The advantages and disadvantages of Representative Democracy

It is the only form of democracy which will work in large nation states. Direct democracy is only achievable in relatively small communities, especially in the form of government by mass meeting. It is therefore a practical means of making democracy work.

 • Elected representatives have the time to develop skills and knowledge in order to make informed decisions. They can therefore govern for the people using their superior understanding to act in the public interest. Therefore they represent as 'Trustees' rather than delegates. 

 • People are too busy to take part in politics directly.  Representative democracy is more efficient because ordinary citizens are relieved of the burden of day-to- day decision-making – they simply have to choose who they want to govern them. Random selection (sortition) would be an inconvenient duty for most people.

 • Representative democracy maintains distance between ordinary citizens and difficult decisions. This encourages compromise and decisions which can be free of passion and emotion. This avoids the tyranny of the majority since politicians can make decisions in the interest of all citizens.

However, critics might argue that representative democracy is a façade and not real democracy. The act of voting every few years is, at best, a democratic ritual; and, at worst, it benefits the government more than the people. by keeping power in the hands of the same class. Governments therefore govern in the name of the people, but, in practice, the people may have little meaningful control over government. There is also confusion about exactly how politicians should represent. The Trustee model seems condescending- since politicians claim to 'know what's best' and this is used as an excuse for ignoring the real interests of the people. Representatives tend tp come from a narrow class background with little resemblance  to the general population. 

Strengths of Representative Democracy

'In the run up to the 2016 EU referendum I campaigned for 'Stronger IN' on the streets of South London. I’d never canvassed before and it was a disquieting experience. As I trudged through Lewisham handing out flyers, it became horribly apparent that most of those who I stopped to talk to didn’t understand what the hell was going on.

Some asked me to explain it. Others told me they were “voting for Boris”. One guy took my arm and informed me that “chaos is good so I’m voting for chaos”.'   Independent Jan 2019  

Graph below shows support for Brexit and newspaper readership

Vote leave by education

Weaknesses of Representative Democracy

Link:Is Congress the broken Branch? 

Links: Party Discipline and Elective Dictatorship  Republican partisanship  

In the 2010 election PM Gordon Brown is recorded calling a women 'bigoted'. Or was she just an ordinary voter who he could not understand?

Emily Thornberry’s resignation from the Labour shadow cabinet for posting an image of a house in Rochester.Tweeting this photo, with the caption: “image from #Rochester”. Widely seen as sneering at a working-class house.

 Trump's popularity is partly based on his appeal to people who no longer think professional politicians and representative democracy work for them.        

Wider Reading: Why did Trump win 2016 by Anthony Bennett 

Case study President Trump