Are referendums a sensible mechanism for making decisions in a representative democracy?
A referendum is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision . In contrast, a representative democracy is where citizens within a country elect representatives to make decisions on behalf of them in the form of mp’s as is the case in the UK. Although the UK occasionally incorporates referendums, it has only held 11 national referendums since 1973 and thus largely operates as a representative democracy whereby the passage of legislation requires approval from parliament. However, the current electoral system arguably alienates specific voters which is a common feature of majoritarian systems and therefore citizens don’t feel as empowered in policy making and so many have advocated further referendum use whilst acknowledging that elected officials are indispensable in a representative democracy. ( Representative government in modern europe,2011)
It could be argued that referendums are suitable when it pertains to making decisions in a representative democracy. Although the 2015 general election recorded the highest voter turnout since 1997, there is a growing disparity between the proportion of older and younger voters as younger voters are less likely to cast a vote which is a testament to the declining engagement with the political process and this has led to calls for reform and thus a subsequent transition to more frequent referendum use. (The guardian,2016) This trend is also reflected in Germany whereby 51% under age 30 support direct democracy. (public opinion and direct democracy,2011) In addition, since 1945, Switzerland has held 416 referendums at a national and regional level and still remains a wealthy country with a stable government despite not being a member of the Eu and thus not surrendering sovereignty to representative institutions within the Eu so implementing referendums at a national level will not necessarily lead to instability within the political system. (representative government in modern Europe 2011)
Similarly, referendums might be necessary in a modern democracy which places greater precedence on a representative form of government due to the current state of the electoral system whereby citizens are less engaged as well as the occurrence of wasted wasted votes which is prevalent in majoritarian systems and was evident in 2015 general election whereby UKIP gained 3.8 million votes however only won one seat. (the politics of direct democracy,2002) Therefore the views conveyed by elected officials do not accurately reflect public opinion due to the disparity in the vote to seat ratio whereas referendums enhance the democratic process and is therefore a symbolic reminder that democratic authority ultimately resides with its citizens who democratically elect its leaders. (parliament,2010)As a result, questions that concern national sovereignty as well as social...