Referendum Practice in Sweden

  • Saskia Hollander


This chapter discusses referendum practice in Sweden – a consensus democracy where between 1950 and 2017 five referendums were held. It does so on the basis of this study’s six independent variables. The chapter shows that Swedish referendum practice is closely embedded in the country’s consensus-oriented polity where minority-governments are the rule. Occasionally, referendums have proved to be a necessary instrument when the process of consensus-building failed. The long-dominant position of the Sweden’s Social Democratic Party (the SAP) – generally opposed to holding referendums – portrays an important reason why only five votes were held. The referendums held were either triggered at a time when the SAP was not in power, or when parties – including the SAP – were unable to pursue a policy outcome due to intra-coalition divisions.


Sweden Consensus democracy Social Democratic Party Conflict-mediation 


  1. Anttila, A.-H., and P. Sulkunen. 2001. The Inflammable Alcohol Issue: Alcohol Policy Argumentation in the Programs of Political Parties in Finland, Norway and Sweden from the 1960s to the 1990s. Contemporary Drug Problems 28: 49–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aylott, N. 2002. Let’s Discuss This Later: Party Responses to Euro-division in Scandinavia. Party Politics 8 (4): 441–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bergman, T. 1993. Formation Rules and Minority Governments. European Journal of Political Research 23 (1): 55–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernitz, U. 2001. Sweden and the European Union: on Sweden’s Implementation and Application of European Law. Common Market Law Review 38 (4): 903–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bjørklund, T. 1996. The Three Nordic 1994 Referenda Concerning Membership in the EU. Cooperation and Conflict 31 (1): 11–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bogdanor, V. 1994. Western Europe. In Referendums Around the World: The Growing Use of Direct Democracy, ed. D. Butler and A. Ranney, 24–97. Washington, DC: AEI Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Closa, C. 2007. Why Convene Referendums? Explaining Choices in EU Constitutional Politics. Journal of European Public Policy 14 (8): 1311–1332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Donovan, T., and J.A. Karp. 2006. Popular Support for Direct Democracy. Party Politics 12 (5): 671–688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eichhorn, J., C. Hübner, and D. Kenealy. 2016. The View from the Continent: What People in Other Member States Think About the UK’s EU Referendum. Accessed 9 Apr 2016.
  10. Elgán, E., and I. Scobbie. 2015. Historical Dictionary of Sweden. 3rd ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  11. Hegeland, H. 2012. The Swedish Parliament and EU Affairs. OPAL Country Reports. Accessed 2 Dec 2015.
  12. Hellström, A., T. Nilsson, and P. Stoltz. 2012. Nationalism vs Nationalism: The Challenge of the Sweden Democrats in the Swedish Public Debate. Government and Opposition 47 (2): 186–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hug, S., and T. Schulz. 2007. Referendums and Ratification of the EU Constitution. In Direct Democracy in Europe: Developments and Prospects, ed. Z.T. Pállinger, B. Kaufmann, W. Marxer, and T. Schiller, 174–188. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jahn, D., and A.-S. Storsved. 1995. Legitimacy Through Referendum? The Nearly Successful Domino-strategy of the EU-referendums in Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway. West European Politics 18 (4): 18–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jenssen, A.T., P. Pesonen, and M. Gilljam, eds. 1998. To Join or Not to Join: Three Nordic Referendums on Membership in the European Union. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Kaufmann, B. 2011. Sweden: Better Late Than Never. Towards a Stronger Initiative Right in Local Politics. In Local Direct Democracy in Europe, ed. T. Schiller. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.Google Scholar
  17. Kurpas, S., M. Incerti, J. Schönlau, and J. De Clerck-Sachsse. 2005. What Prospects for the European Constitutional Treaty. EPIN Working Paper, 13.Google Scholar
  18. LeDuc, L. 2003. The Politics of Direct Democracy: Referendums in Global Perspective. Toronto: Broadview Press.Google Scholar
  19. Lewin, L. 1988. Ideology and Strategy: A Century of Swedish Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Louwerse, T. 2014. Unpacking ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ Parliamentarism. Paper Presented at the Joint Sessions of Workshops of the European Consortium of Political Research, Salamanca, April 10–15. Accessed 21 July 2015.
  21. Miles, L. 2005. Euro-outsiders and the Politics of Asymmetry. Journal of European Integration 27 (1): 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Miller, V., C. Taylor, and E. Potton. 2003. The Swedish Referendum on the Euro. House of Commons Research Paper 03/68, 1–32, September 15. Accessed 10 Dec 2015.
  23. Nergelius, J. 2011. Constitutional Law in Sweden. Alphen aan de Rijn: Kluwer Law International.Google Scholar
  24. Nohrstedt, D. 2009. Do Advocacy Coalitions Matter? Crisis and Change in Swedish Nuclear Energy Policy. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 20 (2): 309–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ruin, O. 1996. Sweden: The Referendum as an Instrument for Defusing Political Issues. In The Referendum Experience in Europe, ed. M. Gallagher and P.V. Uleri, 171–184. Houndmills: Macmillan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rydén, L. 2000. Ett Svenskt Dilemma: Socialdemokraterna, Centern och EG-Frågan 1957–1994. Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet.Google Scholar
  27. Rydgren, J. 2002. Radical Right Populism in Sweden: Still a Failure, But for How Long? Scandinavian Political Studies 25 (1): 27–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sandell, R., and C. Stern. 1998. Group Size and the Logic of Collective Action: A Network Analysis of a Swedish Temperance Movement 1896–1937. Rationality and Society 10 (3): 327–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schimmelfennig, F. 2014. European Integration in the Euro Crisis: The Limits of Postfunctionalism. Journal of European Integration 36 (3): 321–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sitter, N. 2009. To Structure Political Conflict: The Institutionalization of Referendums on European Integration in the Nordic Countries. In Referendums and Representative Democracy: Responsiveness, Accountability, and Deliberation, ed. M. Setälä and T. Schiller, 77–97. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Slomp, H. 2011. Europe, a Political Profile: An American Companion to European Politics. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.Google Scholar
  32. Suksi, M. 1993. Bringing in the People: A Comparison of Constitutional Forms and Practices. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.Google Scholar
  33. Wallin, G. 1966. Folkomröstningsinstitutet. In Samhälle och Riksdag: Historisk och Statsvetenskaplig Framställning. Tvåkammarsystemets Omvandling, ed. A. Thomson, 261–358. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell.Google Scholar
  34. Widfeldt, A. 2004. Elite Collusion and Public Defiance: Sweden’s Euro Referendum in 2003. West European Politics 27 (3): 503–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© 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

Personalised recommendations