Referendums and Institutional Theory

  • Saskia Hollander


Most referendum research is inspired by sociological institutionalist theory and traces the use of referendums back to an alleged crisis of representative democracy. The aim of referendum research is usually not to explain why referendums are designed in different ways in different countries, nor why political actors in some countries are more likely to use them. To provide a better understanding of referendum practices, and how that varies among countries, this chapter provides an analytical framework that combines sociological institutionalism with insights from classical institutionalism, which places strong emphasis on a country’s existing institutional context, historical institutionalism, which examines the role of path dependency in choices to institutionalize and use referendums, and rational choice institutionalism, which explains referendums in terms of political actors’ strategic interests.


Classical institutionalism Historical institutionalism Sociological institutionalism Rational choice institutionalism 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saskia Hollander
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Director of Knowledge Management, The BrokerDen HaagThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Research fellow, Department of Public Administration and Political ScienceRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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