With a presidential election year fast approaching, we’re in for a lot of public talk about the state of American democracy. Much of that discussion will be insightful and thought-provoking, but there’s a good chance you’ll also find a lot of it vague and hard to pin down.
There’s a reason for this. Even our political leaders, the people who are most familiar with the system’s workings, have a hard time describing it.
In fact, they even have a hard time labeling it. Ours is not actually a pure democracy: it’s more accurate to say that we live in a “representative democracy” in which the people delegate authority to their elected representatives.
No single feature defines this system. The people are sovereign and consent to be governed through regular participation in the elections that decide who will represent us. Yet elections don’t define our republic, either; there are plenty of countries around the world whose elections are used to distort democracy.