Referendums
Definition of a referendum  • A vote by the whole electorate on a single policy proposal  • A referendum allows the demos ...
Why would the Government hold a referendum?  • Because they promised one in their manifesto  • As a way of resolving divis...
Facts about referendums  • The question is set by the Government, but Parliament    calls a referendum  • The Government d...
What is the difference between a referendum and                     an election?  • Referendum                           •...
How do referendums promote greater                         democracy?  • By giving the public a chance to register their v...
However …  • Turnout for referendums has been low in recent years  • Referendums also undermine the role of MPs, who are (...
Recent turnout in the UKPolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
Arguments FOR referendums  • More democratic than elections, as they give the people a    direct say over government polic...
Arguments AGAINST referendums  • Undermines the sovereignty of Parliament  • Far from being more democratic, referendums t...
Arguments AGAINST referendums  • Issues are often too complex for the people to fully    understand (e.g. California 1978 ...
Arguments AGAINST referendums  • Polarises public opinion  • The question set is often poorly thought out  • Can be used t...
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As referendums

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As referendums

  1. 1. Referendums
  2. 2. Definition of a referendum • A vote by the whole electorate on a single policy proposal • A referendum allows the demos (or people) to register their views on an important constitutional or policy issue • 34 referendums have been held in the UK since 1997 • Referendums are a form of direct democracyPolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  3. 3. Why would the Government hold a referendum? • Because they promised one in their manifesto • As a way of resolving divisions within the party, as with the EC referendum held in 1975 • Because major constitutional issues such as devolution require the public to register their support • To gauge public opinion • To encourage greater democracy • To keep in touch with public opinion • Because they are in with a good chance of winningPolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  4. 4. Facts about referendums • The question is set by the Government, but Parliament calls a referendum • The Government does not always get its own way (e.g. devolved assemblies to the English regions were defeated in 2004) • Government is bound by convention (i.e. an unwritten rule) to honour the result. However in practise, it does not have to do so! Governments have set the question a second time in order to gain their preferred result (e.g. in Denmark over the Maastricht Treaty). The Swedish government even ignored the result of a referendum one time, although this is rarePolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  5. 5. What is the difference between a referendum and an election? • Referendum • Election • Example of direct democracy • Example of representative • Can be called at any time, democracy usually on an important issue • Many different types called at • The Government does not, in regular intervals practise, have to honour the • All political parties must honour result the result of an election • The choice is either yes, or no • Choice between several political partiesPolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  6. 6. How do referendums promote greater democracy? • By giving the public a chance to register their views • Changes to the constitution (such as devolution) gain greater legitimacy if they secure public support • By convention, the government must abide by the decision taken • Can also encourage greater political education, and … • … may increase public interest in politics, especially the use of initiatives as in Switzerland and some U.S. statesPolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  7. 7. However … • Turnout for referendums has been low in recent years • Referendums also undermine the role of MPs, who are (in theory) supposed to represent the people they were elected to serve • Referendums are also associated with extremists. The former Labour PM Clement Attlee once said that “referendums are the device of demagogues, and dictators”, as was the case with Nazi GermanyPolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  8. 8. Recent turnout in the UKPolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  9. 9. Arguments FOR referendums • More democratic than elections, as they give the people a direct say over government policy • Can offer a precise answer to a question • Referendums have been used successfully in several democracies, and on several occasions in the UK • Encourage public participation, and stimulate interest in politics • On important issues, it is argued that the people should be consulted • Avoids elected representatives becoming out of touch with the electoratePolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  10. 10. Arguments AGAINST referendums • Undermines the sovereignty of Parliament • Far from being more democratic, referendums tend to enhance the power of the “elected dictatorship” (e.g. the government sets the question) • Associated with extremist regimes – to the extent that referendums are actually banned in Germany due to their association with the Nazis • The way the question is phrased can greatly affect the result • In the referendum campaign, wealthy groups have an unfair advantagePolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  11. 11. Arguments AGAINST referendums • Issues are often too complex for the people to fully understand (e.g. California 1978 Proposition 13) • The result can be determined by an apathetic public, as in the case of Welsh devolution where barely 1 in 4 of the electorate said yes • Governments can ignore the result • Simply a way for governments to deal with party divisions, as was the case in 1975 • Referendums are little more than a judgement about the government of the day, rather than the issues at stakePolitics – Introduction to AS Politics
  12. 12. Arguments AGAINST referendums • Polarises public opinion • The question set is often poorly thought out • Can be used to discriminate against minorities • Simply a snapshot of public opinion on one given day (e.g. on the EU constitution in France during 2005) which binds all future generations to the result • The media has far too much influence over the campaign, and the eventual result (e.g. the media was largely pro- European in the 1975 referendum, and this may have affected the result)Politics – Introduction to AS Politics

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