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Wolfgang C. Müller, "Plebiscitary Agenda-Setting and Party Strategies: Theoretical Considerations and Evidence from Austria," Party Politics, 5 (July 1999), 303-315.

First Paragraph:
This article explores party strategies in situations where a plebiscitary instrument - in this case the people's initiative - allows citizens to get an issue on the agenda of parliament as a formal bill. The instrument studied here differs from other plebiscitary instruments. In contrast to the referendum it is not a decision-making instrument. In contrast to the consultative referendum, citizens can only register their support for a particular case but not their rejection of it. Thus an initiative does not produce a majority and a minority unless a majority of the electorate signs it. Even when this happens, the initiative is not binding in a legal sense. The people's initiative differs from the petition (i.e. a demand raised by an unspecified number of citizens and then adopted by an MP) by requiring a specified number of supporters and by resulting in a formal bill which is equal to or, in some ways, even superior to other kinds of bills since it requires full parliamentary treatment. It can be accepted in an unchanged or amended form, or rejected. The type of initiative dealt with in this article is not the first step towards a referendum, as is the case in some US states and in Switzerland. It may therefore correctly be called an advisory initiative (Suksi, 1993: 7). Currently the instrument does not exist in any other West European country at the national level.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1: Parliamentary bills: people's initiatives, government and opposition bills, 1986-98 (absolute figures)

Last Paragraph:
The empirical discussion of the use of the initiative in Austria has distinguished initiatives sponsored by groups of citizens (including all non-party organizations) and those sponsored by political parties. In Austria, the former have been less important than the latter. Nevertheless, there have been cases where citizen-sponsored initiatives exercised considerable influence on party competition. Party-sponsored initiatives have been used mainly to lend additional emphasis to issues the parties have tried to popularize. While not every initiative worked (because every issue does not strike a responsive chord in the electorate), the empirical evidence marshalled here shows that party-sponsored initiatives had an effect on party competition. This, in turn, lends support to this article's theoretical considerations about the role of the initiative in issue competition. First, the instrument of the initiative is a means to raise attention to issues and to maintain it over time by adding sub-dimensions. Second, the instrument of the initiative, as distinct from the issue itself, has the potential to have an impact on the processes of issue competition and opinion formation.