Democracy, UNIT 1 People and Politics

A complete set of cards to help test yourself on all the feature's of democracy needed for the exam. I have used the "Myrevisionnotes" revision guide to come up with this summary.

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What is Legitimacy?

  • The right to govern. A regime may be legitimate because it's government is widely recognised. For example, The UK government is universally recognised whereas the legitimacy of the Government of Kosovo is disputed. 
  • The degree to which a body of government can be justified in exercising power. Is the monarchy legitimate in the UK as it is not elected? 
  • In the democratic world legitimacy is normally conferred by election. It could be argued that the British Government lacks legitimacy as it is elected on a minority of the national vote. For example, it could be argued that the 2010 coalition lacked legitimacy because it did not have an electoral mandate.
  • Legitimacy is closely related to the concept of authority.
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What is consent and how can it be recognised?

Consent in politics refers to evidence that the people consent to be governed in a particular way and/or by a particular government. Consent can be conferred in these ways:

  • free, fair and frequent elections
  • Good turnout in elections.
  • distinct lack of popular dissent
  • clear demonstrations of support for the government
  • explicit referendum to adopt a particular constitution

The presence of these factors is evidence of consent.

TIP- consent and legitimacy are difficult concepts. The exam board want to see precise definitions for for some elaboration on this. Involve an explanation on why they are difficult and why their meaning can be uncertain.

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What is Citizenship?

  • The status of being a citizen grants a person the enjoyment of certain rights. For example, in a democracy these are the right to vote, to stand for office, to be granted a fair trial, to be treated equally by the law and to be guarenteed justice.
  • The enjoyment of civil liberties. For example, freedom of: expression, movement, thought and association.
  • Citizenship also carries certain duties. For example, to obey the law, pay taxes, defend country.
  • The modern idea of active citizenship is that as citizens, we also have the duty to be politically active. For example, volunteering, politically active, environmental protection.
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What is Democracy?

Any system of government where the people have access to independant information and are able to influence government decisions. It also implies that government makes itself accountable to the people. Democracy can take a number of forms, the two main being direct and representative democracy.

Features of a modern democracy

  • Peacful transition of power from one government to the next.
  • free, fair and frequent elections.
  • Free press
  • Government should be accountable to the people.
  • High degree of freedom for individuals and groups.
  • Different political ideologies and beliefs are tolerated.
  • The rule of law applies- all are qeual under the law.
  • Government operates in the broad interests of people.

Examples: UK, USA, France


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What is Direct and Representative Democracy?

In Direct Democracy, People:

  • Make decisions themselves, usually through referendums.
  • Directly consultated on political decisions. Consultative democracy
  • Take the initiative in creating political change- Popular action creates a political decision.

Referendums UK on AV May 2011. Public consultations English Local Government.

In Representative Democracy:

  • People elect representatives, delegate power to make decisions to this representative.
  • Political Parties represent different political views.
  • Pressure Groups represent different sections of society, interests and causes.
  • There are representative aassemblies that express the will of the people and of sections of society.
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How representation operates in the UK

In the UK:

  • Representation operates through MPs, they represent their constituencies in Parliament.
  • Most MPs however represent their party and it's electoral manifesto.
  • Parties have a representative function. 
  • Pressure Groups represents interests and causes.
  • The House of Commons can represent national interest.
  • The House of Lords is a vehicle for representation as many peers represent sections of society and prominent causes as well as national interest. 


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What is Pluralist and Liberal Democracy?

In a Pluralist democracy:

  • Multiple parties and political associations are allowed to operate.
  • Different political beliefs are tolerated and allowed to flourish
  • Free press
  • Power is dispersed among different individuals rather than being concentrated in one or few locations.

Example, USA

A Liberal democracy has all the features of democracy plus:

  • individual liberties are respected and protected.
  • Strong constitution that limits the powers of government.
  • Government features strong internal checks and balances.
  • High level of political tolerations.

Example, Germany                          IT IS NOT A DEMOCRACY AS LIBERALS DEFINE IT.

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Advantages of Representative Democracy

Representative democracy has the following advantages:

  • Most people do not have the time to be continually involved in politics, so they can elect representatives to act on their own behalf.
  • Representatives may have more experience, knowledge and expertise.
  • Representatives can be made accountable for their actions.
  • The demands of the people may be incoherent and contradictory. Representatives ca aggregate.
  • People react emotionally to some issues but representatives can be more rational.
  • Representatives can educate the public about political issues.
  • Different sections of society can be represented.

 Examples: MPs in UK, US congressmen and Party Politics.

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Advantages of direct democracy and referendums

Direct Democracys also has many benefits:

  • Purest form of democracy - Athens
  • Important decisions can be strengthened if they recieve the direct consent of the people. Referendums give legitimacy.
  • Referendums and direct consultation can give political education.
  • People can participate directly thus improving engagment and may strengthen citizenship.
  • When government is divided referendums can resolve conflict and secure a consensus decidion.

Examples: UK referendum on EU 1975, AV May 2011

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Disadvantages of Representative democracy

Representative Democracy has the following disadvantages. 

  •  Often enjoy length terms meaning they are not held accountable often.
  •    Simply toe the party line. Often loyal MPs are reward with higher status and pay.
  •    Representative democracy limits opportunities for participation in-between elections- perhaps the rise of pressure groups?
  •    Tendency towards elitism. Those who are in the legislature are drawn from a narrow social background
  •      Representative democracy can cause too much conflict which must be resolved by referendums.

Examples: low electoral turnount in UK since 2001 suggest loss of faith in party Politics.

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Disadvantages of direct democracy and referendums.

Direct Democracy also has problems:

  • Issues may be too complex for people to understand

British membership of the European Single Currency

  • People may vote in an emotional or irrational way.
  • If there were too many referendums people may suffer from voter fatigue and so turnout may be low. 
  • Voters may lose respect for representative institutions if they make all decisions themselves.
  • Referendums may encourage the "Tyranny of the majority"

California 2008 outlawing civil partnerships

  • Low turnout in referendum may lack legitimacy

34% turnout London Mayor referendum 1998.

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List of UK Referendums

1975: UK – Membership of the European Community referendum on whether the UK should stay in the European Community (yes)

1997: Scotland – Scottish devolution referenda on whether there should be a Scottish Parliament (yes)

1997: Wales – Welsh devolution referendum on whether there should be a National Assembly for Wales (yes)

1998: London – whether there should be a Mayor of London and Greater London Authority (yes)

1998: Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland Belfast Agreement referendum on the Good Friday Agreement (yes)

2011: Wales - Welsh devolution referendum on whether the National Assembly for Wales should gain the power to legislate on a wider range of matters (yes)

 2011: UK – AV  (no).

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Participation Crisis - Evidence and Implications

Declining turnout at elections – this damages the legitimacy of the politicians elected.  There is also damage to those elected politicians who go on to hold office and/or governmental power.

• Declining political party membership -this causes several concerns, firstly from the

lack of interest within the electorate to join a party. 

-Secondly it promotes a concern that there will be a shortage of politicians

of calibre to hold office.  

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Participation Crisis - Why?

As seen previously participation is decling and could be suggested for these reasons: 1. Growth in materialism and individualism 2. Media disinterest in detailed policy issues 3. Media cynicism towards politicians 4. Self-interested politicians 5. Remote politicians who ‘live in a different


6. Rise of ‘catch-all’ parties trying to please


7. Excessive use of ‘spin’ by politicians 8. Lack of real choice between the parties 9. Parties target voters in marginal seats, and ignore the rest. 10. Feeling that there’s little at stake during an election.

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Strengthening Democracy - Compulsory Voting

The introduction of compulsory voting for all citizens

  • Increases turnout, 
  • forces people to think about politics, 
  • people become more used to voting, 
  • results have more legitimacy.

For Example, Australlia.                           However:

  • It abuses people's freedom,
  • Results can be seen as artificial,
  • It is costly to enforce,
  • It cannot solve the problem of apathy
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Strengthening Democracy - Votes at 16

Arguments for:

  • Makes the young politically aware,
  • Improves the level of identification wiith politics,
  • It makes political education more relevant,

For example Latin America or Isle of Man. Increased Turnout.

Arguments Against

  • 16-year olds are too young to make judgment,
  • Many 16 year olds may not vote,
  • There may be a distortion of Party Policies to attract younger voters.
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Strengthening Democracy - E-Democracy

Arguments for:

  • It provides greater access to politics for citizens,
  • It can promote a more direct form of democracy,
  • E-voting may increase electoral turnout,
  • The internet provides a vast source of independant political information.

For Example, Estonia In 2005, Estonia became the first country to implement Internet voting in a nationwide election. Though it was slow to catch on, by 2011 approximately one-fourth of all votes in parliamentary elections were cast from homes or offices.

Arguments against:

  • Vulnerable to fraud and hacking
  • Illicit and false information can circulate easily
  • Those who lack technical knowledge may be left out.
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Evidence of Increasing Political participation

It could be argued that participation is in fact increasing:

  • Pressure groups are growing in number and membership

2011-CAMRA Membership reached 130,000 

  • Increase use of campaigning through social media

KONY 2012

  • Growth in direct action.

Anti- Tuition fees protest 2010

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How democratic is the UK?

  • On the one hand it is claimed to be a free and fair system which delivers strong government...however...
  • The first-past-the-post system does not fairly translate votes into seats. = FLAWED ELECTORAL SYSTEM
  • The recent rise in voter turnout (up 5% in 2010 from 2005) is a positive development, with many fresh MPs being elected to the House of Commons.  There is a cross party acknowledgement of the need to reform, this shows that the body is capable of meaningful change.


    The House of Commons fails to represent the electorate in socio-economic terms.  Furthermore, the House of Lords is entirely unelected.  Parliament often fails to hold the government to account. In addition the recent expenses/allowances scandal has damaged the credibility of the body. = FLAWED REPRESENTATIVE SYSTEM 

In the present House of Commons there are believed to be some 35 Oxford PPE-ists, compared with 20 Old Etonians

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How democratic is the UK? 2

  • Democracy in the UK is open and free, supported by a diverse and vibrant media, independent of government.Pluralist democracy is thriving with a strong pressure group presence to articulate democratic rights.


only a few elite pressure groups with money which exert undue political influence =ELITISM

  • The changes made to the political system since 1997 has made the country more democratic - changes such as devolution, referendums, proportional voting systems, the Human Rights Act and the Supreme Court.


    The House of Lords remains unelected and unaccountable, there is no codified constitution and no domestic Bill of Rights for UK citizens= HALF-HEARTED REFORM


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Assessment of methods of improving UK democracy -

Various suggestions have been made for improving democracy in the UK . These are critically assessed below:

Replace the monarchy with the elected head of state:

Arguments for:

  • Increase the democratic legitimacy of Head of State
  • Make the Head of State democratically accountable
  • An elected Head of State An elected Head of State could increase political engagment.

Arguments against:

  • A political Head of State may destabilise politics.
  • Such a Head of Statemight give too much power to the governing party.
  • The UK would lose an important historical institution. 

EXAM TIP- the exam will be looking for you to evaluate ways of improving democracy but it should be balanced.

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Assessment of methods of improving UK democracy -

Introducing an elected second chamber

Arguments for:

  • Increase the legitimacy of a second chamber.
  • A democratic second chamber would be an effective check on government power.

Arguments against:

  • An elected second chamber might be less independant.
  • It might check government excessivley.
  • It may challenge the authority of the Commons.
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Assessment of methods of improving UK democracy-Re

Reforming the Electoral system

Arguments for:

  • Proportional systems would be fairer and reduce wasted votes.
  • The H of C would be more politically representative.
  • It would increase the democratic legitimacy of MPs and Government.
  • The outcome would probably reflect the pluralist nature of politics more accuratley.

Arguments for:

  • PR would remove the important constituency-MP link.
  • Multiparty government might ensue and be less stable. It would be more difficult to form a government if no party won an overall majority.
  • There would be unpredictable consequences.
  • Voters may find it difficult to accept a new system.
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Assessment of methods of improving UK democracy- I

Increased use of referendums

Arguments for:

  • Referendums would increase political awareness.
  • They could be seen as a purer form of democracy.
  • They would improve political "Education"
  • They would increase political participation.

Arguments against:

  • Too many votes might result in "Voter Fatigue" and low turnouts.
  • The electorate might find many issues too complex to understand properly.
  • Referendums could lead to the tyranny of the majority. Minorites discriminated.
  • Voters may be irrational due to emotions.
  • Voters might lose respect for representative institutions and for political processes in general.
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