Direct Democracy vs Representative Democracy Essay

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Democracy began in Ancient Greece in fifth century B.C., meaning rule by the people it allows certain citizens to gather and make binding decisions together about the rule of the people Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people (Pericles speech from Thucydides 1972, cited in The Open University, 2020a). There is no consensus on what makes democracy, but there are universal values which are commonly agreed upon, including equality of citizens, political freedom, free and fair elections, civil and human rights, and access to justice.

Representative democracy is an electoral system where citizens who are eligible to vote, vote for a representative to make decisions on their behalf in parliament The House of Commons - (REF). Arguments in favor of having representatives include that it is more practical in larger populations and that decisions orand issues that need addressing urgently can be dealt with quicker by a smaller number of representatives. The representatives should be as well informed (if not better) than the public and have a good understanding and education on political matters. In addition, having representatives reduces the chance of minorities having their rights infringed on by majorities (Example, ref).

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However, there may be flaws in a Representative Democracy relating to electing representatives. Once elected the representative may not vote in the way that his electorate were expecting. There is also a risk of corruption and decision making for one's own advantage (Example REF) and there is a risk of having a large population who pay little attention to what is happening because they leave the responsibility to their representative.

Direct democracy is where the citizens vote for intended policies directly. There are currently no countries which have pure direct democracy governing (although some sates in the USA and cantons in Switzerland have direct democracy for local issues). However, Switzerland has a semi-direct democracy, whereby the country has elected representatives but also have direct participation in the form of regular referendums. There are many advantages to direct democracy. Every vote is equal, and victory is won on a majority vote, meaning that every individual has a personal stake in participating. Information from the government is readily available meaning more transparency and accountability and less opportunity for corruption. In addition, citizens should have a better understanding of policies and legislation at local and national levels.

Direct democracy does have negatives as well, such as not only the high cost and time involved in organizing and actioning referendums, but also the costs incurred from citizens having to partake (missing work etc...). Ss well as the time needed by citizens to keep up to date with all relevant information, the citizens also want to HAVE to participate and to be interested in what is happening. Time sensitive decisions would also have to be voted upon, meaning that by the time the vote has been organized and actioned that the matter may have passed (such as war or threat decisions). Majority vote results also do not take into consideration the rights of the minorities, meaning that civil and human rights of minority groups could be infringed upon.

A referendum is a direct vote for an issue or policy, there are two common types of referendum, Mandatory and optional. Mandatory referendums also called binding referendum, are referendums that are held due to being included legislation or constitution and the outcome of the vote is normally binding so the government must implement the result. (Example?). An optional referendum, also called advisory is a referendum in which the result is not binding, and the government can overturn or not implement it Some local referendums in Britain are required by law as they have been put into legislation (example ref).

The United Kingdom is a representative democracy and has used referendums three times for national decisions, Constitutional lawyer Albert Venn Dicey proposed for the use of referendums from 1890 (Atkinson et al, 2020), following on from Diceys proposal, various attempts were made to suggest holding referendums, including opponents of William Gladstone in 1983 suggesting that home rule of Ireland be put to the popular vote, 1903 when Joseph chamberlain proposed a referendum for his tariff reform and....(descr what happened from to 1975 100wds)

the first was in 1975 and people were voting on Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Market?. The next in 2011 At present, the UK uses the first past the post system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the alternative voteâ system be used instead? And in 2016 the Brexit referendum.

As described, referendums in the United Kingdom have been few and held irregularly, as such they can be considered not familiar practice for the electorate who are expected to decide and vote in them.

A referendum voted on by an electorate with little understanding and education of the political structure and implications will surely be a referendum based on emotions instead of knowledge. Dicey in 1890 had concerns about if the public would make the right decisions [a]n appeal in matters of legislation from Parliament to the people is appeal from knowledge to ignorance. (Cited in Atkinson et al, 2020, p38).

However, by having regular referendums and a direct effect on parliamentary matters actually mean that an individual becomes more attuned and educated on political matters, Alex Thomson of the Clarion newspaper certainly thought so, he argued in a Clarion Pamphlet in 1900 that representative government was not true democracy and that the way to true Democracy will never be found through Delegacy. The only safe way is through direct legislation through the Referendum and Initiative. and that those referendums would serve to educate the people in self-government and ripen them for progress.

It is also worth considering the views of Higley and Mcallisters in their journal article Elite division and voter confusion’ they posited that asking voters to make decisions that require just a yes or no to sophisticated government legislation of policy, allows those in power to make claims that could be considered overly simplified and deliberately misleading (Higley and Mcallister, 2002). ( Brexit examples 100wds)

There have been many proponents for the regular use of referendums including Tony Benn, in 1968 Benn spoke at the Welsh Council of labour Annual conference, he advocated for a series of changes to take place, including a more open government, more awareness from government about society and more participation from the public ‘the five-yearly cross on the ballot paper is just not going to be enough. Inevitably we shall have to take a look at the objections to holding a referenda and see if they are still valid. (Benn, cited in Atkinson et al, 2020)

One person one vote, and the result of a referendum is the will of the people however participation in referendums is far from having all of the eligible citizens voting, The 1975 EU referendum had a 64% turnout and the 2011 Alternative vote referendum had a 42% turnout, these were low even compared to the general elections which in 2010 had a 65% turnout (Bowler, Donovan, 2013).

The 2016 EU referendum in the Uk had an extremely high 72.2% turnout, however the result was 51.9% in favour of leaving, had the vote been compulsory and the remaining electorate been compelled to vote, the result may look quite different. (The Electoral commission, 2019)

It is considered a right of citizenship to vote, in Ancient Athens those who did not vote were considered bad citizens (Blakely, 2019, p87).

Compulsory voting has been in place in Belgium since 1882, and Australia since 1924 (alongside 10 other countries that have enforced compulsory citizen voting) recent elections have shown high voter turnout belgiums had a 90.01% turnout in their 2011 election, and Australia having 91.9% voter turnout for its 2019 election (International IDEA, n.d).

Supporters of compulsory voting regard it as a more legitimate means of democracy when more citizens, as if democracy is government by the people, then it is every citizen duty to vote, however opposers of compulsory voting use the opposite point of view; that compulsory voting is not a marker of democracy as it relieves citizens of their freedom to choose whether to participate or not. (International IDEA, n.d)

Political scholar James Bryce (cited in Atkinson et al, 2020, p42) noted that referendums could be used to pass legislation a particular way and that the outcome if unexpected or challenged, being a decision of the people, this is certainly appearing to be true for the 2016 Brexit referendum, with cries of the will of the people used to halt any talk of upset over the result (ref)

The emphasis was slightly different to that of Chamberlain's earlier in the century. He had stressed the idea of the device as a means of taking decisions (p.51) on important matters in a way that was insulated from party politics and could secure consensus; and maintained that without this approach certain bold outcomes might not be attained. For The Times, the starting point was the significance of the proposed policy as a break from the past, necessitating a special form of popular engagement.

Another use sometimes proposed for the referendum was as a means of deciding whether women should be able to vote in general elections. As early as February 1894, the Economist made a suggestion in this area. It held that the referendum wasnot likely to become part of our regular machinery, but that potentially it could be deployed to resolve matters such as the House of Lords veto or of Women's Suffrage. 122 A problem with this idea was remarked upon by Asquith (who was unsympathetic to this cause) and others in the years leading up to the First World War. It involved whether or not women should be allowed to take part in such a referendum. The potential effectiveness of the mechanism as a means of resolving a particular dispute was undermined by the very controversy the resolution of which it was directed towards. To prohibit the participation of women would be to deny legitimacy to the process among supporters of the extension of the franchise; to allow it would be to pre-empt the referendum as a means of determining whether they were worthy of taking part in such an exercise.123 ) (Atkinson et al, 2020, p.51)

The 1945 Churchill call for a referendum differed from earlier occasions in that it came from a sitting Prime Minister, not a Leader of the Opposition. However, it is still depicted as opportunistic in character.152 The individual involved, moreover, had adopted different stances on this subject over his career. As in other areas, it is possible to find Churchill, effective with his chosen brief whatever it might be, on both sides of the argument. Even in his days as a member of the Liberal Asquith Government, though he broadly opposed Conservative proposals for referendums, he allowed for their possibility, including over female suffrage.153 He wrote to senior fellow members of the Liberal Government in December 1911, proposing the holding of two referendums posing questions on the vote first to the women, to know whether they want it: and then to the men to know whether they will give it.’ He said he would conform to whatever the outcome from such a process was.

eferendums are often portrayed as instruments that are dangerous to rights and freedoms, particularly in the case of minorities (Bell, 1978; Gunn, 1981; Gamble, 1997; Haider-Markel et al., 2007). This danger would come from a natural tendency of the majority to be tyrannical and discriminatory towards minorities. This fear was in fact an argument put forward by the Founding Fathers of the United States to outlaw referendums at the federal level (Magleby, 1995: 1920), and that country is the source of the greatest number of studies on the impact of referendums on minorities. Those studies show that, statistically, the risks of infringement of the rights of minorities are greater in states where direct democracy procedures are employed (Lewis, 2011).

but whom people are talking about because, in a given context, they give rise to fears often unjustified on the part of the majority. This is the case of Latin-American immigrants in the southern United States and foreigners in particular those of the Muslim religion in Switzerland, who are perceived as dangerous to the economy, culture and very identity of the host state.

Popular reaction to some minorities and some categories of people is also often related to a very specific context: a shocking current event (serial killing in the case of initiatives in favour of the death sentence or life imprisonment; massive immigration sometimes escalated by war – in a state in loss of identity or suffering an economic crisis (Alvarez and Butterfield, 2000,:2); growth in power of a minority claiming rights and protection (homosexuals, Muslims in secular or Christian-majority states). Such initiatives may also be in reaction against political choices made by representatives or against court decisions perceived as activist, in that they allegedly protect a minority against the majority will. Thus, Donovan says that direct-democracy campaigns over questions of minority rights are not simply about a particular right and a particular minority group but may also reflect reaction to counter-majoritarian aspects of democracy that are facilitated by courts and representative government (2013: 1743). He calls this reaction populist backlash (2013: 1740). Thus, anti-fair-housing and anti-busing initiatives in the United States occurred in reaction to the desegregation policy; proposition 17 concerning the death penalty in California was approved in 1972 to counter the Supreme Court decision of the same year declaring capital punishment to be unconstitutional; 12 in Ireland, one of the referendums proposed by the government in 1992 was on abortion and was directly intended to counter the Supreme Court decision of the same year that led abortion to be permitted in case of risk of suicide;

or unpopular minorities, direct democracy procedures seem to increase discrimination in two ways. On one hand, a number of studies show that representatives, not only because they discuss decisions to be taken among themselves within assemblies, but also because they have to justify their choices (Hainmueller and Hangartner, 2015: 34), are likely to make decisions that are more favourable to minorities. Representatives take into account a complex set of data, to justify a decision that will, in principle, be reasonable. In contrast, a referendum vote is considered more emotional than reasonable, especially since the various arguments and elements of the debate are often extremely simplified in referendum campaigns. Voters do not have to answer for the positions they take; the vote is anonymous (Christmann and Danaci, 2012: 136). Moreover, some authors have shown that the negative effects of referendums on minorities are not always immediately visible at the time of the vote (Lewis, 2011). The very existence of direct democracy mechanisms can have indirect effects, beyond the vote itself, on representatives. For example, Lewis (2011: 367 and 376), and Christmann and Danaci (2012: 147 and 153) show, regarding same-sex marriage in the United States and the policy applying to Muslims in Switzerland, that the parliaments of the states where there are direct democracy mechanisms are influenced by the very existence of those mechanisms and can, owing to this, be tempted to adopt stricter legislation targeting minorities out of fear of political reprisals (in the form of popular initiatives, recall or failure to be re-elected) by the majority of citizens. 21 Minorities are thus in a lose situation in that they are affected both by the decisions of the majority of citizens, but also by those of the majority of representatives.

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Direct Democracy vs Representative Democracy Essay. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
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