Representative democracy is based on the principle that elected officials represent groups of people in government affairs. They create and enforce the rule of law. This form of democracy is prevalent in democratic countries worldwide. The United States, United Kingdom, India, France, Germany, and many others are representative democracies.
Representative democracy is a functional alternative to direct democracy. Direct democracy has rarely thrived on a large scale and results in weak and chaotic communities. Despite that, there are many pros and cons to representative democracies:
Advantages of Representative Democracy
1.) It is an efficient way to practice democracy.
This is first on the list because representative democracy is the only successful way large nations have been able to practice democracy. In a direct democracy, countries spend a lot of their time organizing and counting elections. Quick decisions would cripple them as they would have to wait and vote on the issue. Using representatives frees the government up to do usual tasks like keep the country safe and provide a social safety net.
2. It’s easier for the government to address any issues.
Representative democracies are nimble, which allows them to address any issues that arise swiftly. Imagine if a direct democracy had to respond to Pearl Harbor or a massive terrorist attack? It would devolve into chaos. As a bonus, elected officials should be well educated and versed in the law. They can use their expertise to solve any issues in a way that best helps their constituents.
3. It empowers people.
Though people don’t get to vote on issues except directly, except for statewide ballot initiatives, they can choose representatives who will work for them. If these representatives fail to meet their constituents expectations, then they can be voted out in the next election.
4. People are encouraged to participate and educate themselves on issues.
Picking the representative who best matches their values is essential to many. Direct democracy encourages citizens to research the candidates and make an informed decision. It also promotes the act of voting as it makes people believe they have a voice in their government.
5. Representative democracy supports sensible decisions.
Theoretically, the legislative body should consist of the trustworthy, competent people. Many great minds working together from across the aisle have solved some of the world’s most significant problems. Winston Churchill’s British Parliament during WWII is one great example of this happening.
6. It considers the rights of the minority.
Representative democracy’s purpose is to represent all citizens. With this in mind, founders usually implement substantial minority rights to protect from the tyranny of a majority. The electoral college is an example of this in the United States. In the United Kingdom, robust debate occurs in Parliament makes all voices heard.
7. It regulates the behavior of government officials.
Elected politicians always have the specter of future elections hanging over their shoulders. If they behave corruptly or misrepresent their constituents, the next election will remove them from power, or if the offense is egregious enough, a recall vote. In the 2015 study by Ivar Kolstad and Arne Wiig, they found that between 1946 and 2008, corruption was much lower in democracies.
8. Representation is equal for everyone.
Wherever you live in a representative democracy, your voice theoretically should be equal to your fellow citizens. It still upholds the one person, one vote principle. Practically, this is much more difficult to implement in most democracies.
Disadvantages of Representative Democracy
1. It encourages political polarization and partisanship.
Not everyone will be happy after a vote in representative democracy. People become invested in their candidate and party, making them feel left out and bitter when they lose. With the introduction of mass news media, people treat politics like sports. What is ethical or correct no longer matters, as long as their side wines.
2. Usually, only charismatic communicators get elected to office.
Becoming an elected official requires a certain level of charisma. They have to stump, give speeches, and meet with constituents, which all take a certain level of charm. The issue is that this ensures people elect one personality type into office. In the end, this kills diversity in our government, limiting the breadth of ideas.
3. It is more expensive than other forms of government.
Representative democracy may be cheaper than direct democracy, but it is still an expensive form of government. Democracies spend trillions during federal, state, county, and city elections. Beyond that, safe elections require billions of dollars more to ensure that there’s no internal or foreign tampering.
4. It requires trust in your representatives and institutions.
When you elect your representative, people are putting their blind faith in them. If they end up betraying or being ineffective, it can take years before a new election comes around. You also need confidence that democratic institutions are strong enough to make them leave. Many dictators came to power with a vote, only to seize power once they ave it.
5. Politicians can be dishonest.
The words “politician” and “liar” have become almost synonymous in many people’s lexicons. Politicians aren’t inherently dishonest, but the fact that elections are popularity contests tend to make them lie. Some will say anything to get elected, only to turn around and ignore promises made once in office.
6. Political involvement declines under representative democracies.
Many people only see it as their civic duty to vote. Afterward, many check out, leaving everything in the hands of politicians. This is why many people in countries like the UK and the United States are ill-informed about politics.
7. Minorities are under-represented.
Because politicians must cater to the majority to receive votes, this can led to the tyranny of the majority. Jim Crow in the South and anti-gay laws int he United States are examples of this coming to fruition. Without strong protections for vulnerable parts of society, democracies can quickly turn into lynch mobs.
8. Representative democracy can create horrible government gridlocks.
It can be complicated to get anything done when a government becomes too polarized. In countries with only two major political parties like the United States, this is particularly true. In 2018, the US government completely shut down for weeks while the Democratic and Republican parties came to a deal
9. People only have a voice on election days.
When an election ends, so does someone’s say over their government. Beyond calling a representative to give an opinion or protesting, there’s little sway anyone can have over their government.
10. Weak democracies invite corruption.
Democracies are only as stable as the people voters put into power. Unfortunately, many have proven to be corrupt and immoral over the years. You can only look as far as lobbying in the United States to see this in action.