Giving Direct Democracy a Chance

"Ever think that the government is now dominated by political elites and powerful interests, with the decisions that affect your life increasingly made by technocrats and judges you never elected? If so, you are not alone: poll data over time reveal that more and more Americans believe that “people like me have no say in government.” This feeling is not confined to the United States. Surveys in other advanced industrialized countries likewise report a growing skepticism about politicians and political institutions. One manifestation of this disaffection is the election of populist politicians who rise to power by pledging to upset the status quo, whether it be the “deep state” or ties with the European Union. The challenge this democratic populism poses, John Matsusaka contends in his excellent new book Let the People Rule, can best be met not by less democracy but by more. To counter public dissatisfaction, he urges greater direct public involvement in policymaking, whether through advisory referendums (called by the legislature, the constitution, or popular petition), binding referendums, or constitutional amendments proposed via initiative. His book makes a formidable argument for direct democracy, backed by careful empirical research and case studies of Proposition 13 and Brexit, perhaps the two most famous referendums. Whether one favors or opposes direct democracy, one can learn a great deal from his analysis."