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Size and direct democracy at the local level: the case of Switzerland

Abstract. After a brief look the most important characteristics of Swiss municipalities, this paper describes the municipalities' organization according to the principles of direct democracy and means of decisionmaking. Drawing on empirical findings, it then examines size effects more closely. Whether legislative decisions are taken in a direct democratic assembly or in a representative parliament largely depends on the size of a municipality: smaller municipalities have an assembly, larger ones a parliament. By contrast, direct democratic instruments such as initiatives and referendums are not necessarily more widespread in larger municipalities. The use of initiatives and referendums is higher in larger municipalities, but assembly attendance and election turnout clearly decreases with increasing municipal size. The strength of the size effect varies considerably depending on the different variables of direct democracy under scrutiny.

Andreas Ladner Institut fu«r Politikwissenschaft, University of Bern, Lerchenweg 36, CH 3000 Bern, Switzerland; e-mail: Received 11 November 2001; in revised form 11 April 2002