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Homogeneity, Heterogeneity and Direct Democracy: The Case of Swiss Referenda

  • Abraham Diskin (a1), André Eschet-Schwarz (a2) and Dan S. Felsenthal (a2)

Abstract. The general question addressed in this study is whether voting behaviour in referenda conducted in a pluralistic society tends to reflect more the heterogeneous or the homogeneous characteristics of this society. In order to answer this question we investigated, mainly by means of factor analysis, all 538 federal referenda conducted in Switzerland since the foundation of the Swiss Confederation in 1848 until the end of 2005. Based on the extensive Swiss experience, the answer to our question seems quite clearly to be that the use of referenda as tools of direct democracy in a pluralistic society tends to reflect much more the homogeneous characteristics of that society than its heterogeneous ones.

Résumé. Le thème général de l'étude est le suivant: le comportement des votants qui participent aux référendums dans une société pluraliste est-il influencé par les caractéristiques hétérogènes ou homogènes de la société en question? Afin de répondre à cette question nous avons examiné, par analyse factorielle, 538 referendums fédéraux tenus en Suisse depuis la création de la Confédération suisse en 1848 et jusqu'en 2005. Le résultat de notre recherche montre clairement que l'utilisation des référendums comme instrument de démocratie directe dans une société pluraliste a tendance à refléter davantage les caractéristiques homogènes que les caractéristiques hétérogènes de la société.

Corresponding author
Abraham Diskin is associate professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel. Email:
André Eschet-Schwarz is lecturer of Political Science at the School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel. Email:
Dan S. Felsenthal, is professor emeritus of Political Science at the School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel. Email:
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Bolliger, Christian and RegulaZürcher. 2004. “Deblockierung durch Kooptation? Eine Fallstudie zur Aufnahme der Katolisch-Konservativen in die Schweizerische Landesregierung 1891.” Swiss Political Science Review10(4): 5992.

Eschet-Schwarz, André. 1989. “The Role of Semi-Direct Democracy in Shaping Swiss Federalism: The Behavior of Cantons Regarding Revision of the Constitution.” Publius19: 79106.

Katz, Richard S. and RuudKoole. 2002. “Political Data in 2001.” European Journal of Political Research41: 88596.

Papadopoulos, Yannis. 2001. “How Does Direct Democracy Matter? The Impact of Referendum Votes on Politics and Policy-Making.” West European Politics24(2): 3558.

Sciarini, Pascal and Alexandre H.Trechsel. 1996. “Démocratie Directe en Suisse: L'élite Politique Victime des Droits Populaires?Swiss Political Science Review2: 20132.

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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
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