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Referenda as a Catch-22

  • Political Science


The result of a referendum delivers a significant amount of information about social preferences to each composite member of the society. This paper argues that, beyond this obvious fact, the choice not to offer a referendum by an authority, although permitted to do so, may enhance as well the information individuals posses about social preferences. The addition of a referendum option in the rules of a game, that is, by enabling the authority to offer referenda at will, results in an assured re-election of authorities that implement socially beneficial policies, and in a decrease of the re-election probability of authorities that implement socially obnoxious policies. In a sense, by allowing an authority to offer referenda, an inescapable Catch-22 is introduced in the game, which inhibits the re-election of a measure of "bad" authorities and, thus, confirms that one of the main benefits of a democratic institution is the preservation of "good" authorities in power.

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