The US is a Representative Democracy: A Lesson on Systems of Government

The Economist: By Hannah Barczyk

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

The upcoming presidential election of 2020 is a very important election, as it will determine the kind of country the citizens of the United States want to live in. Do the citizens want a government that is centered around a larger than life personality, in the person of our current president? Or do they want to move back to a balance of power, where all three branches of government have equal power? One of the things we must all remember is that our government was designed to be for the people and run by the people and that our participation in the governing process is key to our success. The US is not a communist government, an anarchy, a monarchy, plutocracy, oligarchy or military dictatorship or parliamentary government it is a democratic republic. Click here for a description of various forms of government.  

Furthermore, the United States is not a direct democracy but is a representative democracy. That is, we elect officials who are supposed to operate on our behalf. In this way, if we elect officials who do not represent us, the way the system should work is that we vote those individuals out. Do we want that to change? Do we want something closer to a monarchy? The office of the president has become more and more powerful and autonomous and autocratic over the past few decades. The American people have to decide what kind of country we want to live in. See our previous article here on what a democratic republic is. Below I have offered some lesson plans and activities on understanding our democracy .

Lesson Plans/Resources
Types of Government Lesson Plan
Types of Government Lesson Plans and Activities
Create Your Own Type of Government
Who Rules?
Who Rules: I-Civcs
Forms of Government Poster Sets
Presidential versus Parliamentary Government
Governments of the World Unit Plan
Parliamentary System Lesson Plan: Determining a Government for a New Country


  1. I am trying to understand why we still have a representative democracy when it is clearly possible with modern technology for us to have a direct democracy, and such would I think sit very well with most Americans (except of course the politicians who would lose their jobs). Can you give your insight into that question? What are the benefits of each? What are the challenges we would face trying to change it? And how would it alter the way we interact as a society?

  2. This article was really informative and a great reminder of how the United States government operates. I really enjoyed the lesson plans that were attached to this article. After looking through some of them, I found myself thinking about ways I could use those lessons in my future classroom. It is important to educate future generations of the structure of governments and the importance of voting and the lesson plans provided did those things.

  3. Many people often confuse what type of government the United States has, often believing that we are a direct democracy. It is important to realize that our country is in fact a representative democracy – therefore, the only way to directly influence our country’s policies is by voting for candidates that represent your own personal interests. This is why, as a U.S. citizen, it is important to vote whenever possible, so that your personal interests can be represented on a national scale. This applies not only to presidential elections, but local elections as well.

  4. I agree that our government must get back to representing the people and not the representatives. All to often the issues and views of the people are thrown to the wayside so that the elected representative can plug their own agenda. With the current state of our culture and a global pandemic this election will be the most important of our lives. It is our responsibility to ask questions and to not stop until we get the answers.

  5. This article is very important to read because it provides information on our government and how it works. It also provides the readers with many sources that they can use to gain more information on the topic and it provides potential lesson plans for teaching this topic in the classroom. Like stated in the article the government was originally designed for the people, and they play a large role in the decision made by the government. Sometimes people feel as if they don’t have a say in the government and that they can’t do anything to change it but there is a way they just have to find it. Whether that is electing a new president, new representatives, or just voting there are ways to make a change.

  6. As someone who is not much of a politics person I do feel that the 2020 election will be interesting to watch. It will really bring out the true side to people. I will not vote for a person who I feel with destroy our country and make it seem as we live in a circus. I do feel as it the government takes some things out of proportion and that’s not right especially for those who work ends meet to provide for their families.

  7. I am not into politics as much as some people, it’s not because I do not care but I feel our government does not care much about us. We live in a world where everyone is for themselves and you have to survive. It’s hard to invest my time In politics when I feel it’s become a circus. For example, people voted for a president who has had sexual misconduct against Women, racist comments, and has not followed and amendments nor made our country better. I feel he has destroyed everything Obama had built and tried to built. I feel as people we will have to come together and evaluate who we are within ourselves to not tolerate and deal with the dysfunction of our government system. The more I have seen this country fall apart I have realized my voice and opinion matters and we as people need to think wisely on who we want over our states, and country.

  8. I thought this article was especially relevant not only because of the upcoming elections but also in light of recent events. This article discusses how US government is supposed to run, how it is set up, and how different politicians can have an effect on the way this system works. I want to discuss two important aspects of this article: how different politicians affect the system and the importance of voting as a result.

    First, let us discuss how different politicians can affect the system. This is easily seen in our two most recent presidents: Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Obama’s stint as president was a relatively peaceful one. He fought for health care access and equal rights, encouraged education and health, and overall contributed towards learning and growth as a society. His biggest scandal as president was when he wore a tan suit. Then came Donald Trump. His campaign and presidency have been littered with lies, misinformation, propaganda, sexual assault and adultery charges and accusations, and a blatant disregard for the American people. This has been more evident than ever in light of recent events. First, he severely mishandled the Covid 19 outbreak, denying facts, evidence, and science and speaking without conferring with his team of officials. Then, he showed insensitivity and apathy towards the African Americans and their fight for justice and equality. Finally, he treated white protesters with guns marching on the capitol with support and encouragement, but met Black Lives Matters protesters with violence and hate. He has even begun to use military force against the American people. Is that characteristic of a representative democracy or military state? This is why it is so important to vote.

    Voting is extremely important because it allows the people to control the messages and policies of those in charge. If you don’t like the way a politician does things you can elect someone else when their term is over. However, this is only effective if a majority of the population votes. That’s the only way for elections to represent the will of the majority. In addition, if there is a low voter turnout, election results can easily be changed through bought votes and foul play. It is harder to change the results if everyone shows up to vote for their candidate.

    Knowing your government and voting are extremely important to protecting your rights and freedoms. If you don’t believe me, just look outside at the world around you. Society didn’t set itself on fire, and people aren’t protesting about nothing.

  9. I find the quote “if we elect officials who do not represent us, the way the system should work is that we vote those individuals out” to be very powerful, especially concerning the state of Kentucky’s government and voting habits. On one hand, we have officials such as Senator Mitchell McConnell who are consistently among the lowest ranked, but have managed to stay in office for years. On the other hand, former Governor Matt Bevin, once deemed the least popular governor and widely criticized, was replaced by current Governor Andy Beshear, who has earned the ranking of most popular governor and has been revered by Kentuckians. These events show me that representative democracy, when put into practice, can be a wonderful thing for the people-but only if it’s utilized. In Kentucky, the philosophies of our government are sparingly used, namely because of the lack of proper representation in the polls come voting season and the red-leaning tendencies of the state as a whole. I believe that if people truly understood the power of their vote, then officials that don’t listen to their constituents would no longer have their seats.

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