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What is Indirect Democracy? - Definition, Advantages & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Indirect Democracy?
  • 1:11 Advantages of an…
  • 3:15 Examples of Indirect…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Rainer has taught college Sociology and Political Science courses and has a master's degree in political sociology.

Indirect democracies are the most common type of democratic system in the world. We'll compare this system of government to direct democracy, discuss the advantages of indirect democracy and look at some of the many examples of indirect democracy.

What Is an Indirect Democracy?

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, was being considered by the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2009, passions were high on all sides of the issues. Proponents of the bill said it was a long overdue overhaul of the nation's health care system. Opponents of the bill said it was another step towards a government takeover of health care. According to an NBC News poll at the time, nationwide there were more opponents of the bill than supporters. But despite the bill not being supported by most Americans, the Senate and House of Representatives still passed it. This example shows the way in which an indirect democracy works.

An indirect democracy is a type of democratic government in which voters choose delegates to create the laws of government on their behalf. A common term that is used interchangeably with indirect democracy is a representative democracy.

Indirect democracy is usually contrasted with direct democracy. In direct democracy, people directly vote on whether a law will be passed. But in indirect democracy, people only choose the representatives who will then make the law.

Advantages of an Indirect Democracy

Proponents of indirect democracy argue that the system is efficient because not everyone has time or knowledge to be able to vote on the nation's laws. How would you like coming home after a long day of work only to find out that you have to vote on yet another new law that has been proposed? Let's face it; making legislation requires a lot of technical knowledge and understanding of the issues being considered. And most people simply don't have the time to dig deep into an issue to decide what should be the law. For that reason, we elect representatives who make the laws for us! These representatives are then charged with the task of researching and crafting the laws in what should be a responsible way.

A second advantage of indirect democracy is that it is responsive to the will of the people, while at the same time not being too responsive. What do we mean by that paradoxical statement? Well, let's say that a senator goes rogue and starts voting completely opposite of what constituents in his state think. What do you think will happen to him? They'll probably vote him out of office next time he's up for re-election. This is why legislators are absolutely obsessed with what polls say about an issue in their district.

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