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Partisan Campaigning and Initiative Petition Signing in Direct Democracies


This paper investigates whether popular initiatives signed by a larger share of the population have higher acceptance rates at the subsequent vote. The main analysis is based on all Swiss federal initiatives voted between 1978 and 2000 with a panel of aggregate voting data at cantonal level. The results suggest that petition signing is positively and significantly related to acceptance rates at ballot. I address potential omitted variable bias from underlying preferences which might be driving both signatures and acceptance rates in three ways. First, the panel structure of the data allows to control for time-constant preferences via fixed effects. Second, results are robust to various proxies for voter preferences. Third, using the doubling of the signature requirement in 1978 as an instrumental variable confirms the above result. The findings imply that petition signing can serve as an effective partisan campaigning tool.


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Author information

Correspondence to Katharina E. Hofer.

Additional information

Earlier versions of this paper have been circulated under the title “Campaigning in Direct Democracies: Initiative Petition Signing, Turnout, and Acceptance”. For valuable comments, I thank Monika Bütler, Patricia Funk, Christian Marti, Rebecca Morton, Lukas Schmid, Andreas Steinmayr, the editor and an anonymous reviewer, as well as participants at the Sinergia Workshop of the Swiss National Science Foundation (February 2013, St. Gallen, Switzerland), the Annual Meeting of the Public Choice Society (March 2014, Charleston, USA), and the Electoral Integrity Pre-IPSA Workshop (July 2014, Montreal, Canada). I appreciate helpful input by the discussants Florian Chatagny and Patrick Fournier. I am grateful for support by the Sinergia Grant CRSIIl_l47668 and Grant P1SGP1_151992 of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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Hofer, K.E. Partisan Campaigning and Initiative Petition Signing in Direct Democracies. Swiss J Economics Statistics 153, 261–291 (2017).

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  • D72


  • Initiatives
  • signatures
  • direct democracy
  • voting
  • campaigning