The World of Referendums

2023 edition

Yearly Referendum Database (RDB) report

Salim Brüggemann

Robin Gut

Uwe Serdült

Jonas Wüthrich


July 1, 2023


We are pleased to present the World of Referendums - 2023 edition report. It is the first such report compiled by a team at the Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau (ZDA) at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. The report is based on data contained in the unique Referendum Database (RDB). We define referendums as instances “(…) of a popular vote on an issue of policy that is organized by the state or at least by a state-like entity, such as the authorities of a de facto state” (Mendez and Germann 2016, 144). So defined, the referendum includes both votes on government proposals as well as citizens’ initiatives. The RDB provides an overview of institutional availability and referendum outcomes at the country level worldwide since the end of the 18th century.

In this first World of Referendums report, our aim is to provide a graphical and descriptive assessment of institutional availability and referendum practice at the global level. The report also explains how the RDB has been brought to a level allowing interested researchers to access referendum institutions and results data in a convenient way via a dedicated R package.

However, as a word of caution, we would like to remind the reader that this is a largely atheoretical data report. The data presented may reveal many interesting patterns and further avenues for future analyses based on theories and concepts from democracy studies, political economy, institutionalism and comparative public policy.

First, an introduction to the RDB and its history is given. Then we conduct a comparative analysis with a number of parameters: The number and share of referendums over time, trends in their use, as well as a categorization by regime type, turnout, and topic.

This report has been thoroughly compiled and checked by the authors. Any mistakes that remain are our own. We are aware that the database may contain inconsistencies or missing events. This is why we are grateful for your critical feedback , either using annotations or via e-mail at .