View Full Version : Referendum vs. plebiscite?
01-28-2000, 09:38 AM
What's the difference, if any, between a referendum and a plebiscite? Are they just alternate words for the same concept?
01-28-2000, 09:53 AM
If I understand correctly, it's probably more of a technical difference than anything. Technically, a plebiscite is a vote on an issue, while a referendum is a vote on a specific law.
01-28-2000, 11:47 AM
There also seems to be a usage difference: "plebiscites" only seem to take place in countries other than the US.
Wonder if there's any reason for that.
01-28-2000, 11:53 AM
The distinction seems pretty clear according to Merriam-Webster on-line: http://www.m-w.com/
Inflected Form(s): plural ref·er·en·da /-d&/; or -dums
Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, neuter of referendus, gerundive of referre to refer
1 a : the principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative b : a vote on a measure so submitted
2 : a diplomatic agent's note asking for government instructions
Pronunciation: 'ple-b&-"sIt, -s&t also -"sEt
Etymology: Latin plebis scitum law voted by the comitia, literally, decree of the common people
: a vote by which the people of an entire country or district express an opinion for or against a proposal especially on a choice of government or ruler
01-28-2000, 11:56 AM
(Hit Enter trying for the Shift key.)
We don't see plebescites in this country because we have already chosen our form of government.
We do see referenda because hoi polloi are occasionally allowed to review legislation in the general vote.
01-28-2000, 03:43 PM
The referendum is alive and kicking strong in California, where voters usually have anywhere from 7 to 15 of them at BOTH elections in even numbered years (the primary and the general). Some (especially bond issues) come from the Legislature; many come by way of petition. They call them 'Propositions'.
In California during the Progressive Era, voters were given three big political reforms: Initiative, Referendum, and Recall.
An initiative is brought out about by (supposedly) the people who gather signatures to put a law or constitutional amendment (you need more signatures for the latter) for the people to vote up or down.
A referendum is placed on the ballot by the Legislature. If the Legislature wants to amend the State constitution, the people have to vote on it in a referendum. Also bond measures and other issues which the Legislature doesn't want to decide on its own end up as referenda.
A recall is your typical "throw the bum out" election. You vote yes or no to keep the bum/saint in office. (To confuse people, "Yes" means "throw the bum out", and "no" means "keep the bum in"). If the yes votes win, then the voters have to choose from a list of candidates listed below the recall choice. The most votes there wins and there is no need for a majority. So a recalled candidate can be replaced by someone who garnered the votes of something like 10% of the voters who showed up. I don't recall any statewide recall suceeding in California, but some Assembly members have been recalled. The city of Bell Gardens booted out its whole City Council a while back.
Initiatives and referenda are the "propositions", aka the bane of Election Day in California IMO.
There were supposed to be ways to keep government out of the hands of the railroads who were dominating California politics before the Progressives took over. As time passed, the special interest groups have just managed to co-opt the initiative process for their own good.
Personally, I think paying a Legislature to decide issues is good enough for me. Just tell me if you want to amend the State constitution is all I ask.
01-28-2000, 08:16 PM
Backing up Tom's post, the only references I've ever seen to the word "plebiscite" are to the elections held in parts of Eastern Europe after the end of the First World War to determine the boundaries of the newly created states. For example, plebiscites were held to determine the German-Polish boundary in Silesia and East Prussia; they were votes to decide which government those regions would belong to or how they would be divided.
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