Government & Politics Unit 1 Revision Guide

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Democracy & Political Participation

Forms of Democracy


What is Democracy? - Any system where the people have access to independent information and are able to influence the government. Features of a modern democracy:

·         Free and fair, regular elections

·         Free press and media

·         All equal under the rule of law

·         Government operates in the interests of the people


Direct Democracy – This is where the power to make decisions lies with the people, when all the people in a state make the decisions affecting them on a daily basis. The earliest accepted form of this democracy was in Ancient Greece where the people would gather, listen to speeches from leading citizens and then vote upon the issue. The majority vote was accepted. Clearly however, this form of democracy is not applicable with today’s society as many more decisions must be made and the voting population is much larger. This does not mean, however, that Direct Democracy is not possible and in many countries it is used in the form of referendums. E.g. Switzerland for example has had more than 550 referendums since 1848.


The arguments for and against Direct Democracy are relatively interchangeable with those for and against referendums


Advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy:



       People make decisions themselves and take initiative in making change

       Educate public about political issues

       People participate more

       Increased legitimacy

       Referendums solve conflict in Government

  • Too complex
  • People may vote emotionally/irrationally
  • Voter fatigue
  • Tyranny of the majority
  • Voter turnout could be low
  • A lack of legitimacy


Representative Democracy – The Representative system of Democracy evolved when it was realized that it was not feasible for so many people to meet to vote on issues at regular intervals. Political Philosophers also noted that most of the voters where illiterate and ill-educated and incapable of making an informed decision on matters of importance. There was also fear that the views of the minorities would be swamped out by the masses.


The solution was to allow the people to vote on a Representative to take their views and get them represented in Parliament. This had the additional plus that the people who stood for election were, in general, better informed about political issues than the common man. Political parties represent different views, and the representatives have been delegated the power to vote on important issues. This system is used currently in the UK. The country is split into 600 different constituencies and each constituency elects one MP in a ballot during an election. The winning MP is sent to Parliament to represent the people who live in his constituency during voting on issues. Pressure groups represent different sections of society including the minorities.


This is also known as indirect democracy. The key elements of a modern representative democracy include:

·         The popular control of policy makers

·         The



The 'for' arguments for the democratic systems and referendums are missing. Aside from that, good resource. Thank you.

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