Channel 4 Learning


Who rules //

People Power - Direct Democracy?

What is a direct democracy?

In a direct democracy, instead of voting for someone else to represent you in the government, you actually vote and debate on all the issues yourself. Every single person gets to vote on every single decision that needs to be made. In reality it's not very practical. Can you imagine cramming every single citizen in the UK in a room to have a debate?

Key Points

  • All the people in a direct democracy get to participate in making decisions. They debate and then vote.
  • This is a very difficult system to run. In practice it would take a lot of time and effort for everyone to take part and to agree on every decision.
  • Very occasionally referendums are held. This is the closest most countries ever get to a direct democracy.

Reality Bytes: Ancient Greece

Democracy started in Ancient Greece. The word democracy comes from the Greek word 'demos' and means the people. Athenians would all gather in the city and debate the issues of the day. They would then vote on what they thought should happen. With few people and a space big enough, it worked. But was it fair? Did everyone get to vote? No. In fact only men who were considered full citizens could vote. Neither women nor slaves could have any say.

The Acropolis

The Acropolis, the spiritual and political centre of Ancient Greece

How did it work?

It wasn't always convenient for men to turn up and vote as they had work to do. So, a smaller number of men were chosen to do the voting and debating. In Athens they decided to have a sort of lottery system. If you got the winning ticket you were on the council of 500 men and remained there for a year. Everyone else got to vote only on the really important matters. This is where the ideas for modern democracies come from.

Interesting Fact

  • There are no direct democracies in the world today.

Big Question

  • Imagine that the UK was going to be turned into a direct democracy. Every day people would have to vote on decisions via their mobile phones. Do you think this could work? Would it encourage people to take an interest in politics?