Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Committee Member

John P. Tuman

Second Committee Member

David F. Damore

Third Committee Member

Michele Kuenzi

Fourth Committee Member

Thomas Wright

Number of Pages



Do institutions matter? This dissertation examines the role of institutions in the context of comparative direct democracy. Through an institutionalist framework, this study considers how the context in which the mechanism of direct democracy is first introduced has an impact on later usage, and how individuals operate when constrained by those very institutions. In particular, I examine the cases of Italy, France, Uruguay, and Venezuela and find that the inclusion of direct democracy mechanisms (most commonly, the referendum device) is more likely to occur when previously excluded "out-groups" participate in constitutional formation. In addition, I find that institutional design is an important (but not a universal) factor in understanding referendum outcomes (in particular, in explaining frequency). Finally, I argue that the rational choice perspective does not fully explain individual level motivations of political elites, and that an interweaving of prospect theory and the cybernetic theory of decision-making better explains how elites operate when constrained by institutions. Along the way, I develop a theoretical approach that may be utilized to better evaluate direct democracy outcomes across political systems.


Comparative government; Direct democracy; Historical institutionalism; Referendum


Comparative Politics | International and Area Studies | Political Science | Political Theory