Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 12-9-2015

Faculty Advisor(s)

Ann Gordon


Legitimacy is the only concept that gives a government control of a population. For a democracy, legitimacy is especially imperative to its function. Current polling in the United States reflects the lowest approval ratings of Congress in history, and a sense of hopelessness in the system. Civil unrest has become a trademark of the 21st century, and much of the unrest has spawned from voters believing their voice is lost in a system that never valued it to begin with. When it comes to direct democracy in the U.S., initiated through ballot measures, many studies point to trust in government, or a lackthereof, as a main factor for predicting voter preference on policy. And yet, there is little research regarding how distrustful voters prefer to participate. Trust in government has been shown to be greatly influenced by ideology, environment, and media exposure, but little is known about how preference in participation can influence trust. Democracies must prove to its constituents that it is legitimate by actively supporting ways for voters to participate freely and equally, or else the democracy will dissolve; therefore, I argue that understanding how voters wish to participate is just as important as knowing how they develop their preferences. I hypothesize that voters that are distrustful of government will approve of the use of ballot measures as a way of determining policy. Relying on the 2012 ANES Direct Democracy Survey, I have found a statistically significant correlation between distrustful voters and preference of ballot measures, and I assert that ballot measures create a sense of accountability and fairness for voters within the U.S. political system. In addition, my research has also pointed to a desire by voters for the ballot measure process to be updated in order to become more user-friendly. By utilizing ballot measures, democratic governments give voters a way to reassert their voice within a system they do not trust listens to them, and thus, restores legitimacy.


Presented at the Fall 2015 Student Research Day at Chapman University.