« AnteriorContinuar »
The Advisory referendum is unique in that the outcome is not binding upon the legislature. I could find very little evidence of its use except in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Ralph Goldman in an article in 1950 on Advisory Referenda found provision for its use in Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.
Massachusetts held an advisory referendum in November, 1968, over the abolition of the death penalty in the state. Although the voters' decision in favour of abolition was not binding, it improved the chances of abolition, particularly as it followed a report by a committee of the legislature which held that the death penalty was no deterrent to murder.
In Wisconsin the advisory referendum has been used on five occasions since 1945, voting "no" on all five occasions. In 1947 the electorate voted against a proposal for daylight saving time, and in 1948 against a three per cent sales tax to provide for veterans' bonuses. In 1951 they voted against four-year terms for elected state officials; in 1952 against the apportionment of the legislature by area and population and in 1954 against a state-wide television tax to be used for educational purposes.
Is the Referendum Conservative?
The referendum is sometimes viewed as an instrument which is negative, destructive and conservative. V. O. Key and W. W. Crouch argue that the referendum requires that legislative acts are suspended and brought to the electorate by groups which do not control the legislature on these matters and that these groups are invariably conservative. John Sheldon Radabaugh's study of direct legislation in California' found in regard to fiscal issues that a "persistently conservative attitude" prevailed in referenda.
I have attempted to evaluate these claims by constructing an hypothesis. The hypothesis is: "The referendum is conservative". I am assuming that conservatism means a bias against change and for the maintenance of the status quo. It incorporates the belief that man is not wholly good, but a mixture of good and evil; that if he is educated properly and regulated by laws he can be successful as a social being. Conservatism accepts an element of change, but not change for change's sake; it seeks to preserve what is good in the old. The foregoing characterization of conservatism is based on Clinton Rossiter's Conservatism in America. Rossiter claimed that true
'Ralph M. Goldman. The Advisory Referendum in America. Public Opinion Quarterly Summer 1950.
5 The Times, 7th November, 1968.
6 W. W. Crouch & V. O. Key. The Initiative and Referendum in California Berkeley, University of California Press 1939.
7 John Sheldon Radabaugh of Direct Legislation in California. Southwestern Social Science Quarterly June 1961.
8 Clinton Rossitor. Conservatism in America.
conservatives were a middle group who believe in the preservation of their way of life by some reform but not too much. They are pessimistic about the masses and believe in the old virtues of frugality and hard work. They still emphasize property and are against big government. At the same time, they are aware of the need for some governmental limitations on the activities of the individual.
I have devised several indicators to test the hypothesis "The referendum is conservative". The indicators of a conservative orientation are as follows: Indicator 1: A vote against high or increased taxation or government spending is a conservative vote.
Indicator 2: A vote in favour of proposals having strong "moral" overtones is a conservative vote.
Indicator 3: A vote against increasing the powers of government is a conservative vote. There would be three sub-sections to this:
(a) government powers are too extensive so voting would be directed towards the maintenance of the status quo,
(b) there would be prevention of further government regulation over the economy. The belief is that government already exercises sufficient control; on the other hand there would be no attempt to repeal the control that exists,
(c) there would be a safeguarding or even an extension of the electorate's own powers as voters and individuals, but not necessarily of groups, although in certain circumstances this could occur.
Indicator 4: Votes in support of social welfare policies as they exist, but against any extension of them are conservative votes.
I applied these indicators to the various referendum issues, and decided whether the action by the electorate was a conservative action. Generally, it was fairly easy to decide which indicator to use in each case. For the Machinery of Government issues Indicator 3 was used and all three sub-sections were applied although usually only one of them was relevant. For example, indicator 3 (a) was used against an issue in this category which was aimed against amending the licensing of the Hydro-Electric Commission in Oregon. This was an attempt to prevent any extension of government power. The application of Indicator 3(c) was illustrated in the case when the voters of North Dakota agreed extending home rule to cities and villages.
For the General Economic category Indicator 3(b) was used. For example, the vote was against the legalising of parking meters, and this was a conservative vote. Indicator I was used for the Fiscal category and Indicator 2 for the Moral category. Forty out of 59 petition referenda issues were found to be conservative, the referendum instrument being used most frequently against high government taxation and increased governmental powers.
The use of the referendum in all of its forms, except the advisory referendum, was tested to see if the overall effect was conservative. This analysis includes the petition, legislative and compulsory referenda. Indicators 1, 2, 3 and 4 were employed. The conclusions are as follows:
From this analysis it can be seen that when the use of the referendum is considered as a whole, it is not particularly conservative.
The petition referendum is the most conservative type. It is widely used either to (1) prevent the state government from increasing its powers or areas of responsibility or (2) to prevent increases in taxation. Those who organise petition campaigns are usually successful.
The fact that the referendum is not as conservative an instrument as is sometimes suggested is difficult to account for. One relevant factor is that many referendum issues concern bond-issue authorization or constitutional amendments, and the electorate has ambivalent attitudes towards these matters. Bonds are more palatable than higher taxes, so they are acceptable so long as the hour of higher taxation is deferred. Constitutional amendments are often non-controversial or routine, and so it is not difficult to approve them. However, when a proposed amendment would increase salaries for public officials the electorate usually votes "no" or conservatively. When the
amendment is aimed at extending voting rights, the electorate tends to vote "yes", also conservatively, thus protecting its own role in the political process. Here, of course, there may be some argument as to whether this is really a conservative posture.
It is probably the case that the legislature, in dealing with the same issues, might decide conservatively less often than voters, and thus relative to what the legislature would do voters in referenda may be said to be acting conservatively. Since the Second World War fewer conservative statutes have been coming out of the state legislatures than previously. There is a stronger progressive element represented within them than during the pre-war period. The petition referendum can be used by conservative groups against these "liberal" laws, legislative outputs. If it is true that the legislature would deal less conservatively with the same issues, then the end result of referenda is conservative in orientation even though fewer than half the outcomes are conservative.
The compulsory referendum is used most frequently. The legislature cannot evade the referrals of acts and amendments under this arrangement. The large number of constitutional amendments reflects the fact that state constitutions typically are very detailed, and therefore they require amending on many very routine points. Many of these proposals were approved by the voters because of their non-controversial nature. The voters tended to reject amendments extending the powers of government, while always being ready to safeguard their own rights. Bonds were frequently accepted as borrowing is considered to be less painful than higher taxation. For educational purposes, however, the electorate consented to higher taxes.
The petition referendum, which is not widely used, provided illustrations of the reluctance of the electorate to increase government powers and taxes. The legislative referendum is used very infrequently, and so there can be no complaint that the legislature neglects its responsibilities by "passing the buck". Measures for increasing taxation again were often rejected legislative referenda. Moral issues roused very little interest in any of the categories. Practices which were frowned upon in Puritan America, such as gaming and drinking seem now to be acceptable within certain limits. The referenda also revealed changed attitudes on racial segregation.
The petition referendum was developed in the early years of this century and designed to be used against boss-ridden, unrepresentative city councils and state legislatures. Today it can still be used against a recalcitrant legislature, and it has additional merits such as encouraging participation in government. However there is a disadvantage in this instrument of direct democracy in that it is often used by conservative groups against liberal legislation.
The abolition of the referendum in the United States is unlikely. The perpetuation of traditional governing arrangements, whether federal or state,
is a well-known American tendency. The referendum, generally speaking, is not harmful in its effects, as it is not employed to usurp the power of the legislature, nor does it encourage the legislature to neglect its responsibilities. If there is a serious objection to it, it might be that the electors are already over-burdened with their long ballots. A further disquieting factor is that the referendum is yet another "check" in the American system of checks and balances. Although most systems of government have various means by which they are held responsible to the people, the American system has an inordinate number of them. Strong government therefore may be thwarted in the United States just when it is needed to deal with the enormous problems that confront it. The separation of powers, the independent power of state governments, the openness of the political system, and one might add the referendum, are not necessarily designed for cohesive government. Thus whoever may find himself in high elected office-whether Federal or State-does not always have the weapons at his disposal to act when action is needed.
Yet it can be argued, in the final analysis, that the referendum is an instrument in keeping with the cultural tendencies which underlie political arrangements in the United States. Congruence between participant attitudes and participant institutions should not lightly be overturned.