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Study Notes

Direct democracy

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

With direct democracy, the people take decisions themselves (e.g. show of hands at a public meeting) or referendums.

The UK doesn’t use referendums as much as some other countries. The last one was the Scottish Independence referendum, and the next will be a referendum on EU membership in 2017. In the UK, the government calls the referendum, but in some countries, such as Switzerland and the USA, the people can trigger a referendum by way of petition, which is called an initiative.

Arguments for direct democracy in the UK include the problems caused by the voting system of FPTP, which doesn’t produce true representation in terms of seat won, as well as producing a socially unrepresentative Parliament of predominantly white males. The party system also means representatives follow the order of party leaders rather than the interests of the voters. So direct democracy makes governments are directly accountable to the citizens of the state, and is especially used in the UK to solve constitutional issues regarding how we are governed.

Arguments against direct democracy include how difficult it is to reach agreement in a modern state with millions of people. There are arguments that the people would not have the knowledge or time to make important political decisions, with turnout in most UK referendums being low and some decisions being made for emotional rather than thought through reasons, with their interests, rather than those of the state in mind. There is also the issue of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, where the interests of minorities can be ignored. These problems happen less with representative democracy.

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