To what extent do the advantages of referendums outweigh the disadvantages? (25 Marks) A referendum (sometimes referred to as a plebiscite). Is a vote in which the electorate can express a view on a particular issue of public policy. Referendums have become more widely used since 1997 and have helped to decide controversial policies. The advantages of referendums are great, however so are the number of disadvantages. This essay shall include how the electorate could be affected by the positives and negatives of referendums.
Referendums have appealed to many members of parliament and to the population of the electorate, due to it being able to provide a pathway of communication between the government and the general public. This allows the government to keep in touch with public opinion, especially between elections. Secondly, the use of referendums gives citizens the opportunity to participate in politics, thus, creating a more educated and better informed electorate. Along with these advantages, referendums also enable the public to express views about particular political issues, which is a perk that is not available to the public during elections.
As the public can only agree to a list of policies from party manifesto’s that may not be carried out. As displayed referendums have many advantages, although they also obtain disadvantages. One of the key disadvantages of referendums is that they place political decision making in the hands of the general public, who do not have the specialist knowledge, experience, education or time to reflect meaningfully upon them to make sensible decisions in the public interest.
Referendums legitimacy is also low, as the number of members of the electorate who turnout to vote are regularly less than 50%. An example of this low turnout was demonstrated by the 2011 ‘AV for Westminister’ referendum, in which only 42% of the population took part in voting. Finally, referendums tend to simplify and morph political issues, as they reduce questions to a yes or no answer.
In conclusion, the advantages of referendums far outweigh the disadvantages as the use of referendums lets the general public have more of an influence on the government and the course in which they’re country is taking, thus, creating a form of direct democracy. The advantages also have a greater effect on long-term politics as if the country’s population is better educated on the topic of politics, the turnout at referendums/elections may increase leading to higher percentage rates of legitimacy.