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A problem-based approach to understanding public support for referendums

Journal Contribution - e-publication

A prominent explanation of widespread popular support for referendums is dissatisfaction with the functioning of representative democracy. In this article, the aim is to gain a better understanding of how dissatisfaction affects support for referendums. Drawing on previous research, it is argued here that citizens follow a problem-based approach in their support for referendums, in that referendums are considered a suitable solution to address some specific problems in a political system but not all. Survey data from the 2012 European Social Survey (29 countries; N = 37,070) is used to show that citizens' expectations towards and evaluations of representatives relate to support for referendums. In particular, dissatisfaction with the ability of governments to listen to their citizens is associated with higher support for referendums. In contrast, citizens dissatisfied with the government's ability to lead are less supportive of referendums. Furthermore, the relationship between dissatisfaction with governments' ability to listen varies across countries depending on the level of experience with decision making via referendum. In countries where referendums are used more often, the expectation of referendums being able to solve the problem of unresponsive government is weaker. This study offers important insights into the different ways in which preferences and evaluations of representative practices relate to popular support for referendums.
Journal: European Journal of Political Research
ISSN: 0304-4130
Issue: 3
Volume: 59
Pages: 538 - 554
Publication year:2020
BOF-publication weight:6
CSS-citation score:1
Authors from:Higher Education