Democracy For Kids

A democracy is a government that is run by the people.

There are other forms of government, including monarchies, oligarchies, and dictatorships, in which the people do not have a say in government.

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In a democracy, people voice their opinions by voting on important issues and/or by voting on who they think should lead the government.

A political scientist named Larry Diamond says that a government must meet four requirements to be a democracy:

  • Using a system of elections to vote for and replace government leaders
  • Protecting the human rights of all people (such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to a fair trial)
  • All citizens actively participating in politics and civics
  • All laws applying equally to all citizens

melting pot of citizens

A Brief History of Democracy

The first democracy was developed in the Ancient Greek city of Athens many years ago. A group of people called The Council suggested laws.

The Assembly, which was made up of all citizens (women and slaves were not included) voted on whether the laws should or should not pass.

In addition, The Assembly elected some government leaders by writing the name of their favorite candidate on a stone or piece of wood. The candidate with the most votes won.

Other governments held elections throughout history. Often, however, strict rules limited who could vote.

Today, according to the Democracy Index, there are 20 countries that are full democracies. Many additional countries are classified as “flawed democracies” by the Index.

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Types of Democracy

The two main types of democracies are a direct democracy and a representative democracy.

In a direct democracy, every citizen votes on every important decision. The government of Athens, described above, was a direct democracy.

People had the chance to express their opinions on all laws and major choices. With a larger population, of course, this process becomes more challenging.

This brings us to the representative democracy. In a representative democracy, people elect representatives to run the government. They choose people who they think will make decisions that they agree with.

The United States is a representative democracy. People vote on federal, state and local government officials, including the President, Senators, governors, mayors, and more.

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With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009.

More Characteristics of Democracies

One very important characteristic of a democracy is that they have free, fair elections. All citizens are allowed to vote however they want.

And in most democracies today, all citizens can vote, regardless of gender, race, or other factors.

In addition, limits are placed on the people in positions of power.

For example, the president of the United States can only serve two four-year terms, and he can’t pass laws without the approval of Congress.

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US Capitol building (home of Congress)

Problems with Democracy

In a perfect world, democracy might be the perfect form of government. In reality, there are still some issues that democracies regularly experience.

For instance, running for office is extremely expensive, typically limiting positions of power to the wealthy.

In addition, two-party systems (like the Democrats and Republicans in the United States) can leave voters with few choices.

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And when people vote and make decisions only along party lines, compromise on important issues becomes very challenging.

Sometimes, corruption results in unfair elections that limit the power of the people. Also, democracies are large and complex, which sometimes makes government processes slow and inefficient.

Despite these issues, democracy is considered one of the fairest forms of government.

People living in democracies tend to be healthier and wealthier, live longer, and have more rights and freedoms than people under other forms of government rule.

Fun Facts About Democracy

In the United States Constitution, the word “democracy” is never used. The government is called a “republic.”

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The term comes from “demos,” the Greek word for “people.”

Cleisthenes, a statesman from Athens, is considered the Father of Democracy.

According to the Democracy Index, the United States is a “flawed democracy.”

It does have free and fair elections and extends rights to the people, but the Index gave it lower scores for functioning of government, political participation, and political culture.

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Still, the United States is the longest-running recognized democracy in modern society.

Each of the 25 wealthiest countries in the world is a democracy.

US Government