Using data from the 2012 European Social Survey (ESS) and the 2017 Polpart survey we compare public support for the use of referendums in Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK, and Hungary before and after the referendums on Mass Immigration (2014), EU–Ukraine Relations (2016), Brexit (2016), and the EU Migrant Quota (2016). We show that overall referendum support declined between 2012 and 2017 in all countries, but especially the Netherlands where the government openly challenged the merits of direct democracy. We also provide evidence that referendum support became more strongly linked to the so-called losers of modernization (i.e. politically dissatisfied, socio-economically disadvantaged, or anti-immigration individuals) in all countries except Switzerland. However, changes in the determinants of referendum support are driven by a decline in support among the winners of modernization (i.e. politically satisfied, socio-economically advantaged, and pro-immigration individuals) rather than an increase in support among the losers whose attitudes stayed more or less the same. Furthermore, we argue that the association between attitudes towards government and referendum support differs between contexts where referendums are government-initiated versus government-challenging.
- Direct democracy
- public opinion