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Putting Civil Rights to a Popular Vote

Barbara S. Gamble
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1997), pp. 245-269
DOI: 10.2307/2111715
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111715
Page Count: 25
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Putting Civil Rights to a Popular Vote
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Abstract

Democratic theory and theories of public frame the concern for the rights of minorities in the face of majority opposition. Without the filtering mechanisms of the representative system, direct democracy promotes majority tyranny as the scope of civil rights conflicts expands and citizens vote on civil rights laws. The paper analyzes over three decades of initiatives and popular referenda from five major civil rights areas: housing and public accommodations for racial minorities, school desegregation, gay rights, English language laws, and AIDS policies. Citizen initiatives that restrict civil rights experience extraordinary electoral success: voters have approved over three-quarters of these, while endorsing only a third of all initiatives and popular referenda.

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