Industrial policy has become an increasingly central focus of political debate as American society struggles with new and troubling economic realities. Yet despite the importance of this subject, little is known about how the public gains or processes information on these matters, or about the evaluative standards used to judge industrial-policy proposals. A recent referendum in Rhode Island offered a unique opportunity to study these questions. Citizens participated directly in the debate over new industrial policy by soundly rejecting the Greenhouse Compact, a novel and comprehensive plan to "reindustrialize" Rhode Island. Here we report the results of a public opinion survey conducted shortly after that referendum. We show that Rhode Islanders rejected the Compact not because they felt the government had no legitimate role in economic development, but because of uncertainty over the particular plan on the ballot and dissatisfaction with the manner in which Greenhouse advocates presented their plan to the public.



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