A perfect match? Referendums and consensus democracy in Europe

Special report: Referendums: In the name of democracy?
By Stefan Vospernik

This contribution attempts to place direct democracy on the continuum between consensus and majoritarian democracy, as developed by Arend Lijphart. It develops a dichotomic model of referendums based on their governmental or oppositional use that correlate with majoritarian and consensus democracy, respectively. After developing three index values to measure the institutional configuration, the use and outcome of referendums, the proposition is tested empirically on a sample of twenty-one EU member states and 222 referendums between 1990 and 2016. The study shows a highly significant correlation between the oppositional type of direct democracy and consensus democracy, and between the governmental type and majoritarian democracy. This connection is further refined by analyzing the cabinet type, the party system, and the strength of parliament. Finally, it attempts to explore which system appears most conducive to direct democracy, and arrives at the conclusion that referendums are a better match for consensus than majoritarian democracies.


  • referendums
  • direct democracy
  • consensus democracy
  • majoritarian democracy
  • Lijphart
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info