Similarities and differences
The fundamental difference between these two models is that in representative democracy there is a divide between those governing (representatives) and those governed (the people) and in direct democracy that distinction is blurred. The principle is self-government.
It is a mistake to view direct democracy and representative democracy as completely different. systems. All representative systems contain features of direct democracy.
. Referendums involve campaigns as do elections. The Brexit Referendum had the feel of a General Election. TV debates- analysis by journalists and opinion polls. High profile politicians took sides and their personalities were seen to have an effect on voters intentions e.g Boris Johnson
In legislatures, representatives will seek the views of their constituents through direct contact with them in constituency surgeries or by responding to correspondence. MPs may be influenced by the volume of letters they receive on a particular issue. In this way, they are acting according to the delegate model of representation. Police and Crime Commissioners are seen as a voice for the people rather than party representatives.
Initiatives, petitions, public consultations etc happen all the time within representative democracies in order for the government to represent the people . Public consultations are a routine part of local government- particularly planning. The Localism Act 2011 gave people the power to trigger a local referendum if they can organise a petition of 5% of the people in a local area. The Petitions Committee in the House of Commons will allocate time for a debate in they receive an E-petition of 100,000 signatures.
Pressure groups provide for the kind of participation which is characteristic of direct democracy ie direct action and mass protests. This is common in all systems of representative democracy.
Also, Pressure Groups are consulted by governments on policy formulation as insider groups or as part of a consultation process. Think Tanks participate in policy formulation in a way which might seem like direct democracy.
People make decisions (e.g. through a referendum) instead of through elected or appointed bodies.
In Representative Democracy Governments are held accountable, but how can the people be accountable after a referendum. Had the government taken the UK out of the EU we might hold them to account if it turns out to be a bad idea.
Direct democracy is majoritarian - working on the will of the majority - There is a risk of tyranny of the majority e.g. California 2008 initiative to ban civil partnerships - discriminatory. Representative democracy mediates between different groups representing them all and acting in a counter-majoritarian force.
In the UK constitution Parliament is legally sovereign whereas in a direct democracy there is an idea of popular sovereignty -which has no legal reality.
More likely to result in rational decision - direct often works with emotions e.g. AV referendum negative vote after Lib Dems went back on their promise on tuition fees. Many Brexit votes were cast because of fears of immigration
Representative Democracy can handle complex and technical political decisions - this isn't practical for direct democracy e.g. AV low turnout and negative vote partly due to complexity; Scottish Referendum lead lasted months because people needed to be educated on the political, economic, and social implications. Referendums tend to offer limited yes or no choices which are not suited to complex decisions.