Advantages & disadvantages of indirect democracy

Updated April 17, 2017

Democracy can be either direct or indirect. In direct democracies, all policies are decided by popular vote in a referendum. This form of government was popular in ancient Greece where populations of city-states were measured in thousands, not millions. Indirect democracy, on the other hand, is based on the people electing political parties or individuals who will then represent the people in the public offices. This form of democracy is also called representative democracy. Indirect democracy has advantages as well as disadvantages.


In a 1947 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." This statement appears to be even more valid if applied to indirect democracy. It is physically impossible to have every decision decided at the ballot, and it is perfectly natural when the people elect their representatives who are more skilled in politics and public administration than they are.


However practical indirect democracy is, it is not infrequent that politicians are more guided in their decisions not by the interests of the people whom they represent or by the issues on which they were elected, but rather by the polls of their popularity. This is a disadvantage because not much gets done before major elections as politicians lack courage to take sides on critical but controversial issues.

Voter Fatigue

When the Founding Fathers of American democracy or their counterparts elsewhere -- for example in England or France -- laid the foundation of an indirect democratic system, they probably did not anticipate that half of an electorate will not even bother to vote. Voters often become apathetic and tired of politics, particularly so if the candidate they voted for disappoints them, which is often the case given many election promises politicians make and high expectations those promises create. Accordingly, voter fatigue is a disadvantage of indirect democracy -- though it is also a disadvantage of any democratic system.


Not many people are able to decide whether interest rates should rise or fall by a quarter point or whether Mr. Smith or Ms. Simpson is better suited to become the next ambassador to Honduras. The ability to outsource technical decisions to politicians is another advantage of indirect democracy. As people can elect highly qualified professionals, they can continue with their everyday work, safe in the knowledge that their country is going in the right direction.

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