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Hanspeter Kriesi, "Role of the Political Elite in Swiss Direct-Democratic Votes," Party Politics, 12 (September, 2006), 599-622.

First Paragraph:
This article contends that the political elite play a crucial role not just in representative systems, but also in the direct-democratic process. As Schattschneider (1960, 1988) has already pointed out, the classical definition of democracy as government by the people is not adapted to the modern democratic experience. It does not take into account the role of leadership and organization in the democratic process. Democracy, as defined by Schattschneider ([1960]1988: 135) is:

. . . a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organizations define the alternatives of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the decision-making process. . . . Conflict, competition, organization, leadership, and responsibility are the ingredients of a working definition of democracy.

This definition was intended for representative democracy, but it also applies to direct-democratic processes. Direct-democratic processes as they exist today are embedded within the institutions of representative democracy. As is presumed by Budge (1996: 50 f.), under conditions of contemporary 'party democracies', direct-democratic procedures are likely to be guided and controlled by political parties and related political organizations. Provided that parties organize popular voting, Budge suggests that there may be relatively little difference between a direct party democracy and a representative party democracy. In this article, I substantiate this suggestion with an analysis of the role of the political elites in the directdemocratic processes of Switzerland. With the exception of the memberstates of the United States, nowhere else do citizens participate as frequently in direct-democratic votes as in Switzerland (Butler and Ranney, 1994; Trechsel and Kriesi, 1996). As an extreme case of extensive experience with direct-democratic votes, Switzerland provides a crucial test for Budge's suggestion (Lijphart, 1971: 692).

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Type of coalition and outcome of the vote - level of support and passage rate: percentages
Figure 2. Number of cantonal deviations and outcome of the vote - level of support and passage rate: percentages
Table 1. Correlations: passage rate and level of support with intensity and direction of campaign
Table 2. Determinants of passage rates and levels of support: unstandardized logistic (passage rates) and OLS (levels of support) regression coefficients
Figure 3. Probability of government success as a function of instrument, direction and intensity of campaign (model 2)
Figure 4. Probability of government success as a function of instrument, direction and intensity of campaign (model 3)

First Paragraph of Conclusion:
This article has shown for the Swiss case that the political elites have a decisive role to play in the direct-democratic choice process. In Switzerland, it is common knowledge that the existence of the direct-democratic opening of the political system exerts strong pressures on the political elites to come up with compromise solutions that can count on a large majority of its members. The institutional logic of direct democracy favours compromise and consensus. The larger the consensus among the political elites, the greater the chance that the citizens will follow their recommendations. In the extreme case of a lack of opposition, there is no campaign worth speaking of, no alternative option, and the citizens have no other choice but to adopt the proposed solution. Given the constitutional rules requiring modifications of the Constitution to be submitted to a popular vote, this happens from time to time. Usually, however, the elites are divided with respect to the projects submitted to the citizens. The larger the divisions among the elites, the less the government and the parliamentary majority can control the outcome of the popular vote.

last updated February 2007