Evidence-based arguments in direct democracy: The case of smoking bans in Switzerland

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This article analyses the use of evidence, such as policy evaluation studies, in arguments in direct-democratic campaigns. Set in the context of 16 Swiss direct-democratic campaigns on smoking bans, the article compares evidence-based arguments with arguments that do not refer to evidence. The study adds to the argumentative direction in evaluation and program planning by showing that in direct-democratic campaigns, the political use of evaluation results to substantiate policy preferences is rare. The study shows that around 6% of the arguments refer to evidence and that evaluation results are mostly cited in support of causal arguments referring to the effects of policy interventions. Above all, the results show that policy information is available, at least for causal arguments, and apparently known in the public discourse but only cited explicitly when the speaker wants to raise credibility. This applies especially to researchers, such as evaluators. The results further indicate that the political use of evaluation results fosters an informed discourse and the evidence may eventually become common public knowledge. The credentials of evaluators make them suitable not only for bringing more evaluation results into the direct-democratic discourse but also for acting as teachers in this discourse.




Stucki, I. (2018). Evidence-based arguments in direct democracy: The case of smoking bans in Switzerland. Evaluation and Program Planning, 69, 148–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2016.08.019

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