An extended version of this post was originally published in the Policy Briefing section of Discover Society which is provided in collaboration with the journal Policy & Politics. The original post is available at http://discoversociety.org/category/policy-briefing/.
Referendums are increasingly used worldwide to allow citizens to directly decide about important policy issues. However, there is growing concern about whether citizens are properly informed when they make their choice in these usually complex referendum questions. For example, many commentators and editorials have argued in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum that facts and scientific evidence was politicised and not correctly used during the referendum campaign. Citizens, so it is argued, had made their decisions based on twisted facts.
However, in the context of a referendum campaign, facts, data and scientific evidence are always used politically. In other word, politicians, interest groups and governments always select those findings and data that fit their position and interpret scientific evidence in accordance with their political conviction. So yes, scientific evidence is politicized in referendum campaigns, but is this necessarily a bad thing? Based on the findings of a multiyear research project on the political use of scientific evidence in Swiss direct-democratic campaigns, I argue that scientific evidence, even when politically used, has the potential to enrich a referendum campaign in several ways. Continue reading