DOI: 10.1177/01925121231210048 ISSN: 0192-5121

Improving referendums with deliberative democracy: A systematic literature review

Irene Witting, Charlotte Wagenaar, Frank Hendriks
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science

This article systematically reviews the literature on combining referendums and deliberative processes. With referendums being criticized for various reasons, including their deliberative deficit, and amid the deliberative turn in democracy, various hybrid combinations of referendums and deliberative processes have been practised or suggested. We bring together the hitherto scattered literature that focuses on assumed and observed strengthening effects of deliberation in light of ascribed referendum deficits. Following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses method, we reviewed and thematically analysed 55 publications. We show that, despite their different focal points, a clear overlap exists between perceived shortcomings of referendums and the added value of deliberation. Expectations of hybridization run high, with empirical evidence emerging that shows promising positive effects. Nevertheless, non-positive effects are both anticipated and observed, and these underscore the importance of ensuring appropriate connections between aggregative and deliberative processes and of systemic embedding.

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