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Ballot Initiatives and Referendums

February 8, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Tomy Granzier-Nakajima

Executive Summary 

Initiative petitions and referendums allow voters the opportunity to be directly involved in the policymaking process. Twenty-four states in the U.S. implement an initiative process and 23 states have a referendum process. Initiatives can have long-lasting effects, and some states, including Missouri, allow for constitutional amendments as well as additions to statute via this process. Research has attempted  to understand whether the initiative and referendum processes accurately reflect majority opinion and their effects on policy. 


  • States with initiative processes are found to spend and tax their citizens 5% less than states without an initiative process.
  • States with an initiative process are much more likely to impose term limits on legislators and the governor than states without an initiative process. 
  • $1.2 billion was spent nationwide on ballot committees that support or oppose ballots in 2020. 
    • Business groups are found to be more likely to oppose initiatives than support them.


  • Existing evidence suggests that initiatives typically align policy outcomes with public opinion. However, more research is needed to come to a definitive conclusion. 
  • Older research on the effects of the initiative process and referendums use out of date analytical research methods. New research is needed to come to stronger conclusions on these findings.
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