Direct Democracy Facts: History, Advantages, Disadvantages, And More

Sridevi Tolety
Dec 02, 2022 By Sridevi Tolety
Originally Published on Apr 08, 2022
Edited by Kelly Quinn
Fact-checked by Lenin Kambam
One of politician sitting by table with his hands

When people run the government, we call it a democracy.

A democracy refers to people taking part in the government by choosing their leaders by voting. The citizens are the decision-makers, as they voice their opinion on significant issues either directly or indirectly.

Representative democracy and direct democracy are the two major types of democracies in the world. In a direct democracy or pure democracy, people determine the laws and policies by voting for or against them. Every citizen votes on all the important decisions, such as bills, laws, and the courts' decisions.

However, in a representative democracy, eligible voters elect representatives to form the government. The chosen leaders make decisions on their behalf. These elected representatives are empowered to make policy decisions and laws for the people. The laws and policies brought in by the elected leaders reflect the decision of the majority of the people.

Read ahead to learn more details about direct democracy.

History And Evolution Of Direct Democracy

Direct democracy has well-documented evidence of its existence for more than 2500 years. Direct or pure democracy functions either through an assembly composed of citizens or through referendums and initiatives where citizens cast their votes for issues.

Decisions are made without delegates based on votes from everyone, and there is no intermediary or representative. In some polities, voters remove the elected official using a referendum called a recall vote.

Direct democracy is known to have originated in Athens, Greece. The Athenian democracy, the first democracy of ancient Greece, which existed in the 5th century BC, is the earliest known and documented form of direct democracy.

It operated through an assembly of male citizens or a council of over 500 citizens who were appointed to manage and run the city's daily affairs. It also included the law courts with several juniors and no judges.

They selected candidates randomly by lottery. During this period, only adult white males were given the status of a citizen.

The people not only made decisions but were involved in public affairs and controlled the political institutions. The decision-making was done by debating and voting on the issues every day, and laws were passed by majority votes.

From the 13th century, the cantons of Switzerland have been witnessing lawmaking by citizens.

In modern society, citizen lawmaking has occurred in the cantons of Switzerland since the 13th century. People's assemblies, similar to the assembly of Athens, were used in several Swiss towns and colonial America during the 17th century.

Switzerland might not be a true direct democracy; however, the general public can veto the laws passed by the national legislative branch using a public vote. Also, using a direct vote on amendments, people can petition to modify the constitution.

During the 18th century, the early US states adopted several procedures where the constitutions and their amendments were officially validated by direct democracy.

In the 19th century, the constitutions of many US states and Switzerland incorporated direct democracy.

Direct Democracy In The United States

The framers of the constitution of the United States did not envision direct democracy for the country. They advocated representative or indirect democracy to protect the citizens from the tyranny of the majority. Despite their intentions, referendums and ballot measures were used at the state level and sub-state levels.

Towns in states including Vermont of the New England region in the United States make decisions on local affairs using direct democracy in town meetings. During these meetings, community members discuss policy decisions, budgets, and legislation for local government. This ancient form of direct democracy is at least a century older than the country's founding. 

In the modern era, in the United States, the government is formed as a representative democracy. Elections are held for local, state, and federal government representatives that include the president, governors, and mayors, among others.

Also, modern-day direct democracy occurs within the native American tribe, Crow Nation, in the United States of America. A general council consisting of all voting-age members organize the tribe, and the council has the power to make legal decisions through referendums.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Direct Democracy

It might be fascinating that direct democracy displays ultimate control over government affairs; however, we must also consider the pros and cons of direct democracy.

An advantage of direct democracy is its transparency. Direct democracy exhibits high transparency and openness of the political decisions by the public and their government. People take the credit or the blame for the success and failure of society.

Moreover, direct democracy lets people voice their opinions through their votes, making them accountable as a government. No information can be hidden from the people by the government. Also, in a direct democracy, the political power lies with the citizens who have to act with the public interest.

There are several disadvantages to direct democracy. Majorly, it is practically difficult to follow, particularly in countries with larger populations.

People are required to spend all day voting for all the issues, which would result in a loss of productivity. People have the freedom to vote for their decision; however, it results in the slow implementation of policies, leading to difficulties during emergency times.

Over time, people may lose interest. There are chances of manipulation of votes. Besides, the voters must be completely aware of all the issues to participate reasonably.

Most importantly, in a direct democracy, the rights of the minority may not be protected by the majority. The minority is at a disadvantage because one group may get stronger than all others.

Medieval stone chariot with archaeological ruins

Democracy allows us to have free, fair elections where its citizens are allowed to vote according to their wishes. However, the way their right is exercised differs from indirect and representative democracies. While representative democracies are far more practical in modern society, direct democracy has been the oldest form of democracy and has existed for over 2500 years.


Who rules in direct democracy?

A. In a direct democracy, the people rule directly, and the power lies in the hands of the people.

What started direct democracy?

A. The citizens in Athens, Greece, started direct democracy to manage the everyday affairs of the region. It functioned through assemblies, councils, and law courts.

What is direct democracy?

A. Direct democracy or pure democracy is a form of government where people determine the laws and policies by voting for or against them. In other words, people rule and hold power in a direct democracy.

What is a fact about representative democracy?

A. An important fact about representative democracy is that it guarantees human rights, and people have the right to have free and fair elections in a democracy.

How does the government raise money in direct democracy?

A. Similar to representative democracies, in a pure democracy, the government raises money with taxes. Switzerland has the maximum federal income tax rate.

How do you get power in a democracy?

A. Direct democracy keeps most of the power distributed among the citizens, and the best way to gain power is to represent what people want.

Why did direct democracy work in Athens?

A. Athens is where direct democracy originated in the 5th century BC. Direct democracy worked in Athens because it had a small population.

What is the difference between representative democracy and direct democracy?

A. In a direct democracy, the power lies with the people who decide the laws and policies by voting for or against them. However, in a representative democracy, people elect representatives to form the government, and the elected leaders make policy decisions and laws for the people.

What are the instruments of direct democracy?

A. The instruments of direct democracy are citizens' initiatives, referendums, and recall elections.

Where did direct democracy originate?

A. Direct democracy originated in Athens, Greece.

Which progressive reform had the effect of allowing direct democracy?

A. The use of initiatives had the effect of allowing direct democracy.

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Written by Sridevi Tolety

Bachelor of Science specializing in Botany, Master of Science specializing in Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs

Sridevi Tolety picture

Sridevi ToletyBachelor of Science specializing in Botany, Master of Science specializing in Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs

With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.

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Fact-checked by Lenin Kambam

Bachelor of Science specializing in Environmental Science

Lenin Kambam picture

Lenin KambamBachelor of Science specializing in Environmental Science

With a degree in Environmental Science from the D. M. College of Science, Lenin brings a unique blend of skills to the table. He has a solid background in sales and marketing, as well as extensive experience in the transcription industry spanning over a decade. Lenin is also committed to making a positive impact through his involvement in social and research projects.

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