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 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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