A representative democracy is a structure of government where officials are elected to represent groups of people. These officials then vote on policies, laws, and other items of government business on behalf of the people so that the general population doesn’t need to vote on every separate issue as they would in a direct democracy.
Most democracies in the West are a form of a representative democracy. The United States is a federal republic, the UK is a constitutional monarchy, and Ireland is a parliamentary republic.
The advantage of a representative democracy is its efficiency. A large group of people receive the benefits of living in a democracy by having one representative vote according to their needs, wishes or desires. It saves time and money for the government so the funds can be used for other purposes.
The disadvantage of a representative democracy is that an official isn’t required to vote based on how their district or population center wishes them to vote. They can pursue their own agendas, vote according to their own conscious, and the only way to stop this is to either vote that person out of office on the next election cycle of initiate a recall election if one is allowed.
Here are some additional representative democracy advantages and disadvantages to think about.
Here are the Pros of a Representative Democracy
1. It still gives power to the people.
A government with this structure still relies on what the majority of the people want in most circumstances. Each population center can send a representative to the government which will provide them with a voice in how the government operated. If the representative doesn’t perform or vote as the population they represent desires, then they can be voted out on the next election. In the US, that can be as soon as 2 years.
2. Checks and balances are put in place to limit power.
In a representative democracy, it is important for all branches of the government to share equal power, but with differing responsibilities. In the United States, there is an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Each keeps the other in check because no single branch of government can wield all the power. This structure makes it possible for each representative to offer an opinion on laws or policies.
3. Everyone has the chance to participate.
As long as you are eligible to vote, then you get to participate in a representative democracy. Sometimes people feel like their votes don’t count, especially if they find themselves in a minority position most of the time, but the ability to participate in the elections is not compromised. If you can vote, then you are making your opinion be heard.
4. It allows the government to react quickly.
In an emergency situation, a representative democracy allows the government to act quickly to respond to whatever potential threat may be in place. There isn’t the need to put a vote to the rest of the public. The government officials can look at the situation, decide on the best course of action, and then take action.
5. It encourages people to participate.
When people know that they can have their voice heard in their government, they are more likely to participate in the elections that are held. When there are important decisions to be made, more people show up to vote. In the 2016 US Presidential election, for example, more 126 million votes were cast. In 2008, 63% of eligible voters came out to cast a ballot.
6. It allows a district to form their own governmental presence.
In the US, there are three stages of government: local, regional, and national. Each can be structured in a way to meet needs as effectively as possible at every level.
Here Are the Cons of a Representative Democracy
1. Polarization occurs frequently.
People live in neighborhoods where they are most comfortable. Instead of focusing on diversity, the focus is on maintaining the status quo. Because of this process, political polarization occurs frequently in a representative democracy. People will move to a location where they can be in the majority and that creates natural population divisions throughout the country.
2. A super majority is possible in a representative democracy.
Although the structure of a representative democracy is to provide checks and balances, there are times when one party can dominate the government. In 2016, for example, the Republican Party took control of the legislative and executive branch of government. If the US Senate had 60 Republicans, then nothing could be done to stop the legislation being pushed through until the next election cycle.
3. Districts must be able to trust their elected representatives.
The elected officials in a representative democracy are supposed to represent the people. This is not always the case. Sometimes a vote might be swayed by political pressure from the party. A vote could be swayed by personal preferences. The reality of a representative democracy is that no one actually knows how a representative will vote until the vote is cast, as was seen when John McCain voted against healthcare reform in the US Senate in 2017.
4. The voice of the people technically ends with the election.
Once a representative is elected, the voice that people have in their government is technically over. People can still write their elected officials, make appointments to speak with them, or confront them at town hall meetings, but they have no control over how the vote will actually be.
5. It is a system that invites corruption.
Ever hear a statement like this: “All politicians lie.”? The structure of a representative democracy invites candidates to be less-than-forthcoming with their views and stances on current events. Once elected, there is no reason to deliver on a campaign promise or attempt to better the economic circumstances of their home districted. Officials can work on their own career instead to create personal gains and it can be difficult to stop such an official.
6. It focuses on the majority only.
In a representative democracy, minority groups are only given enough air time to have their issues heard so that a vote can be obtained. In many ways, minority groups are left to solve their own problems in this structure of government because they do not have the voting power to overwhelm the majority.
These representative democracy advantages and disadvantages show us that this structure of government sacrifices individuality for speed and efficiency. In many ways, it can be a beneficial form of government that can represent the population of a nation quite effectively. It is also a structure that can make people feel like they’ve been left out of the process, especially if they are consistently in a minority group.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.