- Public support for referendums: the role of the media
- West European Politics
- Volume | Issue number
- 34 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)
Previous research is unclear about which citizens support the use of referendums and how a referendum campaign can affect support for direct democracy. This study investigates, first, the factors that determine support for referendums and, second, the role of the campaign in changing support. This is done in the context of the 2005 Dutch EU Constitution referendum. A media content analysis of national media (N = 6,370) is combined with panel survey data (N = 1,008). The results suggest that those who felt more politically disaffected were more supportive of referendums. Furthermore, higher levels of exposure to tabloid style campaign news led to increased approval of referendums. In a second step, the mechanism behind this effect was tested using an experiment (N = 580). When exposed to negative tabloid style news about a referendum proposal, opponents perceive the assumed consequences as more of a threat. This threat perception increased their support for a referendum on the issue at stake as a means to prevent the proposal. The article concludes with a discussion about the conditions under which a dynamic like this is likely to unfold and when alternative explanations for referendum support apply.
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