A Democratic Republic: What is That???

(c) 2006 Bonnie Jacobs

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

What is a Democratic Republic?
The United States government is a complex entity known as a democratic republic. This essentially means that the government operates on the principles of both a republic and a democracy. In other words, the nation functions upon principles that are common in both republics and democracies. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a republic as “a political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines democracy as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” In other words, in a republic there are a group of citizens elected or appointed to represent the people, but with a democracy the power is theoretically in the hands of usually all voting citizens. A democratic republic is a mixture of the two.

Direct Democracy Versus a Representative Democracy
Although we hear often that the US is a democracy, it is not fully a direct democracy in the purest sense. Presidential elections are not decided by a direct democracy, but by the electoral college (Electors are officials appointed by each state). A 2016 article in the Huffington Post outlines the process very clearly. The article states that when voters go to the polls they choose “which candidate receives their state’s electors. The candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes (270) wins the Presidency. The number 538 is the sum of the nation’s 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia.” Thus at the federal level, the US is a representative democracy. Many aspects of the United States function as a direct democracy such as local elections for mayor, city council and school board members. State governors are another well known example; in each of the fifty states the governor is elected by popular vote.

Constitutional Democracy
Having said that, like many large entities, it is difficult to find one term to define the US political system. For instance, in many cases the government is described as a constitutional democracy because governmental power is defined, limited, and regulated by a constitution and the electorate (General voting populace). The court system is involved with matters of interpreting the constitution. To make matters even more complex, Native American tribes within the United States are sovereign nations within US borders that are governed by their own separate constitutions. But that is another article for another time. Below are resources social studies teachers can use to assist students in understanding the complexities, nuances, and their rights within the United States as a democratic republic.


Lesson Plan Resources

Fundamentals of a Representative Democracy

OneVote Lesson Plan Part 1: Political Parties

Federalist 10: Democratic Republic vs. Pure Democracy

Civic Center of Education- Lesson Plans

Types of Government Lesson Plan

What is a Republican Government- Lesson Plan


The United States is Both a Republic and a Democracy — Because Democracy is Like Cash

What Is The Electoral College? How It Works And Why It Matters

Definition of Republic


Democratic Republic

Tribal Constitutions of Indian Nations Located in the United States

The Volokh Conspiracy Is the United States of America a Republic or a Democracy?



  1. I think it is important that we have the democratic republic because it shows that there are no sides it is all equal. And they are for the people and hold free elections for us. The power really is in the people. Every vote counts.

  2. I like the fact that America is ran as a Democratic Republic. This is because people have a say in what happens, and essentially they get to choose their own destiny. While this is nice, sometimes it is not the case. For example, sometimes the electoral college process does not accurately represent what the American people have voted for. In our last Election, Clinton won the popular vote but still lost, which outraged many citizens.

  3. I think our founding fathers did an excellent job of thinking things through. They realized the country would be too big for everyone to vote and get something done, with that being said that is where our elected officials came from to represent a certain group of people, like a State.

  4. I do think it is super important to have a Democratic Republic to ensure that everyone is heard. This Republic looks at both sides of the spectrum: Republican and Democrat. It shows that every vote counts and everyone is equal, regardless of your views.

  5. I like the idea of a democratic republic because this allows all of the public to have a say in what is going on. The country overall is very large and you must have a small amount of people to get their points across. This idea helps the idea of their being a shared idea among others.

  6. This article helped me get a better understanding of how our nation operates and how elections take place. Yes we are a Democratic Republic Nation, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are completely free to say what we feel and that are choices will always by heard. As you state, there is a “popular vote” and the “electoral college vote.” If we as the American people, want a change to happen we cannot simply rely on each other to make that happen, but we also must rely on the opinion and vote of the electoral college. Meaning even though we have a voice, we may not be able to get what we want.

  7. I think that overall a democratic republic is important in order to maintain and be fair to both sides of the spectrum. This hopes show that everyone is equal and all of their votes count towards and important position or argument in society. This helps put the power at the hands of the citizens and not just the higher up government officials.

  8. This article is important and should be read by everyone because it explains that no one side of the government is better than the other. It explains that each side is equal in power and that everyone (that votes) has a say. This article also helped me better understand how elections are done and what each person (that votes) is voting for. I think this article is important because it explains how the democratic republican party works in its entirety. 

  9. This article better helped me understand how the United States Government works. I think it’s great that the government is known as democratic republic. This gives everyone, no matter what side they stand for, the chance for their choice to be heard. This article is a great read for anyone who may be unsure of how the government works.

  10. I think it is good that our government is set up as a democratic republic. I think it’s good that we have two options as a republic and democratic because there are some times when all the citizens should have a time to vote, but other times when it would be too overwhelming to have everyone and the government should be able to make that choice alone. Our Founding Fathers made a good choice in setting up the government how it is, to make it efficient and useful.

  11. There has been a growing movement in the US to abolish the electoral college in favor of pure democracy since the election of George W Bush in 2000 to Al Gore who won over 500,000 more votes. And then grew even more during the 2016 election which Clinton won over 2.8 million votes over Trump. Despite these two outliers in recent years I still believe it is important to uphold the vision the founding fathers had in maintaining a Democratic Republic. It serves as an important form of checks and balances against tyranny.

  12. I think it is super important to have a Democratic Republic to ensure that everyone is heard. This Republic looks at both sides of the spectrum: Republican and Democrat. It shows that every vote counts and everyone is equal, regardless of your views. Without a Democratic Republic, I’m not sure how the world would be.

  13. There are many misconceptions on what type of government the United States of America actually has, and many people were outraged in the 2016 elections when they discovered the hard way that we are not a true democracy. We are a representative democracy and that means that our representatives can make decisions that the majority of the general public does not agree with. The question I would pose to my students are what are the benefits and dangers of a representative democracy, and why are we a representative democracy on the federal level and a direct democracy on local levels.

  14. A Democratic Republic: What is that?- I like that we are in a Democratic Republic. It shows that they are for the people, do not take sides, and are equal all around. This is good. I also think that it is important for the people to have a say as well in what they think. Every vote we get from our people counts.

  15. I like the democratic republic, very interesting and clearly they are more for the people and treat all things equally. it is amazing that people have a say,because of the democratic republic.

  16. I have previously responded to this article specifically but i think this is such an interesting topic and i love the idea of democratic republic. The United States holds onto a unique type of government and it is becoming more about the people every year. The Democratic Republic is for the people and treats everyone equal so how could i not support this?

  17. I loved reading this article because I definitely feel that I am undereducated in regards to our voting system. Direct democracy, democratic republic, the electoral college, and so many other terms that I have heard of, but know minimal about. This was a great refresher that grazes the surface of our voting system. Similar to many other respondents of this post, I too feel that a democratic republic protects our rights and safety as American citizens. It gives us a sense of power and responsibility while giving us the chance to elect officials to hopefully stand for the beliefs we support.

  18. This article helped me understand better how our government works. I think that a democratic republic is important to have and makes our government unique in that way. It allows the public to have a say and vote for what happens.

  19. This article informed me more on the type of government we have and how it works. I like that our country is a democratic republic it gives everyone a voice whether we agree with it or not. Each year the United States is becoming more and more for the people and I believe we are headed in the right direction.

  20. I really enjoyed reading the article because it is a topic that i do not know a lot about. Learning more about the more technical definitions of how are government is set up was very interesting. It is also nice that our government gives everyone a voice so that everyone can feel like they contributed. This article was great to read and it is nice to expand my knowledge on a topic i previously knew little about.

  21. A common misconception about the United States is that we are a democracy. We are not – the U.S. is actually a representative democracy, which is slightly different. The Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that tyrants could not easily seize power by abusing a direct democracy system – the United States’ representative democracy system prevents this by giving the voting power to each states’ electors rather than to individual citizens. While not a perfect system, it has done a very good job of giving every state a voice in the election process, whereas a direct democracy would result in an unequal voting process, since states like California and Texas would dominate over smaller states like Wyoming and Montana (smaller in terms of electoral votes, that is).

  22. The American political system takes the best of the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic.  Direct democracy is bad because well,   the framers thought that general voters were too uninformed to make big decisions.  The republic was bad because it was only for the elite and wealthy.  Therefore, we democratically elect someone to represent us and be our voice.  

  23. I always thought of the US government as just a democracy, but I think it is interesting to learn that it’s not a pure democracy, it has aspects of republic and constitutional democracy. Whether we know the exact term to describe our government or not, I think it’s kind of nice that we can’t exactly define it because it means the government doesn’t have to live in a box of following the perimeters of the term’s definition.

  24. This is a very difficult concept to get your head wrapped around, and tends to cause issues in the voting population. Because the presidential election falls under the representative democracy, voters have a habit of believing that their vote doesn’t matter. This is not true because, even if it does not directly effect who is elected your voice is still being hear. It is also incredibly important to realize that not all elections are held this way. Therefore, it is incredibly important for all people of voting age to participate in the smaller, state elections.

  25. The article provides a clear understanding of what the United State’s government is. It also provides clarity on the individual parts that make up the definition of a Democratic Republic. I really like how many Representatives, Senators and electors make up the electoral college. I also love how our country falls back on our constitution and I think other countries should take a similar approach to governing.

  26. I constantly here arguments around whether the United States is a republic or a democracy, and they’re almost always used in conversations around politics. Being mixed between the two objectively has its advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to the popular vote having more of a direct impact, many people feel that the electoral college is not needed, however, populations are not necessarily representative across areas of every state, and this limits one area from holding too much power or say over the rest.

  27. I believe that it is extremely valuable to have a Democratic Republic to ensure that everyone is heard. This type of Republic looks at all sides and allows everyone to have an equal vote that is heard and taken into account. Having a democratic republic allows for a more fair and simple election process.

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