Democracy and Participation

These are my notes I put together for my politics exam this year- I got an A for the unit 1 paper so I thought these notes might be able to help others! 

Not all of it may be relevant now but I think the majority is

  • Created by: mollyadtr
  • Created on: 10-12-16 18:59

Topic 1: democracy and political participation

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Government should serve the interests of the people 

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The importance of democracy

Democracy establishes and protects freedom:

Democracy ensures that no government can threaten freedom unless it is with the expressed consent of the people 

Democracy protects minorities:

To be effective + enduring it must take into account the interests and demands of minority groups

Democracy controls government power preventing abuses of power

Democracy prevents that those who govern us will begin to abuse the position with increasing power. Does this by making government accountable to the people- submit themselves to re-election. People feel safe from corruption of power

Democracy disperses power more widely

Power is dispersed widely among people and non-governmental associations in civil society, preventing accumulations of power in too few hands

Democracy encourages popular participation

Tyranny can be prevented by ensuring that the people are able to freely participate in politics. People have the opportunity to become informed and be directly involved in influencing decision making 

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Various methods that have been suggested to improv

Electoral reform:


FPTP disproportionate, safe seats, wasted votes etc                                                                                                

Increase the use of referendums:

Form of direct democracy

Scotland independence 

Ensures accountability of government and raised participation

May not understand fully to make judgement


Use to express dissatisfaction of government of the day

Lowering voting age to 16+ or make voting compulsory:

Not part of national curriculum may not fully understand it


Reform of the house of lords chamber, house of commons to be more socially representative


Electronic voting

+ ways to improve participation in turn improves democracy

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Participatory democracy

Being active in political affairs/ aware, letting our political beliefs be known

Being politically active, taking it into our own hands by involving ourselves

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Examples of participatory democracy

Voting in various elections

Joining pressure groups or political party

Participating in demonstrations 

Being informed about issues

Taking part in e-petitions

If political representatives are not scrutinised by the electorate there will be no say in what is done

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David Cameron – Big Society

Suggests that many of the functions of the state, largely in local government, should be replaced by local activism

Voluntary housing associations, citizens actions groups to combat crime

Free schools run by local community groups 

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Evidence of low participation levels – participato

Turnout: election turn out has been falling since 1979:

1979: 76%, 2015: 66.1%

Party membership: 

1980: over a million, 2010: less than 400,00, on the decline

Partisan dealignment

Less people joining political parties as a result of less people taking any close interest in politics or political parties in general 

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Evidence to show that participation is picking up:

Pressure group membership

On the rise, eg AA has over 1 million members, pressure groups are picking up the lack of participation towards political parties, could suggest they identify with them more

Growth in e-petitions

Highly successful internet campaigns eg most recent one to ban Donald trump from entering the uk 

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How can political participation be increased?

Voting can be made compulsory:

The electorate can take ownership of the outcome

Have options for those who don’t want to vote eg I don’t know or I refused to vote

Reducing voting age to 16:

May encourage more young people to become involved in politics

Some suggest they aren’t old enough to understand or they might not vote at all as theyre too lazy 

David Camerons ‘big society’

Electoral reform:

Make all votes worth something, avoid safe seats, make the result more proportional, to combat the disillusionment associated with it 

Making voting easier:

Introducing internet or text voting which would make it easier for people in remote areas or have difficulties getting places, problems with security though 

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Advantages and disadvantages of participatory demo


Majority rule, usually need a majority to pass/ win an election, but how about the other 50% of the population who voted against it or didn’t vote at all? Can it really be said it is the full public opinion


It keeps democracy going

Prevents government from being an elected dictatorship 

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Direct democracy

People themselves make the important decisions that affect them directly

People themselves make political decisions 

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Examples of direct democracy




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Advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy


Promotes transparency

Provides direct responsibility 

Promotes a well co operative community

Is the purest form of democracy

Avoids decisions being made by representatives purely in their own interests – prevents elected dictatorship

People are becoming increasingly well informed and educated and so can make their own judgements

When there is disillusionment with representative institutions, people prefer to make decisions for themselves


Uninvolved, uneducated people

Tyranny of the majority

Impractical on large scale

Corruption would still exist

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Assess the arguments in favour of the greater use

Direct democracy involves a wide range of activities which include: referendums, focus groups and e-petitions

It is genuine democracy in action

With participation creates a true view of citizens, no distinction between government and people 

The above may be a more ideal aspiration than practically possible, direct democracy is not achievable with greater population

Right now there is limited trust/confidence in officials/representatives eg expense scandals

Direct democracy would remove that, take away the distortion

However, there is a need for experts in certain fields who can take informed decisions and have a long term view of society

Digital democracy- create a more informed/ educated society, where people care about events and factors behind issues

It is argued that people would get lazy

Extend greater legitimacy to the government and its actions eg more widespread use of referendums

Constant reference and involvement of the public may create political instability/ crisis/ polarize opinion 

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Referendums: occasion when citizens are asked to d

Examples of referendums:

Scottish independence referendum: 2014

Whether or not there should be an elected mayor: 2012

Electoral reform to AV: 2011

Future referendums:

EU referendum 2016

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Why referendums are used

So that government would not have to make a difficult decision that would back fire, it can be proposed by the people so that’s where the result lies

Electorate is now considered better educated and better informed and so insists on being consulted on matters

Future governments and parliaments will not be able to reverse the changes unless they again consult the people, the changes will become permanent, gives the result protection

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Advantages and disadvantages of referendums


Most direct form of democracy – helps to make decisions legitimate and confirms the principle of government by consent

If people have demonstrated their expressed consent, they are more likely to accept the decision

Referendums prevent governments from making unpopular decisions 

A referendum effectively entrenches constitutional changes 


Many issues may be too complex for the majority of people to understand and make judgement on

Referendum campaigns are expensive – danger that one side will prevail as they have more money

People might use a referendum as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the government of the day

Tyranny of the majority – minority that loses is not taken into account in anyway- undemocratic

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To what extent would the wider use of referendums

It would:

Would make the population more politically active between elections – may increase turnout

Would be more suited for instance ethical issues

On issues which divide parties the public could have the final say eg rise in tuition fees

Could be used at local level

It would make government less elitist and not so much an elected dictatorship

Are god for important/major decisions eg constitutional changes, electoral reform, the eu 

It wouldn’t:

Greater use could lead to apathy

Public lack knowledge on some areas

They cost a lot

Extensive use undermines the principle of representative democracy and role of parliament

Biased media

People may use it to express their dissatisfaction of current day government

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How do referendums complement representative democ

Yes they do:

So that government would not have to make a difficult decision that would back fire, it can be proposed by the people so that’s where the accountability lies

Electorate is now considered better educated and better informed and so insists on being consulted on matters

Electorate do not need to go through a channel of communication to express their views, can be done directly 

No they don’t:

Tyranny of the majority – minority that loses is not taken into account in anyway- undemocratic

People might use a referendum as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the government of the day

Extensive use undermines the principle of representative democracy and role of parliament

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Representative democracy

Where decisions are made by elected representatives rather than the people themselves, eg mps 

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Examples of representative democracy

Public scrutiny

Mps responsibility to be accounted for peoples concerns

Reporting of parliament debates

Prime ministers question time 

Reporting of parliament debates

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Main features of a representative democracy

Free, fair and regular elections at a range of levels

Assemblies/legislatures which pass laws, the uk parliament

Decisions reached on the basis of majority

Tolerance of differing viewpoints

Widespread civil rights such as freedom of speech, right to protest 

Pressure group activity

A range of political parties with representing differing policies and ideas 

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Parliamentary democracy

Parliament is the source of all political authority

The governmnet of the uk has to be drawn from parliament

Government makes itself constantly accountable to parliament 

All citizens are represented by members of parliament 

Parliament is normally the guardian of the governments electoral mandate

Parliament is expected to represent the national interest 

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Representative democracy in the Britain

Mps: your line of communication

House of parliament: expected to represent a cross section of society as a whole: female mps- 200, male mps-500, ethnic minority- 40 (2015), realistically under representative

Political parties: mainstream parties claim to represent the whole nation, people may feel more represented by pressure groups

The media: most people get their news/ knowledge here, whoever owns it can manipulate it and control it 

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Advantages and disadvantages of representative dem


Participation levels are often low and this calls into the question the legitimacy of the system 

Some minorities may feel excluded and marginalized under the system 

Criticism is levied as to the narrow nature of representatives who are seen as not a true reflection of the people in society who they claim to represent


Government by experts or specialists. Representative democracy places power in the hands of the talented. For instance in terms of law and economics government posts are filled with people who possess detailed

knowledge in these areas

Representative democracy provides accountability. Through elections and free speech the public can hold office holders to account, throwing out errant governments and poorly performing ministers.

Representative democracy is the only practical form of democracy in a large

modern society. Direct democracy is unpractical for a host of reasons.

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How effective does representative democracy operat

It does:

All areas of uk have elected representatives and there is a good mp/constituency link

New parties and pressure groups do form and are free to operate and challenge governments. Minorities and civil liberties are protected under the system

System provides government by the specialist or experts who have both practical knowledge and also high expertise in areas of governance eg skills in admin/ economic understanding

Uk is mature representative democracy and the current system instils stability and continually into civic life

It doesn’t:

An alleged participation crisis

Faults with representative institutions eg unelected lords + FPTP

Wider flaws with how ‘representative’ the system is with regards to gender, ethnicity, social class

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Direct and representative democracy compared

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How representative is better than direct

Elected representatives may be expected to use superior knowledge, judgement and experience to consider issues more deeply and so avoid over-emotional, hasty conclusions

Representatives in political parties are in a position to mediate between the conflicting demands of different groups in society. These are difficult, controversial issues that require lengthy, sober reflection

Representatives are in a position to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority, elected representatives may be able to protect the interests of certain sections of society. If they were resolved by direct democracy, the majority would always win

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Liberal democracy

Where there is an emphasis on the protection of individual rights and liberties, and where government is limited by enforceable constitutional laws 

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Summary of ideas

Government is accountable to the people to ensure that it is attempting to act in their general interests

Free and fair elections

There is a peaceful, orderly transfer of power from one government to the next

Losing parties accept the democratic legitimacy of winning parties

Information is freely available to the citizens 

Rights and liberties of citizens are taken into account and protected

The powers of government are controlled and limited 

A variety of beliefs, opinions, cultures and lifestyles are tolerated

Codified constitution

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Is Britain a liberal democracy


Government is accountable to parliament, ministers justify themselves

Endure citizens are informed

Parliament does not have enough time to undertake this effectively

Free and fair elections

FPTP disproportionate electoral system

Votes are wasted, safe seats


Free press

Government can sensor things

Rights and liberties:


Parliament is still sovereign

Limited government:

No written constitution of safeguarding laws that set out limitations of government


Admired for its tolerant politics + culture as long as they don’t challenge legitimacy of government. Growing terrorist threats

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To what extent is the uk a liberal democracy

Dispersal of power to devolved nations – devolution

Parliament still sovereign, has full control

Freedom of information act allowed greater transparency within public sector


Devolved nations operate under PR electoral system

Referendums becoming convention. Not binding on parliament but great moral force eg EU

Fixed term parliaments – limitation on government

No written constitution

House of lords un elected even with reform

House of commons make up not representative of society as a whole

FPTP unfair

Sovereignty still lies within Westminster all of it 

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The democratic deficit and democratic renewal

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Democratic deficit: to describe a fear that democracy is being undermined or weakened in a variety of ways 

Eg: the problem of falling political participation, the persistence of undemocratic institutions within the system of government, the increased centralization of power that is insufficiently accountable within government

Democratic renewal: a general term describing measures designed to deal with the democratic deficit 

Eg: solutions to falling participation, constitutional and parliamentary reform, being addressed through devolution and other constitutional reforms 

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To what extent is there a democratic deficit

There is:

Declining turnout at all levels of elections

Political apathy (lack of interest) which questions democratic framework

A deficit in particular in education as the wider public lack interest and knowledge in the political system

Lack of the widespread use of referendums for the whole of the uk

House of lords being undemocratic and house of commons being under-representative of society

Unfair electoral system

There isn’t:

Democracy is continually evolving to meet the needs of the population

Reforms have taken place to develop democracy eg devolution

Reform of the second chamber

Widespread pressure groups membership

Referndums have been held and their overuse could undermine their relevance

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How democratic is the uk

concerns over the FPTP system claimed to be free/fair system that delivers strong government, doesn’t fairly translate votes into seats. Proportional rep. no

concerns of the effectiveness of Parliament a vital component of UK democracy. alleged it cannot fulfil its role, by acting as a sovereign body - failing to hold the government accountable. expenses scandal damaged creditably of body. 

Democracy in UK has been cited as open/free. Citizens can protest/show disapproval. is a strong pressure group presence to communicative democratic rights. the multiplicity of pressure groups can at time be seen to spoil the democratically elected government and as such a few pressure groups exercise excessive political influence.

Been alleged that the changes to political system since ‘97 has made the country more democratic, eg devolution, referendums, the Human Rights Act and the Supreme Court. However these changes there are still undemocratic eg HoL remains unelected/unaccountable, no codified constitution, no domestic Bill of Rights for UK citizens

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Refers to the degree to which the state or its government can be considered to have the right to exercise power. A state or government can be said to be legitimate if it has a valid claim to rule

Eg comes from consent – have the people consented to it - government

Eg tradition - monarch

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what exam board?

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