A referendum is defined as a general vote by a specific electorate over a specific political question. The decision may take the form of a ballot question, a private survey, or a poll. The results of the vote are then implemented by majority vote.
Here are the pros and cons of referendums to consider.
List of the Pros of Referendums
1. It provides a level of political support for difficult decisions.
If there is a difficult decision to make, then a referendum can solidify support for it. When a majority of the people back a political decision, it helps to create a lock in the choice, making it easier to proceed.
2. It creates specific points of negotiation.
The priorities of the politicians may be different than the priorities of the people. By offering a referendum, the government is able to glean information about what their districts desire, making it easier to create policies or procedures which reflect the majority’s will.
3. It creates a mandate to follow.
In Colombia, the government had negotiated a peace deal with FARC, which had promoted civil conflict within the country for over 50 years. The referendum to proceed with the deal was rejected by 50.2% of the people, which created a mandate for the government to find a different way to operate. If any ruling body is unsure of which direction to go, they can seek a mandate from the people to know how to proceed.
List of the Cons of Referendums
1. It allows for false actors to campaign for specific results.
Referendums allow for a campaign to be started for each side of the question proposed. Campaigns provide space for false actors to misrepresent positions to the general public. Because the goal of a referendum is to provide more information to everyone, the false information offered is often believed.
2. It creates division.
Referendums create division within communities, especially if a narrow victory or loss occurs. These divisions take time to heal, if they ever do.
There is one general rule for a referendum: if you call one, there needs to be a level of certainty that you will win. The pros and cons of referendums show that the political costs for those who lose are often great.