The Constitution Unit


Regulating Debate in Elections and Referendums

15 May 2018

There is wide concern about the quality of debate that precedes elections and referendums. Campaigners' claims are often seen as false or misleading. Many voters feel they cannot find reliable information on the options before them. But what can be done to improve this situation? The Constitution Unit is currently undertaking a research project, funded by the McDougall Trust, to answer this question. 

This seminar is an opportunity to explore some of the emerging ideas and hear how this issue is tackled in other countries. Should there be a 'truth commission' that could call out campaigners who make false claims? Should there be public information provision and, if so, what should it contain? Could NGOs do more to improve the information available to voters? Can citizens be involved more directly in election and referendum debates?  

The seminar will draw on evidence from elections and referendums in the UK and around the world. It will also focus particularly on the innovative approach to referendum campaigning that is adopted in Ireland, where a major referendum on the liberalisation of abortion law takes place on 25 May.


  • Prof Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit and Director of the Research Project 'Discourse during Election and Referendum Campaigns'
  • Dr Jane Suiter, Director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University and expert on referendums in Ireland
  • Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Labour Peer and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe 

Chair: Prof Robert Hazell, Professor of Government and the Constitution, The Constitution Unit