Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



Published in Social Psychological and Personality Science 6:5 (2015), pp. 579–586; doi: 10.1177/1948550614568159.


Copyright © 2015 Ellie Shockley and Amire Shawn Fairdosi. Published by Sage. Used by permission.


The goal of direct democracy is to bring power to change laws to ordinary citizens. However, it may alienate citizens because policy language is often complex, perhaps impacting citizens’ voting likelihood and support for policies. We invoke theory on processing fluency and compensatory control motivations to explain voting likelihood and policy attitude formation. Using experiments and mediational analyses, we tested theorized links between policy language complexity and these out-comes. Findings suggest that policy language complexity motivates compensatory trust in policy institutions but this does not likely explain decreased voting likelihood. We also found that low processing fluency associated with reading a complexly worded policy or a policy presented in a disfluent font led to lower voting likelihood and less positive policy attitudes, consistent with predictions. Thus, the form direct democracy often takes manipulates the amount of support garnered for policies and ironically encourages citizens to outsource legislation to institutional elites.