19 Pros and Cons of Direct Democracy

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When a government is in the form of a direct democracy, then the people of the country are given the ability to decide their own issues by creating a majority vote on any issue. Every eligible person is given the power of a vote to control the direction of their government. This allows for a greater level of transparency between the government and individuals, but it also slows down the speed of implementation of any policy, procedure, or declaration.

As with any system of government, there are specific pros and cons of direct democracy which must be considered.

Here Are the Pros of a Direct Democracy

1. In a direct democracy, a vote actually counts.
In governments which rely on representation, it can be easy to feel like a vote doesn’t count for anything. This isn’t the case in a direct democracy. Although decisions are based on a majority vote, everyone gets to have their say and their vote counted if they wish to be included on a decision. This process encourages people to become politically active and knowledgeable about issues because they have a meaningful say in the process.

2. There must be total transparency within a direct democracy.
A government must provide accurate and complete data to its people in a direct democracy. This is because the vote which occurs will influence the decisions which are made on any policy, process, or procedure. It allows for an open level of communication between the people and the government so that cooperation takes place instead of partisanship.

3. Government accountability is promoted within a direct democracy.
In the United States, more than 90% of Congressional representatives are re-elected despite having an approval rating that is often below 20%. This occurs because there is a lack of complete government accountability in a representative structure. When a direct democracy is in place, people can voice their concerns without fear of reprisal and must be allowed to vote, if eligible, on circumstances. This direct line of data creates a higher level of accountability than other forms of government allow.

4. There is more cooperation within societal demographics in a direct democracy.
Instead of segregating into like-minded communities, a direct democracy encourages discussion and cooperation. People can express their opinion freely because each person has an equal stake in a debate of the issues. Because this expression is encouraged, there are fewer protests, disobedience, and unrest because people are put into a position where they must work with their neighbors to benefit everyone instead of special interests or specific demographics.

5. Government officials can be immediately recalled in a direct democracy.
In many government structures, once a government official is elected for representation, they can serve out their full term unless their conduct is deemed to be illegal in some way. Under the structure of a direct democracy, people can quickly initiate a recall on a government official who is not acting in their best interests. This keeps officials and politicians honest when dealing with the people because the power is with the people instead of the politician.

6. A direct democracy creates a society that is generally happy.
Because the government runs at the pleasure of the people, there is usually a greater happiness with life and the structures of government when using a direct democracy. Even when people are not completely in consensus with one another, there is the knowledge that each person can have their voice be represented in some way on every issue. There isn’t a need to rely on constant communication with a representative in the hopes that the elected official will vote in a way that benefits the will of the people as is done under the current governmental structures of the United States.

7. A direct democracy allows people to control their quality of life.
It is possible for every individual to advocate for their own best interests under the structures of a direct democracy. Even if that best interest is only for them, their ability to speak without fear of repercussion allows for individualized representation of specific issues. This makes it easier for the government to avoid decisions where small demographic minorities must carry the burdens of the majority because of the amount of data that is transferred.

8. A direct democracy changes the purpose of voting.
In many government structures, voting is treated as a privilege. Under the structure of a direct democracy, it becomes a responsibility. This is the benefit of having a government that is literally for the people.

Here Are the Cons of a Direct Democracy

1. In a direct democracy, it becomes very difficult to make decisions.
Because every eligible person has a stake in the debate of any issue or procedure, it becomes difficult to make fast decisions. Voting procedures must take place on any issue, whether that means going to war or going to increase the amount of money that goes into a food stamp program. This means there are more steps which must be followed to move forward, which bogs down this form of government compared to other government structures.

2. People don’t always participate in a direct democracy.
Although many decisions require a yes-or-no type of vote in a direct democracy, there will always be a group of people who prefer a third option. Participation doesn’t always occur and this means a minority can dictate what happens for a majority in such a society. People must be willing to take the time to get involved with the political process in this form of government for it to be successful. Otherwise, a select few can dictate the direction for everyone to benefit themselves and no one else.

3. A direct democracy can encourage more segregation.
There are critical issues which every society must face. This may involve equal rights, who is defined as a protective class, or addressing a pay gap between genders. Because critical issues tend to inspire passion, people will still tend to congregate amongst like-minded people instead of attempting to find a compromise. What is the end result? A direct democracy becomes a society that is just as fragmented by ideological perspectives as any other form of democratic government.

4. Direct democracies are expensive.
There are numerous costs that must be considered for a direct democracy to work properly. People must be educated about the decisions which must be made, which means there must be training opportunities, seminars, webinars, and other tools used so that the best possible decision can be made. The cost of holding each vote has specific costs associated with it as well. Time Magazine reports that in 2012, $544 million was lost in productivity due to people standing in line to vote for the US Presidential election. Imagine what that cost would be if a vote on every issue had to take place.

5. The potential for extreme manipulation is present in a direct democracy.
Every election faces the possibility of having those with greater socioeconomic status having more influence than those with fewer resources. In a direct democracy, since every decision is up for debate, there are many more chances for special interests to get involved and manipulate how people see the information being released by the government. Considering the complexity of so many issues in today’s world, this leads to a tremendously high level of potential corruption forming in this style of government.

6. A direct democracy can encourage instability.
Even though decisions are directed by a majority vote in a direct democracy, this doesn’t mean that the majority is making the correct choice. Imagine having a majority vote that could restrict employment opportunities for people because of the color of their skin or allowing hate crimes to those who practice a certain religion. That’s the potential for instability that can occur under this structure of government. Decisions can be made because of emotional responses instead of a logical overview of the facts involved.

7. Direct democracies create regulatory nightmares.
In the United States, there are multiple layers of representation to handle the vast regulatory processes that are in place. Using the structure of a direct democracy, the population would need to vote on Wall Street regulations, environmental regulations, intelligence oversight, and all the other mundane decisions that must be made daily by a government. Every dollar spent would need to be approved under a pure direct democracy structure. This constant need for voting would create a regulatory nightmare that would hold societal development back because of the sheer bulk of oversight a modern government provides.

8. Referendums don’t always turn out to be as expected in a direct democracy.
In many states, there is a system of referendum laws which allow people to access a direct democracy structure. As the people in Seattle, WA are discovering with their car tab fees, however, the idea that is presented in a referendum doesn’t always turn out as expected. A fee increase was improved to fund light rail transit throughout King Country and the Seattle metro area, but many voters didn’t realize what valuation method would be used for their fees. This meant many voters found that their license plate renewal fees were tripling on a year-to-year basis.

9. A direct democracy does not generally work in a large country.
Using the United States as an example, every decision would typically require accessing a total voter population of 150+ million people. That just isn’t feasible for national-level decisions. It would also place smaller population centers in the US at a disadvantage compared to larger population centers. People in urban areas could control how people in rural areas live and work… or people in large states could dictate how smaller states operate. That is why any direct democracy structures in the US are kept to the local or state levels.

10. Most of the decisions made in a direct democracy are based on self-interest.
Most people tend to look out for themselves before looking out for their friends or neighbors. People will not typically vote for something which would require them to make a personal sacrifice, even if such a sacrifice would benefit a large majority of the population. In a direct democracy, the common good is rarely a point of emphasis in the decision-making which occurs. Up to 15% of people won’t even make their decision until the day of the referendum, ignoring the issue until then.

11. A direct democracy can provide information overload.
When an individual is exposed to high levels of information and data, like what can be found on the internet today, then there is a shortening of that person’s attention span. For the average connected person today, their attention span is just 8 seconds. That means a goldfish has a longer attention span than the average connected human. With this overload of information, people feel like they have a grasp of issues when they might have a brief summary at best. It leads to a society which feels like it is informed, but may not be at all.

The pros and cons of a direct democracy show that it can be burdensome for large countries, but could be beneficial for small countries, states, and communities. It is a governmental structure which has many challenges and requires a highly educated society, but it also helps people determine their own best interests.