Types of Democracy

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  • Created on: 11-04-19 19:49

Direct Democracy

Direct Democracy refers to the system where people are directly involved in the political decisions that affect them.

In modern democratic states where direct democracy is prevalent, is is usually seen in the form of referendums or initiatives.

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Direct Democracy

Advantages of DD: 

  • It is seen as the 'purest' form of democracy.
  • Decisions made by the people can resolve long-standing issues (such as the UK's membership of the EU). 
  • Decisions receive direct consent from the people - and the resolutions are effectively entrenched. 

Disadvantages of DD:

  • The tyranny of the majority can occur - just because 51% of people believe something, it does not mean it is 'right'.
  • How educated are the people about the issues at hand? How open are people to the manipulation of powerful groups? 
  • It undermines the experience and mediating influence of elected officials within a representative democracy.
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Representative Democracy

Representative democracy refers to political systems in which people hand over their decision-making powers to others - usually people elected into office to perform the vital democratic functions of debating and voting on major political issues. 

The Burkean Theory of Representation emphasises that representatives are not delegates - but trustees. They are able to make decisions that are contrary to our wishes, with the expectation that they are accountable for them in future elections. 

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Representative Democracy

Advantages of RD:

  • ER tend to have expertise and experience that many voters may lack.
  • With more regular involvement in the decision-making process, elected representatives may be more likely to consider issues rationally, objectively and with long term national interests in mind
  • Along with elected office come expectations of responsible behaviour and accountability. 

Disadvantages of RD:

  • ER may may be swayed in their decision-making by party loyalty or other allegiances. 
  • ER may place personal, subjective views over the effective representation of their constituents. 
  • Representative democracy is only as good as the mechanism that turn votes into seats. (FPTP means fair representation is not often met.)
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What are the problems with the UK's representative

  • General elections do not produce accurate translations of votes to seats: the lack of proportionality of the voting system used to elect MPs to Parliament produces majority party governments based on minorities of support. In 2017, the Conservative government received just 38% of the votes cast. 
  • The uncodified constitutional arrangements do not adequately check the power of the executive and a lack of separation powers between branches of government is exploited by a dominant, yet unrepresentative executive branch
  • A major element of the UK's legislative body is unelected. The House of Lords is mostly appointed. 
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The decline in 'conventional' participation

Conventional participation refers to the traditional ways of engaging with politics, such as voting in elections and referendums, joining a political party or union. 

Examples of conventional participation declining:

  • Turnout in postwar general elections averaged over 75%, but fell to an average of below 62% for the three general elections between 2001 and 2010. 
  • Party membership has seen a significant decline in the decades since WW2. The Conservative Party's 2.8 million members in the mid 1950s had fallen to below 150,000 by 2013. Labour Party membership fell to 200,000 in 2010 but by March 2017, had risen to around 517,000 members. 
  • Union membership fell from its 13 million peak in the late 1970s to just over 7 million in 2014. 2009 and 2014 figures from from the Office of National Statistics put the total decline in union membership to a drop-off rate of over 60,000 members per year. 
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Latest party membership figures

LABOUR: 517,000 MEMBERS (MARCH 2017) 


SNP: 120,000 MEMBERS (JULY 2016) 



UKIP: 39,000 MEMBERS (JULY 2016)


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The rise in 'unconventional' participation

There are a number of factors to suggest that, rather than participation declining, it has changed direction and strucutre:

  • Pressure group membership has grown. 'Friends of the Earth' currently has an active global membership of 2 million people in 76 countries, while the 'Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' has a UK membership of 1.2 million - more than the membership of the three main parties combined.
  • Demonstrations and public protests have risen in number as direct action tactics - most recently against tuition fees and austerity measures - provide opportunities for popular political expression. 
  • E-democracy is on the rise. A feature of modern political participation is the prevalence of social networking, political communicatiomn and e-petitions.
  • Many surveys indicate that the rise of information and communication technology has informed the people about certain issues, leading them to donate money to causes they support - rather than boycotting certain events or products. 
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