A referendum, a direct popular vote taken on a particular political issue, is a powerful tool for determining public opinion. For this reason many political leaders avoid the use of referenda, fearing that the results would be contrary to their own wishes. They argue that referenda are expensive, unwieldy, and do not give a true picture of what the public wants. Yet by refusing to hold a referendum on a given issue, leaders are in fact refusing the public all say in the matter.
Other political leaders abuse referenda by turning them into emotional appeals to public opinion, possibly accompanied by demagoguery or fear. Public opinion may be largely uninformed about the issue, its finer points or the alternatives, yet by voting for it or against it, the public gives (or refuses) the government a mandate to continue and accomplish a given policy objective, the consequences of which may be unknown to them. Referenda have been used effectively to give 'concensus' to dictatorial regimes or the regimes which follow from coups d'etat.
The referendum was used by Napoleon I to ratify his political power in 1804. Subsequent French rulers, up to and including Charles de Gaulle, also used it.