Do direct-democratic procedures lead to higher acceptance than political representation?

Public Choice, vol. 167 (2016), issue 1-2, pp. 47-65

joint work with Sebastian Goerg, Andreas Glöckner, Philip Leifeld, Aniol Llorente-Saguer, Sophie Bade, Carlos Kurschilgen


The paper is freely available (“open access“)


Are direct-democratic decisions more acceptable to voters than decisions arrived at through representative procedures? We conduct an experimental online vignette study with a German sample to investigate how voters’ acceptance of a political decision depends on the process through which it is reached. For a set of different issues, we investigate how acceptance varies depending on whether the decision is the result of a direct-democratic institution, a party in a representative democracy, or an expert committee. Our results show that for important issues, direct democracy generates greater acceptance; this finding holds particularly for those voters who do not agree with a collectively chosen outcome. However, if the topic is of limited importance to the voters, acceptance does not differ between the mechanisms. Our results imply that a combination of representative democracy and direct democracy, conditional on the distribution of issue importance among the electorate, may be optimal with regard to acceptance of political decisions.


  • “Bayern 2” (Bavarian Public Broadcasting, Channel 2) radio feature (1 April 2014, 6.05pm), on the science radio program “IQ — Wissenschaft und Forschung” on “Direkte Demokratie — Was macht der Volksentscheid mit dem Volk?” (Direct Democracy — What’s the effect of initiatives on the people?)
  • radio feature (15 August 2013): Forschungsquartett — Ist direkte Demokratie der Schlüssel zum Wählerglück? (MP3 | PDF)
  • DRadio Wissen (3 August 2013) — Volksentscheide kein Königsweg
  • Max Planck Society (2 August 2013), Forschung Aktuell