Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Trouble with direct democracy

The populace of Missouri just voted to ban gay marriage. This illustrates one of the disadvantages of direct democracy -- it's worse at preserving minority rights.

Suppose a minority is seriously harmed by some proposal, while the majority is unaffected and supports it. If you're a representative, it's often smart to vote against the proposal. Sure, you go against what most of the people think, but most of the people will forgive you. You can still win their votes on other grounds. The minority, however, will get mobilized and organized against you. No matter what stances you take on other things, you've lost their vote.

Direct democracy is different. A bunch of people with vague feelings of unease about gay people getting married -- people like my dad, for whom this would never be a make-or-break issue -- can swing the vote dramatically.

Now, my guess is that the amendment would have easily passed a representative body as well. But I'd be surprised if it got 72% of the vote there.


Anonymous said...

Dennis, Neil's point was that, if the issue is important enough to the disadvantaged minority, then they will be single-issue voters while the majority will not be. So, in a district with a 15% minority, a legislator who opposed the oppression who was running against someone who favored it would have a guaranteed 15% of the vote on his side, and he'd have a good shot at winning over a decent portion of the 85% on other issues.

Alexander said...

The situation in Missouri is a problem for direct democracy but a point for federalism. Federalism is so closely identified as a reactionary tool against progressive values, that progressives fail to use it to their advantage in situations like this.

States like Missouri will place themselves in opposition to states like California and Massachusetts. The result will be a net gain for the progressive states as homosexual couples tend to make excellent taxpayers (high revenue generation/low service demands).

Neil Sinhababu said...

Many smart commenters! I am proud of my blog. Dan correctly interprets me, Alexander makes a cool point about how gay people improve the tax base, and Dennis' comment about distribution of the minority population is an important real-world constraint on my claim. I feel like posting more...