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Contested Sovereignty: Mapping Referendums on Sovereignty over Time and Space

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2016


The recent proliferation of referendums on sovereignty matters has fuelled growing scholarly interest. However, comparative research is hindered by the weaknesses of current compilations, which tend to suffer from conceptual vagueness, varied coding decisions, incomplete coverage and ad hoc categorizations. Based on an improved conceptualization and theory-driven typology, this article presents a new dataset of 602 sovereignty referendums from 1776–2012, more than double the number in existing lists. In an exploratory analysis, it uncovers eight distinctive clusters of sovereignty referendums and identifies patterns of activity over time and space as well as outcomes produced.

© Cambridge University Press 2016 

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Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau, University of Zurich (email:; Centre for Comparative and International Studies, ETH Zurich (email: Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2013 ‘Colloque sur la pratique référendaire et l’idéal démocratique européen’ in Clemont-Ferrand, the 2014 ECPR general conference in Glasgow and the 2015 PSA in Sheffield. Many thanks for all constructive comments received. We would especially like to thank Nicolas Aubert, Andreas Auer, Corsin Bisaz, Matt Qvortrup, Mario Mendez, Beat Müller, Uwe Serdült and Jonathan Wheatley for their input as well as the reviewers and the editor for their helpful suggestions. The research presented in this article was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, grant no. 10001A_135127. The dataset, codebook and replication codes are available from Updates will be made available on the project website at


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Mendez and Germann Dataset