Matt Qvortrup
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The world history of referendums
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This chapter traces the history of the referendum from its earliest origins to its present-day use or, some would say, abuse. After a tour d'horizon of the earlier use of the direct democracy, it presents a historical overview of the use of referendums from the Renaissance through to the First World War. Despite the term's earlier use, the referendum began to be used in earnest only in the nineteenth century, when the Italian Risorgimento and the early years of the Swiss Federation (after 1848) essentially owed their existence to the use of the referendum. Having analysed these cases, the chapter takes a closer look at the discussion about the referendum in the United Kingdom and the European continent. Drawing on a functionalist-inspired model, it ends with reflections and research on why there has been an apparent increase in the use of the referendum since the 1980s.

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