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Claes H. de Vreese, "Political Parties in Dire Straits? Consequences of National Referendums for Political Parties," Party Politics, 12 (September, 2006), 581-598

First Paragraph:
Common wisdom suggests that political parties are weakened by direct democracy. Indeed, it has been demonstrated how parties struggle to send (comprehensible) cues to voters in citizen initiative and referendum campaigns (e.g. Magleby, 1989; Scarrow, 1999). Though the influence of parties and political elites on the outcome of exercises in direct democracy differs greatly between different countries in Europe and the United States, a number of shared characteristics of direct democracy processes challenge political parties. This article focuses on some of the challenges that political parties face in national referendums. It outlines the key actors of a referendum and it illustrates the varying degrees of electoral volatility and uncertainty in a case with substantial past referendum experience and in a case of a first-time national referendum. The article demonstrates the, in some cases, modest direct influence that political parties can exert on providing its voters with cues. Finally, the degree to which voters follow the referendum endorsement of political parties in a referendum is assessed and we analyse which voters tend to follow the recommendation of their preferred party and which voters do not.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Late deciders: significant proportion of the electorate takes voting decision late in referendum campaigns
Table 2. Parties without citizens: most citizens experience referendum campaigns through the media
Table 3. Dissidents: voter-party alignment
Table 4. Who follows the party recommendation? And who does not?
Table 5. Party leader (un)popularity: consequences of referendum campaigns

First Paragraph of Conclusion:
This article has shown why and in what ways political parties are challenged in national referendums. Even though the dichotomous choice facing voters in a referendum is simpler than it is in most general elections, political parties often send ambiguous cues to voters. The volatility of a referendum varies in accordance with several structural and situational factors (LeDuc, 2002, 2003), and at the level of voters the degree of volatility and uncertainty in a referendum campaign is expressed by the fact that many voters make their decision on which way to vote during the campaign and in some cases even in the very last days of the campaign.

last updated February 2007