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Voting on Europe: The Potential Pitfalls of a British Referendum



As Britain prepares for a possible referendum on continued membership of the European Union, it is essential that more careful thought is paid to the dynamics of referendums. Polling data reveal the existence of a substantial knowledge deficit in the UK and other parts of the EU: large numbers of voters simply do not understand the EU. There is also reason to question the conventional view that voters can correct for such a deficit by using cues from opinion leaders and the media. The experience of recent referendums in other EU member states suggests that many voters will take part in the proposed British referendum without independent and informed knowledge of the issues at stake, that many will have been swayed by partisan elite opinion, and that many will decide on the basis of their views about domestic politics rather than their views about Europe.