Monumental Decisions: How Direct Democracy Shapes Attitudes in the Conflict over Confederate Memorials

Monumental Decisions: How Direct Democracy Shapes Attitudes in the Conflict over Confederate Memorials

by Tyler Johnson,  Kathleen Tipler, and Tyler Camarillo, University of Oklahoma

Americans are engaged in a heated, sometimes violent, debate over the fate of Confederate monuments. As communities decide whether to remove these monuments, elected and appointed officials typically have had the final say. What if instead of allowing elected officials to make such decisions, voters had the power? Would this affect how the public feels about the outcome, win or lose? We used a survey experiment to examine whether the mode of decision making affects public attitudes, testing the effects of a decision made by public referendum versus by a city council. We found that respondents view decisions made by referendum to be fairer and more legitimate and allow multiple perspectives to be heard. These results hold even for respondents who oppose the referendum’s outcome. Our results speak to the potential of direct democracy to enhance public acceptance of decisions, particularly when the public is divided.

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