Street protests are a wasteful activity: people walk on the streets for hours, wasting their own time, as well as the time of cops and drivers. They do this in order to have the government change its policy, but the government cannot know for sure whether the protesters represent a majority or just a loud minority, so even a well-intending government cannot really accept the protesters' requests.

A much more efficient method to achieve the same goal is a referendum: instead of hours on the street, you spend just several minutes in the polling booth; then the outcomes are clear and accurate, and if your opinion wins a majority, the government is obliged to accept it.

Therefore I would expect that a country with more referndums will have fewer street protests, as people who can affect the policy through a referendum will have much less incentives to waste their time on the streets. An extreme example of such a country is Switzerland, in which every 100,000 citizens can force a referendum on any topic. This gives rise to the empirical question in the title:

Are there fewer street protests in Switzerland than in other democratic countries?

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    "instead of hours on the street, you spend just several minutes in the polling booth" - well, no, first somebody has to draft a referendum question and collect 100,000 signatures, something that probably requires spending hours on the street trying to win support. One might also consider that a protest can be organised and staged within hours, whereas referenda are likely to take several months - not very useful if the issue is time-critical.
    – G_B
    Commented May 29 at 11:28
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    What is the bar for "democratic" countries? A country where the leaders are elected by vote from the population? Some countries may have fewer protests because protests are discouraged, such as DPRK.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented May 29 at 13:37
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    Street protests are a wasteful activity / A much more efficient method to achieve the same goal is a referendum: is a lot of opinion here. Though the 3rd paragraph is justified enough: as a nation with an alternative way to initiate government policy does Switzerland statistically have less street protests than its peers? is a very valid Q. Also, there are non violent, non coercive, street protests and there are violent or coercive ones (blocking a bridge say). Concerning the first kind, you don't have spend hours on the street, no one forces you. Commented May 29 at 18:39
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    @O.R.Mapper A national-wide poll is much, much, much more expensive than a protest. Even if it's a really violent protest with thousands of people burning things and destroying property, recquiring hundreds of police operatives the total cost is a rounding error compared to the cost of organizing a nationwide voting, even in a small nation. As such, any country which allows popular initiative votes wants to make sure the issue is important enough to justify the cost. Recquiring a long and tedious preparation to prove the referendum is worthy to have is not a bug of the system, it's a feature.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented May 30 at 7:01
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    @Rekesoft And even if it were possible to run referenda for no monetary cost via magical e-voting technology and combining them with scheduled elections/etc., there are still good reasons for not making it too easy to put them on the ballot. If people have to vote on a hundred different referendum questions every few months, most voters aren't going to be able to give every question serious scrutiny, and that increases the risk of bad measures getting through either by accident or via intentional abuse of the process.
    – G_B
    Commented May 30 at 8:52

1 Answer 1


Extrapolation from a single case is weak methodology. I'm not sure that anyone has compared the number of referenda to the number of street protests in a systematic way. Data on street protests is also thin.

Data from 2020 covering 30 European countries does not show obvious support. The raw number of street protests in Switzerland is quite average. Hungary had slightly fewer, even though their population is larger.

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    I wouled also think "street protest" a nebulous enough category that a researcher could eqasily swing the numbers simply by how they classify some event. "The event in ___ on ___ wasn't a protest, it was a rally!" Commented May 29 at 20:42

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