What Is a Consultative Referendum? The Democratic Legitimacy of Popular Consultations
By Carlo Invernizzi Accetti, City University of New York
and Giulia Oskian, Yale University
We examine the democratic legitimacy of popular referendums asking whether they should be understood as bypassing or complementing representative institutions. To answer this question, we focus on the distinction between legislative referendums and consultative ones, noting that even though referendums of the latter kind are by far more prevalent from an empirical point of view, their specific role in democratic decision-making remains under-theorized in the existing literature. We therefore focus on consultative referendums as a possible way of reconciling the referendum procedure with representative democracy. First, we clarify the specific conception of representative democracy that underscores our study; second, we develop the idea that consultative referendums are to be understood to specify the political mandate of elected representatives; finally, we apply the results of this conceptual work to the case of the Greek bailout and the Brexit referendums, aiming to dispel some lingering misconceptions concerning the normative implications of their results and thereby clarifying the normative significance of our theory.