Democracy and Political Participation

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Democracy and Political Participation

What is Democracy?

-          Type of political system à Involves citizen participation to varying degrees.

-          It literally means ‘rule by the people’

-          Democracy has a number of variations: Direct Democracy, Representative Democracy, Liberal Democracy, and Pluralist Democracy.



-         Idea that a govt or any political institution has a democratic right to hold political power. This is contestable because it is not always clear whether an institution is legitimate. à The House of Lords is arguably not legitimate because it is not elected

                          UK Governments are elected on a minority of the popular vote, this                     therefore challenges legitimacy.

                          The PM has no legal basis for his/her power.

                          Some regimes seize power by force à e.g. Cuba

                          Some are one party states, e.g. China lacks democratic legitimacy.

                          Some are Sham Democracies, e.g. Iran

                         Some are hereditary monarchies, e.g. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.

Direct Democracy

One of two things:

1.      The people make important decisions; not representatives.

2.      People are directly involved in decision making; they are consulted & opinions are sought regularly.

Referendums are the most common form of direct democracy:

-          Involves a single yes/no question

-          Can be national, regional, local

-          Can be legally binding; not in UK à But still listened to mostly


-          When a petition is organised on an issue. If enough people sign, a referendum must be held. Rare in UK; occurs most famously in California.


Public Consultations:

-          Carried out by govts before decision is made.

-          E.g. Local authority asks community how they would prefer funds to be allocated.

-          Internet makes things easier.


-          Not binding

-          Influential in some cases

-          UK Parl à Not often debated or influential but since 2010, petitions are debated if they reach 100,000 signatures.

-          Scotttish Parliament à Special Committee to consider petitions. Those with more support must be debated by whole Parl.

-          Internet makes petitions more feasible.


Direct Democracy – Evaluation



-          Purest form of democracy

-          Disperses power widely among population & prevents concentration of power in few hands.

-          Decisions are more acceptable to general population.

-          Can prevent decision makers from making mistakes

-          Increases popular participation and therefore enhances democracy

-          Referendums and consultations are a form of political education for the general population

-          Referendums can ‘entrench’ / safeguard important constitutional changes.

-          Majoritarianism à Govt by a simple majority. May lead to ‘tyranny of the majority,’ oppressing minority in the process.

-          Some decisions are too complex for the people to understand.

-          DD often creates an emotional response; rather than a rational response, from people and media.

-          DD can be subverted / distorted by wealthy groups who



This was really useful, thank you!

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