The Case for Supermajority Requirements in Referendums

Matt Qvortrup, Leah Trueblood

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Referendums appear to be the most majoritarian of democratic process. The simplicity and equality they offer through voting look like the essence of majoritarianism. Indeed, this simplicity and equality are often argued to be central to referendums' appeal. This paper argues that this appearance of majoritarianism is misleading. Paradoxically, without supermajority requirements, binding referendums on constitutional issues cannot offer the simplicity and equality majoritarianism requires. The first part of this paper identifies three different types of majority requirements and where and when these requirements are used worldwide. The second part demonstrates why, at least for binding referendums on constitutional questions, special majority requirements are necessary to maintain the principles of majoritarianism. Third, this paper shows that there is always a case for turnout thresholds in referendums and further special majority requirements depending on the context. Fourth and finally, this paper argues that the case for special majority requirements can be context- dependent without collapsing into indeterminacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Constitutional Law
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


British Academy


  • Referendums
  • Constitutions
  • Democracy
  • Majority-Requirements


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