Is Direct Democracy the Answer for US Politics?



Direct Democracy
Centre on Congress


Former US Congressman Lee Hamilton wonders whether the American system of representative democracy needs to be renewed to take account of technological change and greater expectations among citizens to have a direct say in policy-making.

Under the current system, he argues, citizens' role in the politial and policy process is limited to voting for those who will decide on public policy rather than deciding and deliberating on the policy itself.

Hamilton notes that a major argument for more direct democracy in the political process is the fact that the 'information gap between ordinary people and their elected representatives is far narrower now than centuries ago [...] Voters are informed, and they want a part of the action'.

He warns that while direct democracy might have obvious attractions, it may not be a panacea to the current domination of the policy process by special interests. Direct democracy may also may not allow sufficient time for citizens to deliberate carefully on policy issues.

Hamilton concludes that while direct democracy has drawbacks, the current view that government has become unresponsive also has its dangers.

He states: 'I treasure America's unique system of representative democracy, but I also think we need to keep searching for ways to strengthen our democracy ... my guess is that with the rapid advances in telecommunications technology and the dissatisfaction many persons now feel with the political process, we will see a demand for more direct democracy and broader citizen participation.'


Thumbnail image: paragdgala/Flickr

Lee Hamilton

Center on Congress

Published Date
August 20, 1997