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Explaining the Paradox of Plebiscites

  • Matt Qvortrup (a1), Brendan O’Leary (a2) and Ronald Wintrobe (a3)
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.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author. Email: matt.qvortrup@coventry.ac.uk
References
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Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
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