Romania has recently held a referendum to ban gay unions that eventually failed despite extended voting period (two days instead of only one).

The reason of its failure was the low voter turnout (well below 30% threshold) which was triggered by an active campaign for boycotting the referendum (mainly from one opposition party and various NGOs).

President has cast his vote in the last hours of the allocated time and some wondered why he has done so since he is pro-European and also in conflict with the parties in power (he was always sustained by the main opposition party) who have partially sustained the referendum (government ordinance to extend voting period, some campaign for it, the leader urging people to go and vote).

Question: Is there any unwritten rule within democracies that high officials should cast a vote in spite of boycotting being a more ideologically appropriate option?

  • 1
    Why was boycott "more ideologically appropriate"? Was it just because it was a referendum which needed votes in order to be effective at all? That may be unlike most elections, which are effective (consequential) even when only few people vote.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 10:59
  • @ChrisW - It is known that Romania is quite a conservative country when speaking about LGBT rights. Also, all referendums that obtained the required votes (50% until a few years ago, 30% after) were approved (more "Yes" votes than "No"). So, it was highly probable that reaching 30% meant approval. That's why the only rational way to oppose it was to not go to voting and that is exactly what happened (thus the lowest turnover in all referendums since 1990 till now).
    – Alexei
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 11:04

2 Answers 2


For the reasons you mention in this comment it does sound sensible to not-vote if you wanted to defeat that referendum.

Usually an election result (unlike a referendum) is valid, though, no matter how few people vote.

Voter participation or turnout is low in many countries (e.g. below 50% in the States). There are campaigns in many countries to increase turnout -- some partisan ("if you want to vote for me, then vote") and some non-partisan ("whoever you want to vote for, do your duty as a citizen and vote") -- see e.g. Get out the vote.

Voting may be equated with civic duty (civic duty in general, partisan loyalty in particular), so when political leaders cast a vote that's a (IMO small) news item (and news at a time when, before the votes are counted, there's no other more interesting election-related news to report).

That's in general -- I don't know what his motive was in this particular vote/country.

  • Voter participation or turnout is low also in Romania, so during elections many actors (parties, NGOs, journalists) urge people to go voting. The message is exactly what you said: voting = civic duty. Indeed mass-media covered quite well voted cast by the high officials (President, Prime Minister, others from the Government).
    – Alexei
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 12:27

I don't think it's an unwritten rule, it's self-interest.

Someone in an elected position would prefer "vote for the thing you want" to be the default in people's minds over "don't vote for the thing you dislike".

You don't get re-elected if people who agree with you boycott that vote.

  • So, if I understood correctly, politicians must encourage voting regardless of the options. Even so, the President implicitly did not encourage going to vote by delaying his voting as much as possible.
    – Alexei
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 10:59
  • @Alexei it's not a must, it's a they have a vested interested in
    – Caleth
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 11:00
  • yes, by "must" I mean it is strongly recommended that you do it.
    – Alexei
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 11:04

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