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For the Many or the Few

The Initiative, Public Policy, and American Democracy

For the Many or the Few

The Initiative, Public Policy, and American Democracy

Direct democracy is alive and well in the United States. Citizens are increasingly using initiatives and referendums to take the law into their own hands, overriding their elected officials to set tax, expenditure, and social policies. John G. Matsusaka’s For the Many or the Few provides the first even-handed and historically based treatment of the subject.

Drawing upon a century of evidence, Matsusaka argues against the popular belief that initiative measures are influenced by wealthy special interest groups that neglect the majority view. Examining demographic, political, and opinion data, he demonstrates how the initiative process brings about systematic changes in tax and expenditure policies of state and local governments that are generally supported by the citizens. He concludes that, by and large, direct democracy in the form of the initiative process works for the benefit of the many rather than the few.

An unprecedented, comprehensive look at the historical, empirical, and theoretical components of how initiatives function within our representative democracy to increase political competition while avoiding the tyranny of the majority, For the Many or the Few is a most timely and definitive work.


"A remarkable achievement. This is the first comprehensive scientific examination of how voter initiatives affect public policy in the United States. This extremely well-written book deserves attention not only from academics but also from anyone who cares about direct democracy’s impact on public policy. It is essential reading for those who want to battle long-standing conjectures about the initiative process with systematic evidence."

Arthur Lupia, coauthor of Stealing the Initiative: How State Government Responds to Direct Democracy

[The author’s] comprehensive work carefully examines initiative outcomes, opinion surveys and government policies over the last century. His robustly supported conclusion: the initiative process rather closely reflects the will of the public."

Steven Frates | Local Liberty

“Matsusaka’s valuable, accessible book represents one of the few studies that attempt to test how policy outcomes are affected by the initiative process and to examine whether policies produced by the initiative reflect what the public actually wants."

Political Science Quarterly

“One of Matsusaka’s simplest and most important accomplishments is to explain clearly that the initiative is a normal practice. Critics like David Broder would have us believe that the initiative is a crazy procedure that a few loony states dreamed up a century ago and have begun madly swinging about the room like a feral cat. By contrast, Matsusaka’s comprehensive inventory of the process finds that more than 200 million Americans live in a city or state that has used the process for many, many years." —Public Opinion Quarterly

Public Opinion Quarterly

"For the Many or the Few is a valuable contribution to our understanding of American democratic institutions and public policy, and an important book."

Journal of Politics

"A pleasure to read. I can only recommend it to anyone who wants to learn something about democracy."

Public Choice

Table of Contents

1. An American Institution
2. A Blizzard of Data
Part I - The Evidence
3. Spending and Taxes, 1970-2000
4. For the Many or the Few
5. Conservative or Liberal
Part II - Explaining the Facts
6. When Legislators Get Out of Step
7. Key Episodes in the Twentieth Century
Part III - Open Questions
8. Majority Tyranny and the Constitution
9. Delegation, Information, and Competition
Appendix 1. Initiative Provisions in States, 1898-2003
Appendix 2. Initiative Provisions in the Twenty Largest Cities, 2000
Appendix 3. Data Definitions and Sources
Appendix 4. Critical Notes on the Empirical Literature

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