The Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California is a non-partisan educational organization dedicated to the study of the initiative and referendum, the two most important processes of direct democracy.

The Institute was founded in 1998 in Washington D.C. by M. Dane Waters. Waters, who had cut his teeth using the initiative process pushing term limits across the country, felt it was important for there to be an impartial clearing house for information on direct democracy. In 2004, the Institute joined the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, in order to advance the Institute’s educational mission. Upon the move to USC, John Matsusaka became executive director of the Institute; Waters remained chairman of the advisory board.

Edwin Meese, III, former U.S. Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan, had this to say about the Institute, “[T]he Initiative & Referendum Institute performs a valuable service to the Nation by providing research and educational programs to protect and expand the democratic process of initiative and referendum by the people in the several states. Having this electoral ability is a critical ‘safety valve’ for effective citizenship.”

The Initiative and Referendum Institute collects and distributes information on the initiative and referendum process. And sponsors studies of various aspects of direct democracy, including its effect on public policy, citizen participation, and its reflection of trends in American thought and culture.  The Institute produces a state-by-state guide to the initiative and referendum process, and works to educate and update the public on how the process is being utilized across the country, particularly at the state level. The Initiative and Referendum Institute is a primary source for information about direct democracy, and has been cited by numerous media outlets including, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, CNN, CBS Radio, NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The National Journal, Governing Magazine, Court TV’s “Supreme Court Watch” and “Washington Watch”,  Campaigns and Elections Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Congressional Quarterly, Voter News Service, Pacific Radio Network.