Building a Better Referendum: Linking Mini-Publics and Mass Publics in Popular Votes

Abstract

Popular votes and mini-publics are both increasingly implemented as elected officials seek to build legitimacy for decisions, although these democratic innovations suffer from their own democratic deficits. Popular votes often do not live up to deliberative ideals while mini-publics may be limited in their capacities for inclusion and decision-making. Pairing these two devices can improve deliberation in referendum campaigns, while tying mini-publics to a clear and inclusive process for decision-making. Empirical studies of this strategy have found both successes and shortcomings. Little attention has been given to the possibility that the success of mini-publics in influencing public opinion is determined, in part, by the underlying design of the popular vote process. I outline how multi-stage popular votes could institutionalize an iterated dialogue between the micro-level mini-public and the mass, voting public to produce distinct democratic benefits. This serves as a model of how a systems approach to democratic theory can guide institutional design to address democratic functions of empowered inclusion, collective agenda and will formation, and collective decision-making.

Keywords

popular vote, referendum, mini-public, deliberative democracy, direct democracy

How to Cite

McKay S., (2019) “Building a Better Referendum: Linking Mini-Publics and Mass Publics in Popular Votes”, Journal of Public Deliberation 15(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.16997/jdd.319

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Authors

Spencer McKay (University of British Columbia)

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

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This article has been peer reviewed.

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