John G. Matsusaka, in his new Princeton University Press book Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge, calls for the introduction of referenda at the national level in the United States. For instance he favors advisory referendums called by Congress, advisory referendums called by petition, advisory referendums required for specific issues, binding referendums for required issues, or called by petition, and constitutional amendments, proposed by petition (but not settled by a referendum itself). The United States in fact have never had a national referendum.
But do referenda defuse populist sentiment, or stoke it? Why is it that populism might be bad but referenda good? Don’t referenda give in to populism in some manner? Whether or not you favored Brexit as an outcome, was the process so smooth and wonderful? How much better could it have been? (the author does discuss this). Won’t money matter in politics more, and in the bad sense? Exactly which policy area would see superior concrete results through the use of national referenda? Won’t it mean we get madder at each other?
Switzerland aside, I am not convinced by the call for more referenda, but I am happy to see such fundamental questions raised anew.
The author lives in California.