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Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

10. Elections and Referendums  

Michael Gallagher

This chapter focuses on the two main opportunities that people have to vote in most societies: elections and referendums. Elections are held to fill seats in parliaments or to choose a president, whereas referendums allow citizens to decide directly on some issue of policy. Elections are the cornerstone of representative democracy, and referendums are sometimes regarded as the equivalent of ‘direct democracy’. In practice, referendums are used only as an option in systems of representative democracy. The chapter first provides an overview of elections and electoral systems, focusing on electoral regulations and the main categories of electoral systems, namely single-member plurality, alternative vote, two-round system, and proportional representation. It then examines the rules under which elections are held, as well as the consequences of this variation. It also considers the use of the referendum and its potential impact on politics.