15 Democracy Examples

democracy examples and definition, explained below

Democracy is a form of government where the will of the people reigns supreme, as reflected in the famous American quote “government by the people, for the people”.

In these systems, elections are held to ensure citizens choose their representatives and, in cases of direct democracy, can even directly vote on laws themselves.

At its essence, democracy is all all about giving citizens the final say in how their country is run.

Democracy can trace its roots back to Ancient Greece. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century, during the Age of Enlightenment and the rise of liberal philosophy, that modern democracies began taking shape in Europe (Hodgson, 2019).

This article will explore some key examples of democratic systems.

Democracy Examples

1. School Board Elections

In many countries, school boards are set up through a popular vote of the local residents.

This helps to establish the principle that what happens in local schools is consistent with the needs and desires of the local community.

Elected board members are responsible and accountable to the parents and community, ensuring that what is taught and the administration of the school remains satisfactory and responsive to community needs.

The board members might make key decisions about a district’s public schools, including setting district-wide policies, establishing budgets, and overseeing school administration.

Furthermore, if there isn’t an overriding government or state mandate, they might also determine curriculum standards.

2. Majority Rule

The principle of majority rule is a cornerstone of democracy. This principle states that you need at least 50% of the population to agree with a concept in order for it to be passed into law.

Simply, if more than half of the residents or citizens (over 50%) chooses a particular option such as an elected official or policy, then that option can become law, and is imposed upon the entire group.

This tends to be applied in societies that are direct democracies.

However, it is important that majority rule is paired with protections for minority rights, to prevent the “tyranny of the majority.”

3. Minority Protections

Because the above scenario can set in place majoritarian rule and establish a situation of marginalization and oppression of minorities, most liberal democracies respect a range of civil liberties.

Civil liberties, also referred to as civil rights, refer to all those rights that everyone deserves to have afforded them to protect their personal autonomy and freedoms. Examples include the right to a fair trial, right to practice a religion, and so forth.

These are often based upon another conception of rights, known as natural rights, which is based on liberal philosophy which holds that all humans should have certain rights due to their nature – rights like the right to life, liberty, and free speech.

4. Presidential Elections

Elections of presidents is another core feature of many democratic systems. This occurs, for example, in the USA and France.

Other democracies, like Canada and the UK, elect representatives only, who collectively make decisions in a parliamentary system.

In presidential elections, the president serves both as the head of state and head of government. They replace the traditional political role of a king or queen.

The president is often responsible for executing laws, which is why they’re also called the executive branch of government.

5. Parliamentary Elections

If you don’t have a presidential election, you may have parliamentary elections, which involve voting for representatives. Those representatives, in turn, will vote for a leader, called the prime minister.

Usually, the political party (or coalition of parties) that has the most representatives in parliament are able to “command the confidence of the house”, which allows them to elect a leader and form a government.

Examples of democracies with parliamentary systems include the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. In the USA, congress is similar to the parliament, although the leader of the house of congress does not also have executive powers in the same way as a parliamentary democracy.

6. Constitutional Amendments

Most democracies are established based upon a constitution, which cannot be changed by lawmakers alone.

Constitutions set out a range of laws around democratic elections, how power is divided, and the civil liberties I discussed earlier.

If the constitution is to be amended, there is usually a high bar, which tend to involve a direct vote of the people. On top of this, there may be a need for a supermajority, such as more than half the states of the nation having to support the change – leading to a “majority of a majority” situation.

In the U.S., to achieve supermajority, an amendment must be proposed by either a two-thirds vote in Congress or a convention called by two-thirds of the state legislatures, and then ratified by three-fourths of the states. This is why there have been no amendments passed in the USA in over 30 years.

7. Referendums

A referendum is a form of direct democracy where an entire electorate is invited to vote on a specific proposal.

A referendum, for example, may be a part of the process for a constitutional amendment.

A referendum may be held for an extremely important or extremely contentious issue. 

For example, in Australia, there have been referenda on issues like whether to remove the kingo r queen of England as head of state and become a republic.

Similarly, the U.K.’s Brexit vote in 2016 was a referendum, where the public voted on whether to ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ in the European Union. The nation chose to leave.

8. Jury Trials

The democratic principle of a jury trial lies in the notion that a citizen’s guilt or innocence should be decided by a group of their peers, which represents the rule of the people.

The jury is randmoly selected, and it is generally a responsibility of citizens to attend the jury if called up.

The jury is then tasked with sitting through the trial, assessing the evidence, deliberating, and coming to a verdict on the case.

This ensures that the justice system is truly democratic and represents the will of the people. Decisions are therefore not solely in the hands of professional judges and attorneys. Rather, the process involves ordinary citizens.

9. Workers’ Unions

These are organizations formed by employees in an industry, trade, or sector to protect their collective rights and interests, such as negotiating for better wages, working conditions, and job security.

Generally, a union operates on the principle of democracy.

Members of a union elect their representatives at several levels, including their workplace representative and the leaders of the union overall, such as the union’s treasurer.

These leaders then negotiate on the union’s behalf. Once negotiations are complete, the agreement often has to be put to the union membership for a vote on whether to accept or reject. Furthermore, major decisions, like going on a strike, are typically voted on by the union membership.

10. Community Surveys

These are tools used by governments, organizations, or researchers to gauge public opinion on a range of issues.

A community survey may also be called a plebiscite, especially if it’s put to the entire community.

During this process, respondents are asked to provide their views on various matters, allowing representatives to understand the overall views of the people, in order to enact laws and policies that reflect the will of the people.

The results of such surveys may directly influence policy decisions such as the development of new community projects and how to best allocate resources.

This is a form of indirect democracy, providing a way for citizens’ voices to be heard.

11. Student Government Elections

Student government is often the first taste of democracy that young people have. Generally, this will involve the students electing representatives among themselves to form a student government to represent the students’ interests.

The elected body advocates for student rights, organizes student activities, and often serves as a liaison between the student body and the school administration, giving students a democratic say in the governance of their educational environment.

12. Homeowner Association Elections

In residential communities with homeowner associations (HOAs), homeowners elect fellow residents to an HOA board, and those residents will make decisions for the home owners.

This may take place on a small level, such as all the owners of apartments within a large apartment building, or a large level, like all the homes in a particular neighborhood or city.

The home owner’s association’s board of elected officials may make decisions about communal areas, decide when to commission maintenance (which tends to be contentious due to the overall costs), how to handle landscaping, how to maintain amenities, and so forth.

They may also enforce rules and regulations, such as rules about quiet times or what people area allowed to hang over their balconies.

13. Public Initiative

Also known as citizens’ initiative, this is a process by which citizens can propose new legislation or amendments to existing legislation.

This usually involves gathering a certain number of signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot. The measure is then put to a public vote.

This process, used in some U.S. states and other countries, exemplifies direct democracy, enabling citizens to bypass the legislative body and enact change directly.

14. Recall Elections

Recall elections are a mechanism through which citizens can remove elected officials from their posts before their term ends.

The process typically involves collecting a set number of signatures to trigger a recall vote.

Once a recall election is initiated, voters decide whether to remove the official from office and who should replace them.

This democratic tool provides a way for citizens to maintain control over their representatives and to hold them accountable for their actions in office.

15. Town Hall Meetings

Town hall meetings are a form of direct democratic rule, where members of a community gather to discuss issues of local concern, make decisions, and voice their opinions.

The term originated from the traditional practice of town inhabitants meeting in the town’s hall to make communal decisions, such as voting on town ordinances or budgets.

Read Also: Autocracy vs Democracy

Top 25 Democracies in the World

According to the Democracy Index, the top 25 democracies in the world are as follows:

top democracies in the world 2020, explained below

The above diagram can be represented in table form, below. That the Democracy Index Score is on a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is full democracy and 0 is an authoritarian regime:

RankDemocracy ExampleDemocracy Index Score (2020)
1Norway9.87
2Iceland9.58
3Sweden9.39
4New Zealand9.26
5Canada9.24
6Finland9.20
7Denmark9.22
8Ireland9.15
9Australia9.09
10Switzerland9.03
11Netherlands8.96
12Luxembourg8.81
13Germany8.68
14United Kingdom8.52
15Uruguay8.38
16Austria8.29
17Spain8.12
18Mauritius8.10
19Costa Rica8.03
20France7.99
21Chile7.97
22Portugal7.90
23South Korea7.87
24Japan7.84
25United States7.92

Features of a Democracy

Democracies differ in a range of ways, as I’ve explored in my article on the many types of democracy, but overall, there are some key principles that are existent in most democratic societies and institutions.

These include features like popular sovereignty, pluralism, and a free press that holds elected officials accountable. The principle of accountability and transparency, alongside the principle of “one person one vote” are at the core.

Below are some features you may see in a democratic society or instituion:

  • Popular Sovereignty: The power and authority of the government come from the people, which means that the decisions reflect the will of the people and not a minority group in power such as an oligarchy or plutocracy (Smith & Bouckaert, 2012). People exercise their power through voting in elections, on the principle of one person one vote. This feature ensures that the will of the people is paramount in a democracy, and in principle ensures that the will of the people reigns supreme.
  • Political Equality: All citizens have equal political rights in a true democratic society. The should, in principle, mean equal access to political power, and equal protection under the law (Dahl, 2011). This means that every individual’s vote should have the same weight (no one’s vote is more powerful than anyone else’s), and everyone has the same opportunity to influence politics. This freedom is often curtailed, even in strong democratic societies, by processes such as gerrymandering.
  • Majority Rule and Minority Rights: Decisions are generally made based on the will of the majority, but the rights of the minority are still protected, often by a constitution or bill of rights that can be uphelded by the courts (Hamilton, Madison & Jay, 2012). Minority rights ensure that those who belong to racial, ethnic, class, religious, or sexual minorities can continue to receive due process and gain access to democratic institutions, which is in turn a prerequisite for a truly democratic society.
  • Pluralism: Democracy encourages a multitude of different viewpoints. This allows for the existence of different interests, values, and beliefs within society, and protects people from having to conform to the will of the majority (Putnam, 2015). Pluralism acknowledges the diversity of interests within a society and allows different groups to negotiate and compromise to achieve their goals.
  • Free and Independent Media: A democratic society also requires the existence of a free and independent media. This media apparatus, free from the influence of government, is there to keep the government accountable, inform citizens about public affairs, prevent censorship, monitor the actions of government officials, and provide a platform for the free exchange of opinions and ideas – no matter how controversial (Besley & Prat, 2010).

Conclusion

Despite democracy’s pros and cons, it remains the best option we have to secure the will of the people and civil liberties for all. However, it’s not perfect. There is always a degree of suppression, coercion, and even corruption in a democratic system. Nevertheless, with strong guardrails, it remains better than most alternatives, whereby power tends to be concentrated with a ruler or dictator who can violate the liberties of the people.

References

Besley, T., & Prat, A. (2010). Handcuffs for the grabbing hand? Media capture and government accountability. American Economic Review, 100(3), 720-736.

Dahl, R. A. (2011). On political equality. Yale University Press.

Smith, A., & Bouckaert, J. (2012). Contractarian political economy and constitutional interpretation. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 71(3), 503-537.

Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J. (2012). The federalist papers. Simon and Brown.

Putnam, R. D. (2015). Our kids: The American dream in crisis. Simon and Schuster.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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