What is Representative Democracy?

G. Wiesen

Representative democracy is a form of democracy in which citizens allow others — usually elected officials — to represent them in government processes and are not necessarily directly involved in any of the processes of legislation or lawmaking. This form of democracy has become especially popular in regions where the number of citizens is so great that direct representation would have the potential of becoming overly complicated or bogged down. Some people believe that one drawback of representative democracy is that the representatives might not properly serve the people whom they are supposed to represent.

The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.
The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.

Elected Representatives

In representative democracies, the representatives typically serve in a chamber such as a senate, parliament, house of representatives or similar government body that is known by another name. In a direct democracy, the citizens themselves would draft bills, debate them and vote to pass them into law. Representative democracy instead allows the citizens to elect people who handle those responsibilities and tasks for them. This might seem as though it creates unnecessary separation between the people and the laws that are being made, but the intention is that the representatives receive the education and training that are necessary to better understand the complicated needs of their jurisdiction.

United States constitution.
United States constitution.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Some people believe that in a representative democracy, it would be ideal for the elected officials to be highly educated people who understand the needs of the people and can come up with solutions to complicated social and governmental problems. In many cases, however, representatives are often based on shared beliefs and opinions with certain segments of the populace, regardless of those representatives' education, knowledge or ability to solve problems. This is seen by some people as a weakness of representative democracy, in that the representatives might serve their own needs and preferences over those of the people. Proponents of representative democracy often point to the fact that the citizens choose the representatives by direct elections, so they ultimately help decide what will be made into law.

Members of the U.S. Senate weigh pieces of legislation in behalf of their constituents.
Members of the U.S. Senate weigh pieces of legislation in behalf of their constituents.

Direct Democracy

In smaller jurisdictions, direct democracies might be found instead of representative democracies. Such smaller areas might have populations that are small enough to allow for direct drafting of bills and voting on such measures by the populace. This is often seen at a city or regional level where petitions are made, signatures are collected and bills are drafted by legal professionals and voted upon by members of the public. In some direct democracies, representatives cast votes based on the wishes of the people they represent rather than their personal desires.

Elected officials in a representative democracy serve in some kind of chamber, like the House of Representatives.
Elected officials in a representative democracy serve in some kind of chamber, like the House of Representatives.
In a representative democracy, citizens allow elected officials to represent them in government processes.
In a representative democracy, citizens allow elected officials to represent them in government processes.

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Discussion Comments


I think the representative democracy is better than direct democracy for many reasons such as representatives do not cost as much money as direct democracies, because in each country we can say there are millions of people.

Another reason is time. If the government says it will change or make a new rule or decisions in a representative democracy, it may take a few days. Parliament members will vote for it and by majority they will decide, not all citizens.

Direct democracy may work very well in a small group of people, but the larger the group, the more difficult it is to run effectively. A representative democracy eliminates this difficulty by operating on a much smaller scale the majority of the time. Also, we can say it's impossible to get all the citizens in one place and discuss an issue or some problems, but in a representative democracy, it's possible and easy to get all members and have meetings and discuss any issues and solve it together. --Saeed Q.


I think representative democracy is not good because sometimes the representatives are not good leaders and therefore people will not be well represented.


I think that a representative government is an advantage because first of all, everyone likes having a choice, but with every choice comes a limit. People can't just go crazy and not be controlled; they need order. They need order and structure and I think that a Representative Democracy provides a choice and structure/order. In a Representative Democracy, all of those options are provided.

An electoral is elected to finalize a vote. At that same time we, the citizens place in our opinions by voting. Not everyone is going to vote the same, but everyone will get a choice or a pick. There really is no room to complain with this because this is a win win situation. The government benefits because there is less work and strain on them, because instead of dealing with a billion votes, the votes are summed up to form an electoral vote.

Also, the citizens are in a winning situation. While an electoral official is picked to hold the vote, everyone's vote goes into consideration. That means that we have a say and that is what everyone wanted. This country works together to do what they do best. A representative democracy helps them do it.


Suntan12- I really believe that a representative democracy is a system of government that allows people to select the representatives that closely mirror their views.

People are not always informed on issues, so some people feel that the representative form of government allows the government to run more efficiently because voting on issues takes a lot of time and those in government supposedly are most informed on issues.

We are finding that some representatives pass bills that they have not even read. This is why many now feel that perhaps a direct democracy would have been a better system of government.

Usually the only issues that are voted on are amendments to either the state constitution which requires a majority in order to pass, or an amendment to the federal constitution which requires two thirds of the votes in order to ratify the law.


Comfyshoes- I totally agree. The representative democracy pros and cons are easy to explain.

The advantage to this form of government allows the general public an opportunity to have a say in the how the government is run by electing people that pledge to uphold the views of the people.

The only disadvantage to this system is that people don’t always vote the way you think they will vote and when this happens it could be very detrimental to the community. This is why there is such a backlash against those in our government today.

The other advantage of the representative form of government is that these people can and will get voted out. This is the difference between a direct vs. a representative democracy.

In a direct democracy, the general public has a chance to vote on all issues, while a representative democracy only those elected do.


A democracy requires representatives to listen to the views of their constituents and vote accordingly.

Many times representative’s vote this way and when they don’t they know they will not get re-elected.

In a representative democracy the representatives are there to represents the people of their community so it is important to be well informed on where the candidate stands on key issues.

Also, if the representative already has a voting record it is important to study how that representative voted.

If people would have been this informed during the last presidential election, the results would have been different.

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