Referenda, especially those which are not constitutionally mandated, have often been used strategically in the context of both democratic and non-democratic regimes by political actors wishing to achieve specific goals. Engaging with the extant literature on the subject, this article analyses four government-sponsored referendums which took place between 2015 and 2016 in Greece, Britain, Hungary and Italy. The focus of the analysis is twofold. The first purpose is to debunk the political risk calculation underpinning the government’s decision to sponsor a referendum in each of the cases considered. The second is to suggest that the strategic use of referendum by governments in contemporary Europe can be better understood if read in light of the recent upsurge of populist movements.
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