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CEP discussion paper
The generation gap in direct democracy
Gabriel M. Ahlfeldt, Wolfgang Maennig and Steffen Q. Mueller
June 2018
Paper No' CEPDP1552:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: D7; H3

Tags: age; cohort; direct democracy; generation gap; status quo; referendum; reform; utility

We provide the first systematic documentation and analysis of a generation gap in direct democracy outcomes across a wide range of topics using postelection survey data covering more than 300 Swiss referenda and four decades. We find that older voters are more likely to resist reform projects, particularly those that are associated with the political left. We separate age and cohort effects without imposing functional form constraints using a panel rank regression approach. The aging effect on political orientation is robust for controlling for arbitrary cohort effects and appears to be driven by expected utility maximization and not by habituation-induced status-quo bias. Our results suggest that population aging raises the hurdle for investment-like reform projects with positive net present values, long-run benefits and short-run costs in direct polls.