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Explaining the Paradox of Plebiscites

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 August 2018

Matt Qvortrup*
Affiliation:
Matt Qvortrup, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK
Brendan O’Leary
Affiliation:
Brendan O’Leary, Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
Ronald Wintrobe
Affiliation:
Ronald Wintrobe, Department of Economics, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
*
*Corresponding author. Email: matt.qvortrup@coventry.ac.uk

Abstract

Recent referendums show that autocratic regimes consult voters even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion. They have been doing so with increasing frequency since Napoleon consulted French citizens in 1800. Why and when do dictatorial regimes hold referendums they are certain they will win? Analysing the 162 referendums held in autocratic and non-free states in the period 1800–2012, the article shows that referendums with a 99% yes-vote tend to occur in autocracies with high ethnic fractionalization and, in part, in sultanistic (tinpot or tyrannical) regimes, but generally not in communist (totalitarian) states. An explanation is proposed for this variation.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Authors 2018. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press

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