How do we know? Just study the Swiss system; direct democracy at the local, canton (states or provinces in other countries) and at the national level.
Read about what is going on in Sweden’s politics and compare it with Swiss politics; disorder vs. order, cooperation among parties vs. confrontation.
The basic difference between representative democracy and direct democracy? In a representative democracy the politicians are the bosses of the people; they tell the people what laws they must follow, the taxes they will pay, what health system they will have, how their children will be educated, what pensions they will receive, what rights they will have and on and on, EVERYTHING is controlled by the politicians. It does not matter if the Right or the Left governs. The only change is the type of control. Either tells you what you can or must do.
In a direct democracy the politicians control practically everything; the people have only two key powers or rights (granted by the politicians!, it is a joke!); freedom of expression and the power to decide what person or what party will run their lives for the next several years, until the next election.
In a direct democracy, the voters are the bosses of the politicians. In a formally pure direct democracy the voters decide all issues, there are no elected politicians, people elect other citizens for certain key posts, but there are no political parties.
Many people believe that a pure direct democracy, where voters decide all laws, policies, treaties, etc., is not practical in large societies. Perhaps that is why nobody has practised full direct democracy the way its inventors, the Ancient Greeks did. But the Swiss have found a way which makes direct democracy practical for any country, large or small.
The transition from dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, religious dictatorships and the likes of them, to direct democracy is very unlikely, but it could happen. After all, the French Revolution overthrew the authoritarian King to bring direct democracy to France. Unfortunately, some leaders of the Revolution betrayed its key goal. What emerged was representative democracy; much better than the absolute King, but not real democracy, because the people do not govern, the politicians do.
Because of that my blog is addressed mainly to the people of representative democracies; the transition to direct democracy, at least to Swiss style direct democracy, should be relatively easy in representative democracies, that is what the Swiss did in 1867. But they had to demand it, the elected politicians will never bring direct democracy, unless they are pressured.
The twist the Swiss introduced to representative democracy is this; the people will keep the elected politicians, the politicians will still be able to pass laws, formulate policies, etc., but the people have three key powers; the power to stop any law, the power to tell the politicians what laws or policies they must develop, as well as the power to change the constitution.
This means that, normally, the Swiss people let their politicians carry on with the business of governing, but the people reserve the right to intervene whenever they decide it is necessary. The decision about the necessity of putting an issue before the voters requires the collection of 50 000 or 100 000 signatures, depending on the issue.
In other words, Swiss voters are the clear bosses of the politicians, but they give the politicians lots of leeway.
This sharing of power between the people and the politicians ensures the politicians always govern according to the will of the people. Most of the time the politicians are left alone because they have learned to govern according to the will of the people. From practice, Swiss politicians are pretty smart at knowing what laws and policies they can pass without annoying the people and triggering a referendum.
The way the Swiss politicians have found most effective at governing in tune with the people is by coalition, always. This means the major parties, who represent 70-80% of voters govern together, always.
The beauty of the system is that it produces government without drama. The system allows politicians to continuously adjust what they do to the issues and the values of the voters. There is no drama, no polarisation, no dramatic call to new elections, no paralysing fights among parties and politicians, no dramatic votes of no confidence, and on and on.
Swiss politics is far and away smoother, more civilised than in any other country. Even the better running representative democracies, for example Sweden’s, are noisy, divided, polarised places. Practically all other representative democracies are in worse shape than Sweden. The US, France, the UK, Germany, etc., are sad soap operas.
Before you dismiss Swiss style direct democracy, study it in detail. Soon you will realise that the problems in other countries are due to the system of representative democracy that, for many reasons, divides, polarises politicians and the people.
The problem in representative democracies is not the executive or the legislative, the Right or the Left, the corrupt politicians, the lobbies, etc., it is the system that generates destructive, inefficient behaviours in politicians, parties and voters.
I hope you take an interest in direct democracy for your own good, the good of your children and the good of your nation.