The Electoral Impact of Direct‐Democratic Practices


In recent years there has been a growing interest in the integration of mechanisms of direct citizen participation in the institutional structure of representative democracy, particularly at the local level. This essay examines the electoral impact of mechanisms of direct citizen participation. Although it is often considered that participatory schemes can be a means to achieve electoral success in the hands of politicians seeking re‐election, quantitative analyses of 65 Spanish municipalities demonstrate that electoral success is far from being an immediate consequence of direct democratic practices (DDPs). The qualitative analysis of four cases shows that electoral consequences directly attributable to participatory devices depend on their design and on how they fit into the whole political process. Participatory processes that are too rigid and those, especially, that generate expectations that cannot be translated into real policies may end up having a negative effect. On the other hand, DDPs may account for network‐building and improved information among citizens that, in turn, may have electoral consequences. DDPs are thus neither a blessing nor a cure per se in their electoral effects. Instead, as with representative democracy, their consequences and success will ultimately depend upon their procedural dimension.