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Overview of Democratic Workings

written by: Robin L. • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

It is important to understand what democracy is and what makes it tick. It is one of the most popular forms of government in the world today, but how well do you understand it?

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    Have you ever wondered what makes democracy work? To answer that question you must first understand the principles of democracy. Then it is important to understand that there are actually many varieties of government that all fall under the umbrella label of democracy.

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    Core Principles

    There are many types of democracy. The principles behind each form, however, are fundamentally the same. Democracy is a form of government that derives its power, either directly or indirectly, from the people. With so many forms of democracy, it is quite difficult to narrow down the principles. However, some of the most frequently agreed upon are:

    • The participation of citizens.
    • Equality for the citizens of the nation.
    • Accountability of the elected officials.
    • Transparency of government proceedings.
    • Fair elections that are held on a regular basis.
    • A multi-party system.
    • A bill of rights to protect individual freedoms.
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    Types of Democracy

    There are dozens of types of democracy. Each one has its own nuances that set it apart from the other forms. The two main categories, under which most subsets fall, are direct and indirect democracy.


    Direct democracy is most effective for small populations. In this form of democracy the people vote on the elected leaders, the laws that are to be passed, and essentially every aspect of the government. This becomes difficult in larger populations because in order for a country to run smoothly, laws and directives, such as taxation and declarations of war, must be enacted quickly. If every act of the government required a public referendum, the process would slow considerably.


    Indirect democracy, also sometimes known as representative democracy, is a bit more common in larger populations. In this system the people elect representatives who then vote on the behalf of their constituents when a decision must be made for the good of the nation. While this system is usually more efficient, it can still take a significant amount of time for all of the representatives to reach a majority conclusion.

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    What Makes Democracy Work?

    What makes democracy work so well for such a wide variety of cultures is its flexibility. By allowing the people to choose who makes up the government, they are able to select people that have similar views and values. It gives the people the power to change the government officials as popular opinion changes or if the people in power begin to do their jobs poorly.

    For example, when the United States was first founded, the only people who were allowed to vote were white males of a certain age who owned their own land. As the nation grew, more men wanted the right to vote and their influence on those who were already able to vote was tangible enough to elect leaders who gave them the right to vote and change the government.

    This continued until all adult citizens of the United States had the right to vote. The same process happened regarding laws and various liberties. Since the people have the right to shape the government in a democracy, that government and nation are able to grow with the people.

    This makes the government flexible and decreases the likelihood that the people will feel there is a reason to revolt. Hence what keeps democracy continuously improving to meet the needs of its people.

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