Taking Cues on Europe? Voter competence and party endorsements in referendums on European integration


Sara Binzer Hobolt, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK. Tel.: +44 (0)1865 278830; E-mail: sara.hobolt@politics.ox.ac.uk


Abstract.  One of the criticisms often levelled against direct democracy is that citizens lack sufficient knowledge to vote directly on policy issues. The ‘No’ votes in the French and Dutch referendums on the Constitutional Treaty have highlighted the importance of examining voter competence in referendums. This article proposes a theoretical framework for evaluating competence in EU referendums. It suggests that competent voting in EU referendums is based on issue-specific preferences and requires political information. Since most voters have little detailed knowledge of European integration, they rely on heuristics and cues when deciding how to vote. The important question is how much and which type of information voters require to make competent choices. This article examines whether and under what conditions the use of party endorsements as information cues can enhance competent voting in EU referendums. These theoretical questions are examined in an analysis of the 1994 Norwegian referendum on EU membership.