What Is Democracy

The best known definition of democarcy was by Abraham Lincoln who described democracy as being 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people'

(Information from Neil McNaughton Edexcel AS Government and Politics) 

1) Government of the people- Expect most citizens are able to participate in political activity (by being active in parties, pressure groups or by being aware of politics and letting our political views to be known).  Everyone has the opportunity to participate, even if they do not wish to do so. Meaning we can describe this aspect as participatory democracy. It is claimed that if citizens cease to be active in politics, democracy will wither and die. 

2) Government by the people- People themselves make important decisions that affect them. In effect we could describe this as Direct Democracy. However, government of the people are usually senitive to public opinion.

3) Government for the people- Who ever governs us does so in our best interest. They are not governing in their own interest, nor do they only concern themselves with one section of society. This is more commonly known as a representative democracy. Our representatives MP's, ministers and so on are accountable to the people, we usually entrust government to them. 

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Importance of Democracy

(With a 10 mark question, choose 4 and explain with examples).

1) Democracy establishes and protects freedom- based on the principle the mankind should be free- the new democratic spirit was carried forward by the French and the Americans. The French Revolution of 1789 was a bold attempt to fee the people from the autocratic rule of the monorchy. Americans fought to establish freedoms against British rule under George III. The constitution that they wrote and approved in 1787 enshrined freedoms of the individual in a form of government that could certainly be described as a representative democracy. Today, democracy ensures that no government can threaten freedom unless it is an expressed consent of the people. 

The so called 'Arab spring' of 2011 and stretching into 2012 saw the people of a number of Arab states including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, rising up to try and overthrow authoritarian regimes and replace them by some form of popular democracy. 

2) Democracy protects minorities-  To have an effective democracy, the system must take into account the interests and demands of the minorites.  Democracy ensures that all groups have access to the political process, in which case it is often known as a pluralist democracy. It also guarantees that minorities have a free voice and free from descrimination. Democracy however can be described as being ruled by the minorities and described as 'rule by the minority', minorities are not protected. John Mill described this as 'tyranny of the majority'. 

3) Democracy controls government powers - Well established belief that power tends to corrupt those who wield it. Democracy prevents this. By making governments accountable to the people, by ensuring that they must submit themselves regularly to re-elections, and by guaranteeing that they are controlled by elected representatives.

4) Democracy encourages popular participation-  Believed tyranny is avoided by ensuring that the people are able to freely participate in politics. In a free democracy the people have the opportunity to become informed and directly involved in influencing decision making. An uninformed population is vulnerable to autocratic government. Democarcy prevents this.

5) Democracy disperses power more widely- when power becomes excessively concentrated in the hands of a small number of people or organisations, it is almost inevitable that power is denied to a wider range of the population. This is a severe danger to democratic principles. For in many regimes power lies in the hands of small elited such as BurmaSyria and China. When power is dispersed widely among people and non-governmental associations in what is called civil society, democracy is well served.

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Political Participation

1) Simply being informed about issues

2) Contributing to online forums or petitions (on gov website or other such like) 

3) Voting in various elections

4) joining a pressure group

5) Taking part in physical or e-petitions

6) joining a political party 

7) becoming active in a party 

8) being active in a pressure group (key feature of democracy) 

9) standing for political office. 

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Encourage greater participation

Labour through Active Citizenship (1990's)- duty of all citizens to be politically active. 

Conservatives through Big Society, David Camerons idea where the people get more involved and rely less on government. He has done this through the use of free schools (There are now more than 400 free schools either open or approved. If re-elected, the Conservatives say, they will approve 500 more by 2020). which will be run by local community. 

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Reduction of participation and membership


1992- 77.7%

2001- 59.4%

2010- 65.2%

2015- 66.1%

Party membership (of all parties)- 

1980- 1,693,156

2006- 560,000

2010- 397,000

2015-  383,800 (results from January 2015) 

(Membership of the three main political parties is at a historic low: less than 1% of the UK electorate is now a member of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Party.)

 Latest membership estimates from the parties suggest that the Conservative Party has 149,800 members, the Labour Party 190,000 and the Liberal Democrat Party 44,000. 

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Representative democracy


1) Univeral Suffrage

2) free, fair and regular elections 

3) pressure groups 

4) Tolerance to a variety of views.


1) free, fair and regular elections at all levels.

2) People doing the job are well educated about politics and current matters.

3) More practical in larger society 

4) enables society to have democratic characteristics. 


1) Lord Halisham described representative democracy as 'elective dictatorship'.

2) Government not very representative as has more white, upper class, males. Rather than Women or those of different ethnic groups.

3) Dont always put the wants and needs of the people first.

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