Differences between a Direct and a Representative Democracy

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Political Science Paper

14 March 2016.

Democracy refers to a government structure whereby citizens govern themselves by participating in the passage and formulation of laws. Equality and freedom are the key pillars of a democratic government. It is important to note that there are various forms of democracy, key among them being a representative and direct democracy.


In direct (also called pure) democracy, citizens typically propose, decide, and alter constitutional laws as the need arises. They initiate referendums and may choose to remove from power public officials who are not performing their duties as expected. On the other hand, a representative democracy refers to a form of government whereby citizens elect or vote for someone to act as their representative in the Senate or Congress.

It is important to note that in as much as citizens of both forms of the democracies mentioned above usually elect and remove public officials from office in addition to voting in referendums, the decisions of the citizens are best upheld in a direct democracy. In contrast, in a representative democracy, an elected representative can choose to ignore the decisions of those whom he or she represents, and instead act on his/ her own.

Moreover, it is worth mentioning that this system favors countries with small populations since in a direct democracy citizens tend to be very active participants in all government affairs in a manner that influences many of its key decisions. In contrast, countries with large populations usually prefer to have a representative democracy.

In summary, one realizes that direct and representative democracies differ in subtle but meaningful ways. In a direct democracy, citizens typically dictate the key decisions made by the government while in a representative democracy, citizens elect individuals to make decisions on their behalf in the government. The latter type may be disadvantageous because the elected officials may sometimes make decisions that are not in the best interest of the citizens.

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