In this post I will answer those who believe direct democracy will not be of benefit to the American people.
For example, there is a website, Theconversation.com. On Sept 17, 2019, The Conversation posted their views on direct democracy and the US; “Expanding direct democracy won’t make Americans feel better about politics”, according to them.
Theconversation.com defines itself as “an independent source of news and views, from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public”.
Theconversation.com is one of many people who also believe direct democracy is not helpful.
Theconversation.com speaks, for example, of “the chaos there (in the UK) began in a form of direct democracy, when UK voters set in motion their exit from the European Union”.
They continue: “normally, such major policy would have been initiated, deliberated and voted by their elected officials in Parliament”. “The Brexit mess is an example of the disruptive potential of direct democracy.”
Brexit was a democratic decision but it was not direct democracy. One referendum called by a government is not direct democracy at all.
Brexit was not direct democracy because it was the government, not the people, who decided to put the issue to a referendum. In a direct democracy the people have the power to decide what and when to put something to a referendum; they do not need any decision by government.
It was not an exercise on direct democracy either because it was not a legally binding referendum; the UK Parliament has the legal power to disregard Brexit, even now. In a direct democracy, that is not be possible.
The fact is that UK is a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. This means the government did not have to get the approval of citizens to join the EU either. The people had no say in the matter.
The Brexit referendum was one vote expressing the will of the majority of the people; direct democracy it is a established, systematic way for the people to be the final decision makers and to prevail over the elected representatives. That is not what they have in the UK, or in California.
In California, the courts, can even declare invalid the results of a referendum, that is not direct democracy. In Switzerland, even the Supreme Court of Switzerland can not say “no” to the results of a referendum.
As for the “disruptive potential” of direct democracy, which concerns Theconversation.com, it is one of the best things direct democracy offers. It allows the people to cause disruption democratically; peacefully, orderly, in free and secret voting. This is as “government by the people” should be.
The writers of Theconversation.com also state that the citizen’s initiative is bad for democracy because “mainly encourages greater conflict rather than produce political and social benefits.” The also say their research shows direct democracy increases polarization.
Let us look at the facts on the ground. Lets us look at the Swiss experience with direct democracy.
The Swiss have been using citizen’s initiatives since 1891 and have more experience with them than anyone else.
There is no doubt that in Switzerland, direct political decisions made by the people, as practiced at the national (federal), cantonal (sate) and local level, are far less polarized than in America . This includes areas where the United States does not have direct democracy at all, as is the case with the federal government. More polarization than in America’s national elections is not easy to find! State governments without direct democracy at all are also heavily polarized.
Real direct democracy does to society precisely the opposite of what Theconversation.com states about polarization. For example, in Switzerland, the national federal government is always a coalition of the 4-5 major parties, they include 70% to 80% of the electorate. The coalition includes parties on the Left, Right and Center.
Theconcersation.com is wrong; if you want less polarization in the United States, or any other representative democracy, direct democracy will reduce polarization.
By evolving into a direct democracy, at all levels of government, the US will not live again the situation it has now. The root problem in the US is that the President, Congress and the Supreme Court have more power than the people. That is why they fight so hard for those positions, that is what generates polarization.
When the people have more power than the three institutions mentioned, the incentives to fight viciously, and even to cheat, will radically diminish. That is the experience of Switzerland.