Referendums are often viewed as a threat to the rights of minorities. Empirical studies, so far, have tried to deal with the impact of referendums on minorities and civil rights at the subnational level by comparing either referendum or policy outcomes across subnational units. These units are, however, often constrained by the national level of government. Hence, to understand the full effect of referendums on minority policies, cross-national comparisons are required. Based on existing game-theoretical models, we argue that referendums and initiatives push policies towards the voters' preferences, either by protecting minority rights or reducing them. We test this proposition with national-level information on preferences and institutions as well as minority policies from countries spanning the whole globe.