Referendum or plebiscite : what’s the difference?

Rose, Richard (2015) Referendum or plebiscite : what’s the difference? The UK in a Changing Europe, London. (

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The words referendum and plebiscite refer to electoral institutions in which the mass of the population votes on an issue. However, they have very different political connotations. Plebiscite is a negative term referring to an unfair and unfree vote in an undemocratic political system. It was a favourite device of French Emperors Napoleon Bonaparte and Louis Napoleon to endorse their charismatic leadership. Hitler and Mussolini held plebiscites in which rejection of the dictator’s proposal was unthinkable.


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