When do consultative referendums improve democracy? Evidence from local referendums in Norway
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionInternational Political Science Review. 2019, 1-16. 10.1177/0192512119881810
Consultative referendums may provide crucial information about public opinion but have received little attention in the literature compared with their binding counterparts. In this article, we analyse 221 Norwegian local consultative referendums on municipal amalgamation using the Venice Commission’s code on referendums. Much of the referendum literature suggests that consultative referendums are in fact binding. The municipal councils followed the outcomes of the referendums in most cases, but 14% chose to go against it. While the overall impression is that the outcomes of consultative referendums are seen as binding, the data indicate that ballot design may affect voters’ choice as well as council decisions. Although many democratic standards were met, the wording of questions and alternatives on the ballot paper were problematic in a number of cases – reducing the democratic value of the citizens’ advice.