Taking Cues from the Government: Heuristic versus Systematic Processing in a Constitutional Referendum

Published in West European Politics, 2019

Recommended citation: De Angelis, Andrea, Colombo, Celine, and Morisi, Davide (2019). Taking cues from the government: heuristic versus systematic processing in a constitutional referendum. West European Politics, Vol. 143(4): 845 - 868. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01402382.2019.1633836

One of the main criticisms of direct democracy is that it places excessive demands on voters. Are citizens competent enough to vote directly on policy issues? When stakes are high, do citizens mainly follow elites’ signals or do they decide in line with their issue preferences? This article addresses these questions in a multi-method setting by combining observational and experimental data from an original three-wave panel survey conducted during the 2016 Italian constitutional referendum. In particular, Finite Mixture Models are employed to model voters’ heterogeneous strategies of information processing. Findings show that heuristic voting based on government evaluation prevails over policy-related voting. More specifically, less politically sophisticated and partisan voters relied on government assessment as a heuristic, while sophisticated and independent voters based their decisions mostly on their assessment of the reform. Implications for the question of citizens’ competence in direct democracy are discussed.

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Recommended citation: De Angelis, Andrea, Colombo, Celine, and Morisi, Davide (2019). Taking cues from the government: heuristic versus systematic processing in a constitutional referendum. West European Politics, Vol. 143(4): 845 - 868.