Research on Referendums

Studying referendums as a mechanism to increase transparency in democracies.

Exploring the appropriate use of referendums

The Chicago Center on Democracy is running a number of research projects to explore aspects of how referendums can appropriately be used in democracies, as well as how they can be misused. Information about a few outputs from these projects can be seen below.

Global dataset of referendums

CCD has created a publicly available database of national referendums from 1960 to present, organized by category, country, results, and other variables. This tool is intended to be a starting point for those involved in designing or campaigning for referendums to understand how they can be structured and implemented most effectively. This tool can be accessed on our Democracy Tools visualization site. Please allow up to 20 seconds for the site to initially load, given the data and visualizations on the site.

Roundtables on referendums in Latin America

With the support of the United Nations Democracy Fund, and in collaboration with Laura Escuder and Yanina Welp (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies), in spring 2022, we ran a series of three virtual roundtables exploring the design and implementation of referendums in Latin America. Descriptions and links to the event recordings are below. Conversations were conducted in Spanish.

  1. Roundtable 1 introduces the key question we were exploring: Across Latin America, protests are common, while other mechanisms for citizens to express their political voice—namely referendums and initiatives—are underutilized or used as an executive weapon. Is this due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of organizational capacity, or other reasons?
  2. Roundtable 2 moved to a discussion of the difficulties of implementing direct democracy mechanisms in Latin America, with a particular focus on the current constitutional discussion in Chile.
  3. Roundtable 3 featured officials with direct experience of referendums and initiatives in the region, focusing on the rules and institutions involved with implementing referendums.

Report on Referendums and Initiatives

Drawing on the insights from our virtual roundtables, as well as other research, our Report on Initiatives and Referendums (drafted by Yanina Welp and Laura Escuder), shares insights on the usage, implementation, and areas of reform for referendums and initiatives in Latin America.