Direct Democracy and Political Engagement of the Marginalized

Dissertation by Jeong Hyun Kim: “…examines direct democracy’s implications for political equality by focusing on how it influences and modifies political attitudes and behaviors of marginalized groups. Using cases and data from Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, I provide a comprehensive, global examination of how direct democratic institutions affect political participation, especially of political minority or marginalized groups.

In the first paper, I examine whether the practice of direct democracy supports women’s political participation. I theorize that the use of direct democracy enhances women’s sense of political efficacy, thereby promoting their participation in the political process. I test this argument by leveraging a quasi-experiment in Sweden from 1921 to 1944, wherein the use of direct democratic institutions was determined by a population threshold. Findings from a regression discontinuity analysis lend strong support for the positive effect of direct democracy on women’s political participation. Using web documents of minutes from direct democratic meetings, I further show that women’s participation in direct democracy is positively associated with their subsequent participation in parliamentary elections.

The second paper expands on the first paper by examining an individual-level mechanism linking experience with direct democracy and feelings of political efficacy. Using panel survey data from Switzerland, I examine the relationship between individuals’ exposure to direct democracy and the gender gap in political efficacy. I find that direct democracy increases women’s sense of political efficacy, while it has no significant effect on men. This finding confirms that the opportunity for direct legislation leads women to feel more efficacious in politics, suggesting its further implications for the gender gap in political engagement.

In the third and final paper, I examine how direct democratic votes targeting ethnic minorities influence political mobilization of minority groups. I theorize that targeted popular votes intensify the general public’s hostility towards minority groups, thereby enhancing group members’ perceptions of being stigmatized. Consequently, this creates a greater incentive for minorities to actively engage in politics. Using survey data from the United States, combined with information about state-level direct democracy, I find that direct democratic votes targeting the rights of immigrants lead to greater political activism among ethnic minorities with immigrant background. These studies contribute to the extant study of women and minority politics by illuminating new mechanisms underlying mobilization of women and minorities and clarifying the causal effect of the type of government on political equality….(More)”.