My negative example...I wrote that paper right around the time of the British referendum on the alternative vote. You have to understand, first of all, the government's purpose—or at least the Conservative half of the government's purpose—in that referendum was to basically defeat the proposal. That was its agenda. Second, the campaign was almost as chaotic as the Brexit campaign: loaded with disinformation. I'll give you a little example. This is more of an anecdote, I guess, but it says what I mean.
They won. They tried to have some controls on the British campaign in 2011—spending controls as well as advertising controls and so on. The campaign started on a particular date, when the rules came into effect. On day one of the campaign, the leader of the “no” campaign held a press conference, and she announced that they were against AV because it would cost three billion pounds to implement it. People had no idea what they were talking about. But the signal beginning of the campaign was not whether this was a good system or a bad system or desirable or an improvement or anything; rather, it was this out-of-left-field assertion that it was going to be very expensive.
Then, they tried to figure this out over the next few days. It turned out that what she was saying was that they would need voting machines to implement it, and the purchase of voting machines for the whole country would be very, very expensive. Well, it took three weeks, basically, to get rid of that assertion, but the damage had already been done.
I wrote a piece on a blog at that time, before I wrote the paper that you've referenced, which referred to that as the disinformation campaign. The main tactic that was used to defeat the proposal was simply disinformation. You can put out this nonsense, in many cases, and it sticks. It sticks, and you don't have enough time to recover from it in a short campaign.
That's the kind of risk of a referendum. In the piece I wrote that you quoted—and thank you for citing it—the point I wanted to make is that referendums, to be effective as a democratic device, have to be more deliberative. You have to really engage citizens and get them to seriously think about or deliberate an issue. That takes time, it takes information, and it often takes a very extensive publicly funded information campaign. But referendums are contests to win. When you get involved in a short referendum campaign, one side or the other is trying to win, and we saw that again with Brexit.
Disinformation is the main vehicle. We're used to negative campaigning in elections. There's plenty of negative campaigning in referendums as well. It's a very, very effective tactic. If you're setting out to defeat a proposal, disinformation is one of your best tools. So I tried to think about how to limit that, or prevent it, if possible.