Government by referendum

By Matt Qvortrup

Government by referendum


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3003-7
  • Pages: 112
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £9.99
  • Published Date: March 2018
  • BIC Category: Politics, Politics & government, Elections & referenda, Comparative politics, POLITICAL SCIENCE / American Government / General, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Comparative Politics, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / Elections, Society & social sciences / Comparative politics, Society & social sciences / Politics & government, Society & social sciences / Elections & referenda
  • Series: Pocket Politics


Referendums are ubiquitous; from Brexit in the United Kingdom in 2016 to same-sex marriage in Australia in 2017 Why are referendums held at all? And when they are held, why are they won or lost? Moreover, what are the consequences of having referendums? Do they strengthen or weaken democracy? Are they mainly won or mainly lost or do they strengthen populist leaders? Or, are referendums a shield against demagogues and overeager politicians? Government by Referendum analyses why politicians sometime submit issues to the people Based on an historical analysis, but with an emphasis on the last two decades, the book shows that referendums often have been lost by powerful politicians. While sometimes used by autocrats, mechanisms of direct democracy have increasingly performed the function of democratic constitutional safeguards in developed democracies.


'Referendums are increasingly capturing the headlines. Not always for good reasons. While the referendum might have a place as a constitutional safe-guard, Professor Matt Qvortrup's outstanding analysis shows that they can be dangerous when politicians call them for selfish and tactical reasons'.
Arend Lijphart, University of California, San Diego, Author of Patterns of Democracy and former President of the American Political Science Association

'Government by Referendum. is full of interesting information and thought-provoking observations.'
Chris Stafford, LSE Review of Books


1. The world history of referendums
2. The history of the referendum in Britain
3. Brexit campaign: the anatomy of a bitter divorce battle
4. The myth of populist referendums
Concluding unscientific postscript
Further reading


Matt Qvortrup is Professor of Political Science at Coventry University and James Walston Chair of International Relations at the American University of Rome

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