Types of Political Regimes & Their Characteristics

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  • 0:01 Types of Government…
  • 0:57 Autocratic
  • 2:17 Limited Suffrage
  • 3:53 Truly Democratic
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In the United States, we live in a republic, while the UK is a monarchy. Yet both are democratic, while some republics and monarchies are definitely not. This lesson makes some sense out of differing political regimes.

Types of Government and Regimes

Since the first groups of nomadic humans formed, some sort of government structure has been in place to provide them with guidance and mediation of disputes. In the centuries and millennia since those first groups, the roles of government have evolved greatly in many respects, not the least of which is how power is passed down between generations and how many people have access to power.

Often, you'll hear political scientists describe a country as either a monarchy, where a single person has control of the state, often passed down through generations, or a republic, where power is, at least in theory, shared amongst a larger group. Those terms are used to describe the government in question. However, the regime, or ruling powers behind a government, can take on a number of different varieties. In this lesson, we'll look at what different regimes look like in republics and monarchies.


When we think of the most basic types of regime, we tend to think first of autocratic governments. Autocratic regimes are ruled by one person or a small group of people, and very little input from outside of that central group is admitted. Think of a child's idea of what it would be like to be king or queen, ordering people to do arbitrary tasks without anyone to challenge their authority, and you've got a handle on what an autocratic regime looks like. Note that these types of government always must have some element of the population that supports them, lest there be riots and revolts. These supporters are rewarded heavily for their loyalty, but such rewards rarely bring any actual measure of input.

Shockingly, autocratic regimes are still in use around the world - most obviously, in places like North Korea and Saudi Arabia, where a single family controls everything with the support of a few other individuals. In fact, they demonstrate that both countries that consider themselves monarchies and republics can be autocratic. Also, note that in each of these cases, it is a single family that runs the government. Again, observers often call the Kim family that rules North Korea the Kim Dynasty, implying that they are really quite close to being a monarch. However, for propaganda reasons, North Korea insists that it is a republic.

Limited Suffrage

North Korea and Saudi Arabia are certainly extreme examples, and that's because many countries stop short of being completely autocratic. Instead, countries that don't allow full democratic institutions allow some sort of limited suffrage, where a selected group of people can have influence over a range of issues. Think about it like a teacher giving a pre-selected helper from the class a choice between cleaning up toys after playtime or helping to feed the classroom pet. The choices are defined and limited, as are the participants.

The classic example of limited suffrage in a republic is China. Here, the Communist Party has incredible power, indeed to the point that no other political group has any real power in the country. Extensive background checks are done on potential party members in order to make sure that only those individuals who share the goals of the party are admitted. However, once you're in, you get a shocking amount of influence. In fact, this has been a big driver in the change from China being a closed country with little external trade to one of the most powerful economies in the world.

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