What is a democracy? A democracy is a form of government where the citizens of the nation have the power to vote. There are several different types of democracies. Representative democracy is a system where citizens choose government representatives among their citizens. Direct democracy is when the citizens form a governing body and vote directly on issues. A constitutional democracy limits the powers of government through the nation's constitution.
Political scientist Larry Diamond put it best when he said that a democracy must contain four critical elements. These elements are:
- A system of elections used to choose and replace the government
- Protection of human rights of all people
- Active participation of citizens in politics and civics
- All laws apply equally to all citizens
True democracy, also known as direct democracy or pure democracy, is a form of democracy in which people decide on policy initiatives directly. True democracies are often synonymous with full democracies.
Full democracies are nations where fundamental political freedoms and civil liberties are respected and reinforced by the political culture. Full democracies have valid systems of checks and balances, an adequately functioning government, an independent and authoritative judiciary, and a media free from infringement.
Constitutional Republic vs. Democratic Republic
Republics differ from direct democracies. A republic is "a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives." Many modern democracies are republic because the citizens elect representatives rather than govern the state themselves.
Both a constitutional republic and a democratic republic are forms of government where the power rests with the people and is exercised through representative government. The government has an elected head of state.
In a constitutional republic, the government is limited by the laws established in its formal constitution. The government is run by elected officials voted by the population, and those officials must adhere to the government's rules in the constitution.
A democratic republic runs the government how a republic does and bases its government on democratic ideals. To best explain this, the United States can be used as an example. The United States has free and fair elections and citizen participation in government. Additionally, the U.S. protects the human rights of its citizens and honors the rule of law. These four things make the United States a democracy. The fact that the United States has elected government officials and an elected head of government who make laws according to the people's will.
The United States, like other large governments, is not entirely described by a single term and is a hybrid of multiple terms. The United States is both a constitutional democracy and a democratic republic.
The Democracy Index
The Democracy Index is an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The index measures the states of democracy in 167 based on 60 indicator groups in five different categories: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. Each country is scored between 0 and 10 in each of the five categories, then averaged for an overall score. Overall scores between 8.01 and 10 are considered full democracies, which there are 22 of in the world. There are ten countries with scores of 9.0 or higher. These are the most democratic nations in the world.
The most democratic nations in the world are:
- Norway (9.87)
- Iceland (9.58)
- Sweden (9.39)
- New Zealand (9.26)
- Finland (9.25)
- Ireland (9.24)
- Canada (9.22)
- Denmark (9.22)
- Australia (9.09)
- Switzerland (9.03)
According to the index, several nations are classified as "flawed democracies." While elections are free and fair and there are basic civil liberties, there are faults in other aspects, such as low levels of participation in politics and civics or an underdeveloped political culture. These nations tend to have the most corruption.