Better Think Twice: Assessing the Short-Term Effects on Political Support of a Local Level Referendum

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Consultative referendums are a widely used democratic innovation, continuously applied as a way of increasing the democratic legitimacy for a specific policy decision. In Finland, consultative referendums have even become an integral part of the decision-making processes at the municipal level. Since it became possible to organize local-level consultative referendums in the early 1990s, over 60 referendums have been conducted, with most of them being about proposed municipality mergers. Nevertheless, the result of consultative referendums is only indicative. Hence, the decision-makers can freely choose whether they follow or ignore the results of the referendum. Nevertheless, we still have very limited knowledge about whether a referendum experience contributes to any changes in political attitudes among the population. The research purpose with this study is therefore to explore the effects of a local level referendum on political support.
We seek too empirically assess the effects of a municipality-level consultative referendum on various forms of political attitudes within a municipal context. We are thus interested in how a local referendum experience affects political efficacy and political trust. Furthermore, we are explicitly interested in assessing to what extent it matters whether a citizen has been on the winning or on the losing side of the referendum issue. For this research purpose we have chosen to utilize unique survey data from Korsholm, Finland, collected by the authors in 2018 (N = 6686), 12 months prior to a referendum, and in 2020 (N = 3133), 18 months after a referendum was conducted. This provides us with a unique opportunity to provide answers to our research questions. Our findings show that the aggregated levels of political support have increased, but that the effects vary based on being on the winning or losing side of the referendum.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages32
Publication statusSubmitted - 6 May 2021
MoE publication typeO2 Other
EventStatsvetardagarna: Demokratins kris och framtid - Åbo Akademi, Åbo, Finland
Duration: 10 May 202112 May 2021


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  • referendums
  • minorities
  • public opinion
  • Democracy
  • local democracy
  • local government
  • merger


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