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Department of Political Science

Research on EU Referendums

Publications on EU treaty referendums

Exploring the Irish vote on Lisbon (Cees van der Eijk and Michael Marsh)

Paper prepared for presentation at the meeting of the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties Group of the Political Studies Association, Glasgow, August 28-30, 2009

This paper sets out to provide some explanations for the vote on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, using data from a survey conducted just after the referendum and before the public debate on the causes of the results had taken hold. It does so by using two rather different techniques, regression analysis and LCA to establish not just what the key factors seemed to be, but also how far voters were all driven by the same logic. As far as explanatory factors are concerned our findings contrast somewhat with those of other research in many of the details about voters concerns, but do reinforce other work in highlighting the importance of concerns about the effects of the treaty, concerns that we argue were rather diffuse. The Flash Eurobarometer survey carried out immediately after the vote found people believed the no side had fought a better campaign and our results underline that judgement. We do find evidence that people’s general orientations towards the EU did play a significant role, so ‘issues’ mattered, but we also find that dissatisfaction with the government played a part: there was a protest vote. However, we also find in the second part of our analysis that the electorate was somewhat heterogeneous, and that for some general concerns about identity were significant. The inter-relationships between identity, support for more integration and concerns about this particular treaty produced cross pressures on many voters, many of whom responded by voting no.

‘Why the voters said said no’ Sunday Business Post June 22, 2008 [Michael Marsh, Cees van der Eijk and John Garry]

Associated charts

‘Referendum Campaigns: Changing What People Think or Changing What They Think About?’ in,  Claes de Vreese ed, The Dynamics of Referendum Campaigns, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 63 – 83  [Michael Marsh]

This chapter sets out to see how far a change in the content and intensity of a referendum campaign has an impact on the bases of popular choice. The two Nice referendums in Ireland provide a particularly appropriate site for such an investigation given that it saw two votes on essentially the same question within a short space of time, with two very different outcomes following two discernibly different campaigns. In particular, we want to see whether the more intensive campaign might have shifted the emphasis to issues and, to the extent that people voted on the issues, and the campaign on the pro side was much more extensive, were those issues on the second occasion different ones, and ones which helped the pro side more. We examine whether a more intensive campaign would produce a more predictable election where issues and political cue givers had a greater impact on the vote. Finally, we want to know how far the campaign seemed simply to create – or coincide with – a much more favourable basis for the Nice vote, with a set of distributions on potentially critical allegiances and opinions that strengthened the chances of a yes vote. We start our analysis by looking for evidence that would suggest that this more helpful climate. Essentially, there was little evidence of such a shift. Indeed, in as much as satisfaction with the government dropped sharply the climate was more hostile, and there were no clear shifts in other opinions that might outweigh that change, although voters did feel more informed about Nice. It is apparent that vote choice was more predictable, with pseudo R2 increasing by between eight and 15 points between the two votes. A similar shift is in evidence within the Nice I campaign. As the electorate becomes more informed, both about the issues and where parties and governments stand on these issues, it is easier to understand how people vote.

“'Second Order' Verses 'Issue Voting' Effects in EU Referendums: Evidence from the Irish Nice Treaty Referendums”, European Union Politics, 6 (2) 2005, pp. 201 - 221[John Garry, Michael Marsh and Richard Sinnott]

Are referendums on EU treaties decided by voters’ attitudes to Europe (the ‘issue-voting’ explanation) or by voters’ attitudes to their national political parties and incumbent national government (the ‘second-order election model’ explanation)? In one scenario, these referendums will approximate to deliberative processes that will be decided by people’s views of the merits of European integration. In the other scenario, they will be plebiscites on the performance of national governments. We test the two competing explanations of the determinants of voting in EU referendums using evidence from the two Irish referendums on the Nice Treaty. We find that the issue-voting model outperforms the second-order model in both referendums. However, we also find that issue-voting was particularly important in the more salient and more intense second referendum. Most strikingly, attitudes to EU enlargement were much stronger predictors of vote at Nice 2 than at Nice 1. This finding about the rise in importance of attitudes to the EU points to the importance of campaigning in EU referendums.

 ‘Referendum Outcomes and Trust in Government: Public support for Europe in the Wake of Maastricht’, West European Politics, 18(3) 1995 pp. 101-117 [Mark Franklin, Cees van der Eijk and Michael Marsh]

The referenda conducted in France and Denmark in 1992 to ratify the Maastricht Treaty are often seen as giving evidence of 'true' attitudes towards Europe. In this paper we dispute this assumption, presenting evidence that shows referenda in Parliamentary systems with disciplined party governments to be subject to what we call a 'lockstep' phenomenon in which referendum outcomes become tied to the popularity of the government in power, even if the ostensible subject of the referendum has little to do with the reasons for government popularity (or lack of popularity). In the case of the Maastricht referenda in France and Denmark, the apparent unpopularity of the European project in fact appears to have been nothing of the kind, but instead to have reflected the unpopularity of ruling parties in both countries. A referendum conducted at about the same time in Ireland, where the government was more popular, achieved a handsome majority, as did the referendum conducted a year later in Denmark after a more popular government had taken office. The mechanisms involved are elucidated by means of survey data.

‘Uncorking the Bottle: Popular Opposition to European Unification in the Wake of Maastricht’, Journal of Common Market Studies Vol 33 Dec 1994 pp. 455-472 [Mark Franklin, Michael Marsh and Lauren McLaren]

‘Rejoinder to Siune and Svensson: The Danish referendum of June 1992’ Electoral Studies 13 (2) 1994 pp. 117-121(Mark Franklin, Chris Wlezien and Michael Marsh)

Last updated: Feb 14 2018