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 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. 

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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