All around the globe, democracies have been deciding more and more policy and constitutional issues by referendum. Referenda present voters with more complex, less easily navigable decisions than elections for office. The relative merits of referendum versus representative democracy depends partly on the degree to which referendum voters can be expected to vote sensibly—in keeping with their own values and interests. On November 6, 1999, Australia had a referendum asking Australians to vote Yes or No on a constitutional amendment to make Australia a republic, cut its remaining constitutional ties to the British Crown, and replace the Queen and governor-general with a president chosen by Parliament. The referendum was rejected by 55-45.
Weeks earlier a Deliberative Polling event was held to discuss the referendum. After deliberation, participants came to increasingly value having a president from outside politics and thought that the referendum proposal would boost Australia’s independence. Additionally, they came to decreasingly think that Australia should maintain its traditional ties with Britain. The bottom line was a huge, 16 point increase in the Yes vote, from 57 to 73 percent.