Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: This 2,600-word entry defines the term and discusses its role in the history of Italy and other western nations. The referendum is considered the main instrument of direct democracy, because through it the people can take part directly in the legislative process. The entry describes several kind of referendums, among them constituent referendums, for approving a constitution; constitutional referendums, for amending a constitution; legislative or administrative referendums, which deal with laws and administrative acts; national referendums; and local referendums.
The second part of the entry discusses the role of the referendum in Italy and other advanced industrial nations. In the 19th century, use of the referendum was rare. In the early part of the 20th century, the progressive movement encouraged the rise of the referendum. But in Italy it was only in the 1970s that use of the referendum became more frequent. In many cases, the referendum has represented more than the resolution of a specific issue. For example, the 1974 Italian referendum on divorce not only addressed the question of annulling a marriage, but represented a struggle between two powerful political factions.