Kim M. Williams

Date of Award

Winter 3-19-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Political Science


Political Science

Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 142 pages)


Referendum -- Pacific States -- Citizen participation, Political participation -- Pacific States -- Attitudes




What explains the outcomes of ballot initiative contests? What factors determine the passage or rejection of an initiative? This paper describes and evaluates three approaches to explaining ballot initiative contest outcomes. The first approach involves using the expenditures of Yes and No campaigns as the causal factor in explaining why passage or defeat is the respective outcome of a given contest. The second explanatory approach emphasizes the logic of collective action problems. The third approach incorporates the larger constellation of policymaking institutions in which each ballot initiative process exists. Specifically, in what ways is the process shaped by the larger system of partisan attachments that structures electoral politics?

This paper contains a set of three analyses which speak to each of the three respective explanatory approaches to explaining initiative contest outcomes. The results provide evidence of the importance of a contest's early competitive dynamic in determining the amount of resources made available for a campaign to spend. Left unaccounted for, this strategic financing of initiatives distorts estimates of the effectiveness of spending.

The second analysis, inspired by insights into collective action problems, finds the initiative arena to be a policymaking site where there is a competitive advantage for broadly diffused interests, especially when they challenge other broad interests. Moreover, broad-based Yes groups achieved relatively high passage rates with relatively low levels of campaigns expenditures.

Finally, the third analysis provides evidence of a consistently high level of correlation between Yes voting and alignment with a particular party. The lowest levels of correlation were still fairly high from a measured social science perspective. In many instances, county-level party attachment mapped almost seamlessly over initiative decision making. This suggests that ballot initiatives politics do not operate outside party politics, as has been suggested in the past.

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