Was Brexit’s 50% threshold too low?

By: | Post date: June 25, 2016 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Countries

A referendum that is of epochal consequence for a polity needs to be decisive, in order to settle the issue, instead of converting the referendum to a neverendum. Which is why referendums to change constitutions (for those countries that have them) don’t have a 50% threshold; and why federal polities require enhanced majorities of states as well as votes. And given how disruptive the consequences are, the dice do indeed need to be loaded against change, whoever is advocating it.

That’s not Athenian democracy, but neither is anything else in Britain or the West. That is a reasonable check and balance on a popular vote, in favour of stability.

What Cameron was thinking when he came up with this particular referendum is irrelevant to that. The nuttiness of the British political system, whereby you can have a referendum but not deem it binding, is also irrelevant to that.


  • John Cowan says:

    The California Constitution can be amended by a simple majority vote, and 8% of the electorate (measured by the number of people who voted in the last election for governor) suffice to get a proposal on the ballot. Not surprisingly, it has been amended about 500 times since 1879, and currently runs to over 100 pages.

    • David Marjanović says:

      “Minor” amendments to the Austrian constitution can be done by a 2/3 majority in parliament. The governing coalition had more than 2/3 of the seats for a long time, and routinely “elevated laws to constitutional rank” to prevent future governments from tampering with them. Consequently, nobody even knows where the constitution ends – this is not an exaggeration.

      Also, “minor” is not defined. Some experts believe the many, many “minor” changes amount to at least one “major” one, which would have required a referendum that never happened…

      • opoudjis says:


        That is not good. That is a serious abuse of what a constitution is, in fact.

        I’d argue that having a government with a 2/3 majority in parliament is not a good thing either.

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