The Problem With Direct Democracy
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The Problem With Direct Democracy

Using representative democracy helps avoids the tyranny of the small majority.

The Problem With Direct Democracy
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In the modern world, "democracy" is a buzzword for everything that can be right and good in a society. Democracy gives the common person a voice with which to influence the world. It serves as a societal option to the absolute monarchy that used to be the standard form of government. However, there’s been a disturbing pattern in recent democratic events: a small majority of voters can have the biggest of impacts on the course of nations and the world in general.

The recent Brexit vote, in which Britain decided to leave the European Union, is one of the more momentous occurrences of the 21st century. Some people are celebrating, while others feel as though a catastrophic mistake has been made. This momentous vote was decided by the slimmest of margins — 51.9 percent of voters favored leaving the EU, while 48.1 percent favored staying a member of it, a swing of 3.8 percent. That swing is tiny. That swing is minuscule. That the fate of a nation was changed by a a disparity of 3.8 percent of voters is ridiculous, right?

In fact, it isn’t. Here in the US, it’s pretty commonplace. A simple perusal of Wikipedia showed me that in the 10 American presidential elections since 1976, the only time when the spread between the winning candidate and the loser was greater than 10 percent was in 1984, when Ronald Reagan blew out Walter Mondale. Every other time, the President of the United States was elected by a margin of less than 10 percent of the voting populace. For most of the past 40 years, the leader of the US has been decided by the smallest of margins.

Democracy, at least in its modern form, seems to be a game of inches. Another important recent vote, the Scottish independence referendum, was decided by an 11 percent swing (55.3 percent to 44.9 percent). The upshot of this, then, is that in a world where we strive to give everyone a voice, the voices of the tiniest few often end up invalidating the voices of half of the voting populace, which means that democratic governments, which are supposed to represent their voters, often leave half of those voters disappointed and unrepresented.

This would seem, then, to be a problem with democracy. Why should a tiny majority hold sway over so many? Isn’t that, in effect, the same as having a tiny ruling class of aristocrats who get to decide the fate of millions? In both cases, a small group determines the fate of a much larger group. However, if this direct democracy, in which people directly get to make their voices heard, breeds a tyranny of a small majority, what is society supposed to do? How does society protect freedoms and avoid giving small majorities of people the potential to control nations?

The answer is simple: avoid direct democracy and create redundancy as much as possible. This has been built into the American system of government already — we have Congress, which is elected separately and has enough power to serve as a check to the President. The tyranny of the small majority that swayed the Presidential election may not hold sway over Congressional elections, meaning that the voices of that small majority don’t overrule the voices of the rest of the country. The British, however, don’t have that recourse. In both this Brexit vote and the Scottish independence vote, they utilized pure, unadulterated direct democracy, the results of which have left many feeling alienated from their country. Had the British allowed Parliament to vote on the EU issue, maybe the impact of the small popular majority would have been lessened.

Direct democracy, while great in theory, has the unfortunate possibility of giving a small amount of people undue sway over the affairs of a nation. Redundancy must be built into a democratic system: the election of Presidents and Congressmen, for example, or the election of members of Parliament who can then vote on issues of the nation. While there will always be some people whose views are nullified, with the more chances that people get to vote, the less likely it is that a small swing percentage will have a huge impact, as people on the fence often change their minds between elections. Just think about swing states in the Presidential elections — they go back and forth every year.

Democracy in any form is better than aristocracy. However, some forms of democracy are better than others. The Roman Republic used representative democracy and it lasted 482 years. The Athenians used direct democracy and their Golden Age last only about 76 years. Using representative democracy helps avoids the tyranny of the small majority, thereby preventing some of the unrest that occurs when a small majority of people change the course of a nation.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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