The Rise of Referendums: Demystifying Direct Democracy

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Referendums have been portrayed as a favorite tool of populists and autocratic leaders. The empirical evidence, however, does not support this reading. The total number of plebiscites in dictatorships has fallen. Well-functioning constitutional constraints, rather than populist agitation, have been the driving forces behind many referendums in democracies. Further, where populist leaders have pushed for referendums, the resulting votes have not generally gone in their favor. The referendum has generally been a mechanism for strengthening democracy, a people’s shield even when governments have attempted to wield it as a sword.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)141-152
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Democracy
Issue number3
Early online date3 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • Referendums
  • Plebiscites
  • Constitutionalism
  • Direct Democracy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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