Do referendums 'kill' reforms? Studying the aftermath of referendums on electoral reforms

GT 2.6 Instituciones electorales y representación política

Elwin REIMINK (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Sesión 1
Día: viernes,20 de septiembre de 2013
Hora: 09:00 a 11:30
Lugar: E10SEM05

Traditionally, electoral reforms are regarded as the pet projects of politicians themselves. A perceived interest of elected politicians in 'tuning' the characteristics of an electoral system to their specific benefits, and a perceived popular indifference to complex institutions like electoral system has rendered research on electoral system change skewed towards an elite perspective. In this paper, we wil look at the other extreme: those cases in which electoral reform is being held in the balance by the electorate itself, at referendums. More specifically, we will consider the question what a referendum does for a reform. While elite actors have a great interest in electoral reforms, is this interest enough to overcome or downplay the result of a referendum? Two perspectives seem to give politicians opposing incentives: electoral considerations incentivize politicians to follow the popular verdict, but strategic-mechanical considerations incentivize politicians to keep pressing for reforms. In this paper, we will study elite discourse on electoral reforms in the post-referendum period in five cases: British Columbia in 2005-2009, Ontario in 2007, New Zealand in 1992 and 1993, again New Zealand in 2011, and the United Kingdom in 2011. In each case, we will ask ourselves the question what the referendum (and its outcome) did for the political debate on electoral reform at-large. Was the question settled, or was it challenged? Did prospective reformers change tack (for example, shift their attention to another reform), or did they hold on to either adopting the reform against the popular opinion, or reversing a majority-adopted reform? In general, we will try to come a bit closer to answering the question whether popular preferences or elite interests prevail in these debates.

Palabras clave: referendums, electoral reforms, agenda development