 10.1177/1065912915606234.