Final arguments against direct democracy that also fall flat

Arguments against democracy mentioned by Democracy International eV

There is another organization called Democracy International. It is not related to Democracy International eV. Democracy international is based in the US. Democracy International eV is based in Germany.

Democracy International eV promotes direct democracy and Democracy International promotes democracy in general.

With today’s post we finish with the most common arguments against direct democracy.

Here you have the objections to direct democracy that Democracy International eV mentions. I do not know what Democracy International (without the “eV”) thinks of direct democracy.

Democracy International eV refutes the arguments against direct democracy. You can check them out in their webpage. Here I will give my own common sense answers to the same criticisms. I am sure you can add to them.

The arguments:

“Voter incompetence. In modern society, problems are too complex for the man in the street”.

This “argument” can be used against representative democracy too. How can “ignorant” voters choose the right representative if voters do not understand the problems?

Fortunately, modern information technologies allow voters to be better informed than ever before. In the Web they can find plenty of experts who explain any issue in plain language.

A bigger problem might be that too many voters use the Web to reaffirm their beliefs, not to seek unbiased information. But voters already did that before the Web.

Whatever the capacity of voters is on complex issues, most politicians are not experts on such issues either; they need experts to assist them.

Experts can also help ordinary voters make sense out of the most complex issues. They do that already on health, nuclear energy, pollution, taxes, new technology and on and on.

The facts show Swiss voters are not overwhelmed by the “complex issues” of modern society. They decide, they vote, and the country seems to run better than the rest.


“Lack of a sense of responsibility”

This is silly; direct democracy does the opposite.

In direct democracy, voters have an acute sense of responsibility because they decide, they can not easily shift blame.

They avoid voting irresponsibly because they are aware there is no one to blame but themselves. Unlike voters in representative democracies, they can not blame the politicians.

Let us not forget also that if it is the government who calls for referendum, that is not direct democracy. Direct democracy is when the people or the law decide to call the referendum.


“In direct democracy demagogues have the freedom to launch crudely populist proposals”.

Not so. In direct democracy, informed and competent voters know they are responsible for what happens to the country. Because of that they avoid following demagogues.

It is in representative democracy where voters are be more likely to fall for demagogues. This is how representative democracies are often destroyed or weakened. Voters without direct power have no direct responsibility. It is easier for such voters to fall for the grandiose promises of demagogues.

Another of the problems of representative democracy is that boosts too much the importance of elected politicians. It puts excessive emphasis on their “leadership qualities”, their “vision”, etc. From here, the “jump” to demagoguery is fairly easy. Better let the people lead themselves, let the people have the vision; they need no leaders with “special qualities”.

Perhaps because of direct democracy, in Switzerland, politics is very low key. Demagogues have no place there. Most voters have their feet firmly planted on the ground; they have to, because they are responsible for the running of their towns, regions and nation.


“Lack of possibilities for refining and qualifying the issues: voters can only say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a proposal in a referendum; there is no opportunity for greater discrimination and subtlety”.

Not correct; there can be plenty of “discrimination and subtlety” before voting in referendums. It is a matter of putting in place the procedures for that to happen.

In Switzerland, voters know far in advance of voting day when the vote will take place. This gives people opportunity to learn more about the issue. The issues are debated from many angles.


“Manipulation of the way the question is presented: the question can be suggestively phrased so that voters are misled into voting against their real convictions”

This does not happen in direct democracy because it is the people or the law who frame the question, not the government.

The criticism is perhaps addressed to when the politicians decide to call a referendum, but that is not direct democracy.


“Enthusiastic activists can take over democracy via the referendum, because the silent majority doesn’t take part in referendums”

There is no silent majority in direct democracy.

In a typical year 80% of the Swiss vote in referendums, not  a bad turn out. But on a single referendum, participation often is lower. Common figures are 40-50%. This happens because one single issue may not interest many voters.

For example, many voters do not care if speed limits in highways are lowered or raised. Other voters may not care about setting a minimum wage, etc.

But there are also individual referendums where voter turn out can be very high, as high as 70%. This happened in a recent referendum on immigration.

Besides, nothing wrong if “enthusiastic activists” promote effectively a point of view, as long as they are peaceful and fair.


“Referendums are unnecessary because there are better ways of allowing the people to discuss political issues”

It is possible but I do not know of a better method. The  elites do not know aby better, we see it over and over. Who decides which “other way is better”? Only the people can decide that and… it will have to be by referendum!


“Referendums threaten the unity of the country”.

This argument makes no sense.

If a referendum threatens the unity of the country it is because the country was not united before the referendum.

Referendums by informed and competent voters probably strengthen the unity of the country. This is so because referendums help run the country in tune with the wishes of voters.


I hope this little blog helps people feel more comfortable with direct democracy. Help spread the word!

I thank you for your comments and suggestions to improve the blog.




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