Are referendums a form of weakening ?

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Last night we all read “Why Referendums Aren’t as democratic as They seem”  by Amanda Taub and Max Fisher. The reading discusses a referendum which is when a country’s population is given the ability by the government to take part in a decision. Countries which utilize referendums are generally democratic.² The reading outlined that a lot of times, referendums are used by governments to help gain support for their agendas, as noted in Northern Ireland.² Also, the article notes an example in the UK in which politicians only focus on issues which will support their own opinions. Referendums can also give off the impression of a weak democracy. As seen in Ireland, only 38% of the population comes to vote, and the votes are almost split down the middle. ²

Recently Catalonia took part in a referendum wanting its independence from Spain. In a CNN article, Catalonia independence referendum: What just happened?, by Angela Dewan. The tension between Catalonia and Spain is discussed. Catalonia held voting polls, and 90% of their population was in favor of becoming independent from Spain. As a result of this voting being held Spain’s highest court ruled the vote illegal under the Spanish constitution. In response, Madrid “ flooded Catalonia with thousands of national police in advance of the vote. Officers seized millions of ballot papers and sealed schools and other buildings to be used as polling stations” (CNN). ¹

Do referendums weaken a state’s autonomy?

Referendums are helpful when dealing with issues that will not impact the way a state interacts with other states. In other terms, the UK leaving the European Union or Catalonia attempting to secede from Spain are not instances in which a voice from the people in the form of a referendum is helpful. Although referendums seem to reinforce democracy, politicians who have experience should be elected by the people, but then left in charge of taking crucial decisions. With a referendum, since the majority will ultimately win, this can create even more tensions around key issues and can deter peace in a state.


¹Dewan, Angela. “Catalonia Referendum: What Just Happened?” CNN. October 02, 2017. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/02/europe/catalonia-independence-referendum-explainer/index.html.

²Dickovick, J. T., and Eastwood, J.. 2019. Current debates in comparative politics. Pgs 91-94

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