World Politics Series

Are Referendums Ever Good for Democracy?

Stokes
Tue
Nov
19

Susan Stokes
Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago
Faculty Chair, Chicago Center on Democracy, University of Chicago

With the debacle of the Brexit process in the UK, the sheen has come off referendums. Democratic theory still offers some justifications for referendums, but it is hard to evaluate these justifications without strong evidence regarding how they actually work. Under what strategic circumstances do political leaders decide to turn the choice over to the people? And what is the nature of voting behavior in referendums? In addition to exploring referendums and democratic theory, this presentation will focus on the question of voting behavior and on the fact that turnout tends to be lower in referendums than in candidate elections. Stokes will draw on evidence from Colombia’s 2016 referendum on peace accords to argue that party structures and incentives are an important part of the answer. 

This lecture is part of a larger series organized by Faculty Fellows Michael Coppedge and Andrew Gould entitled “Perspectives on World Politics.” Since its inception in 2016, this series aims to spotlight the Kellogg Institute’s strength in comparative politics by featuring distinguished scholars who speak on a topic related to each year’s theme.

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