Study Notes

Indirect democracy

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

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Indirect democracy (also called representative democracy) – is where citizens choose others to represent them, making important decisions on their behalf.

In the UK, there is a system of representative democracy called ‘liberal democracy – in which the people vote for a government through regular elections with secret ballots and a choice of candidates. Government is accountable to the people, and has its power limited in some way, in part by a free press and the individual rights of the people.

Advantages of representative democracy, especially as opposed to direct democracy, include that the people cannot be expected to have the time or interest to make important and regular decisions, representatives can educate the public on political issues, representatives ensure the interests of all sections of society (including minorities) are taken into account, and can be held accountable for their decisions. Finally, representatives are able to ‘aggregate’ the differing demands of people into a more coherent and politically logical programme.

Disadvantages of representative democracies include that representatives may distort peoples’ demands to suit their political preferences, may not make make themselves accountable enough between elections and can only be removed by elections if they lose the respect of the people. The electoral mandate representatives is flawed, as voters have to accept or reject a whole manifesto, not being able to make clear which parts of it they oppose, and there is more information in this day and age for people to be able to make better decisions. Representatives also have to decide whether to be ‘delegates’ for their constituents, merely putting forward their view, or using their best judgement to ‘represent’ their constituents (a concept called ‘Burkean representation’).

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