Politics, Unit 1, Disadvantages of Referenda

Pretty much just picking apart a past essay I found on the disadvantages of referenda. 

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  • Created by: Eleanor
  • Created on: 20-05-11 11:45


  • Sheer number of people involved- 60 million citizens.
  • Kept fair- budget allowed. 1975 EEC referendum- 'yes' side had around 20 times more funding than 'no' side.
  • However legislation has been passed to prevent this.
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Tyranny of Minority or Majority

  • Wishes of the minority can be disregarded if there is a majority vote in favour of / against a certain issue.
  • Alternatively the minority opinion could win a referendum if turnout was low.
  • For example, the 1997 referendum on Welsh devolution had 50.1% turnout and 50.3% of that were in favour.
  • So imagine Wales contained 1000 people= 49.9%, 499 people don't vote and may not want it. 49.7%, 249 people voted against it. So, potentially, 748 people did not want devolution!
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Government Involvement

  • Controlled by the independent Electoral Commission. This is, however, set up by the UK  Parliament and may therefore be biased.
  • Can be seen to undermine the sovereignty of Parliament as the ultimate decision-making body.
  • Many argue that as a government is elected to govern, it should not need to seek the word of the people- it should be decisive and fair already.
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  • Question on capital punishment or abortion are very emotional, controversial or just too plain complicated. There is no straight yes or no answer to such questions.
  • Some questions have far too many variables as to when they would apply (e.g capital punishment- what for? any exemptions? etc)
  • Referenda therefore disadvantaged as they are not appropriate for all issues.
  • However they are really only used for constitutional issues, such as the voting system or devolution.
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  • Low turnout brings into question the validity of the result.
  • This can give the referenda very weak legal force.
  • As they are not already legally binding, low turnout or an indecisive result make referenda easily ignored.
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Ill-informed Electorate

  • An ill-informed electorate is likely to be uninterested.
  • This can lower turnout drastically.
  • The intelligibility of a question must be lowered to the lowest denominator of the electorate so that everyone can understand it.
  • This can result in over-simplification and the relevance or legal meaning can be lost.
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