Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Richard N. Engstrom - Chair

Second Advisor

William Downs

Third Advisor

Sean Richey

Fourth Advisor

Stephen N. Nicholson


What role does political knowledge play in campaigning for and participation in direct democracy? A foundational principle of democracy is citizen participation in decision-making. This foundation assumes that citizens are at least somewhat knowledgeable about government and able to make informed choices. This analysis examines the role that meaningful decisions play in direct democracy, because “for voters to make meaningful decisions, they must understand the options on which they are deciding” (Dalton 1988: 13). This analysis uses three different methodologies to investigate this relationship. First, through qualitative analysis and a mail survey of petitioners, this study explores how petitioners view and approach the public. This study finds that expectations of political knowledge affects how petitioners approach the public and how much time they spend educating the public about their initiative. Second, through statistical (multi-level regression) analysis, this study investigates the impact of the ballot language on participation in individual ballot propositions. This study finds that ballot language is a significant barrier to participation. Third, through experimental analysis, this study connects measures of political knowledge and participation on ballot propositions written by petitioners across the country. This study finds that when confronted with more difficult ballot language voters are less likely to participate. However, when controlling for political knowledge this effect is truncated. The findings of this analysis argue the elite bias of direct democracy in ballot language, accessibility, and motives of petitioners. The study of participation in direct democracy and political knowledge across American states advances the theoretical understanding of democratic participation, and furthers our understanding of the role citizen political knowledge plays in policymaking.