The 7 Most Important Characteristics of Democracy

The Characteristics of democracy Are defined by different values, attitudes and practices that can vary from one culture to another in different parts of the world. This means that democracy in the world is governed by fundamental principles and not by uniform practices.

Most governments in the world operate under a representative democracy scheme, which means that the leader is elected by popular vote to be the voice of the people. This is not to say that every political action that takes place will be protected by the elected leader, but it will have part and responsibility in it.

Characteristics of democracy

When the decisions of the people do not require the presence of a representative, they speak of direct democracy. Cases of direct democracy can be evidenced when the people promote referendum processes or bills that do not require the approval of a representative to be implemented.

Democracy is characterized by the general welfare of the individual. Decisions are made according to the wishes of the majority. On occasion, this condition of democracy may affect the minority who disagree with what the majority desire (Association, 2008-2016).

However, democracy is also characterized by respect for the rights of minorities, for this reason, their needs and opinions are taken into account and on some occasions can prevent the decision taken by the majority is executed.

Currently the most common form of democracy in the world is representative, where citizens elect representatives to make political decisions, formulate laws and administer programs that promote the common good.

Key Features of Democracy

  • Democracy is a form of government where power and civil responsibility are exercised by adult citizens, either directly or through freely elected representatives through the vote (Embassy, ​​2008).
  • It is based on ensuring the common welfare and respecting individual rights. For this reason, democracy usually disagrees with any form of centralized power and seeks to confer power at different levels, understanding that each of these levels must be receptive and accessible to the people.
  • The democratic model understands that one of its primary functions is to protect and promote human rights, freedom of expression and religion and access to equal protection of civil rights according to local law.
  • Within democracy, citizens should be able to organize and participate actively in political, economic and cultural decisions related to the community.
  • Democracies must periodically carry out free election processes, open for citizens to exercise their right to vote. Likewise, it must offer the possibility to any citizen to be elected by popular vote.
  • Citizens within democracy have the right and duty to participate in the political system which, in turn, was created to protect their rights and freedom.
  • Democratic societies are committed to the values ​​of tolerance, cooperation and commitment. According to Mahatma Gandhi, intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.

Forms of democracy

There are two types of democracy: Representative Democracy or Direct Democracy.

Representative democracy

This model of democracy is defined by the action of citizens, who have the power and the civil responsibility to choose by whom and how they want to be represented. In most cases the election process is by popular vote, and candidates must meet certain characteristics previously established under local law.

This type of democracy is also known as indirect, as voters elect a representative to speak for them, involving them in government decisions.

Most countries in the world use indirect democracy to make important decisions that can affect their inhabitants (Urbinati, 2008).

Direct Democracy

A direct or classic democracy occurs when the people govern directly, without intermediation of a representative.

An example of this type of democracy can be seen in ancient Athens, where citizens formed a council and were responsible for decision-making through referendums and other tools that empowered the will of the people.

Direct democracy usually takes place within production plants, where workers organize to make decisions collectively, sharing responsibility and authority within the work environment (Altman, 2011).

Majorities and minorities

All democracies can be defined as systems in which citizens can make political decisions freely based on the will of the majorities. According to E.B. White, democracy is the recurring assumption that indicates that more than half of people are right half the time.

This means that democracy is characterized by decisions taken by the majority of individuals, however, it is important to clarify that the needs and rights of minorities must always be taken into account.

Every time a law is built and passed, democracy must ensure that the interests of both majorities and minorities are balanced.

If a legitimate decision is made by the majority of individuals, but that decision adversely affects the fundamental rights of the minority of individuals, democratic principles dictate that that decision must be adjusted to reflect that which is just and equitable for all citizens.

In this way, democracy ensures that each individual is represented at any level of democracy.

This principle of decision-making by election of majorities and respect for the rights of minorities must govern all democratic models in history, regardless of culture, population or economy (Turner, 2017).

Principle of protection

A true democracy promotes the protection of human rights and citizens' rights according to local legislation, political agreements and the constitution.

These rights include freedom of expression and religion, equal access to the protection of the law, the right to privacy without interference by the government and the right to be treated justly as required by law.

In some countries, democracy ensures the right to education, an effective health system and freedom of the press. It also punishes discrimination based on sexual orientation or physical limitation.

On the other hand, democracy must guarantee that there is no centralization of power in one place. In this way, power is distributed at different levels and is exercised by different institutions locally.

These different sectors of the government have particular processes that they must fulfill and can be audited and punished if they are not doing their duty (Quigley, 2017).

The positions of government representatives in different instances and levels should be exercised for limited periods of time. In this way citizens have the opportunity to elect new representatives from time to time.

Democracy, in this sense, seeks to give the possibility to any citizen to be elected by popular vote to hold a government office and seeks to avoid that power is always located in a single individual.

Incidence of pluralism

According to democracy, government is simply a part of the network that makes up a nation. In this way, public and private institutions, political parties, organizations and associations also play a fundamental role in building a nation. This diversity of participants is dominated by pluralism.

Pluralism assumes that the existence, legitimacy and authority of organized groups and institutions within a democratic society does not depend on government. Therefore, most democratic societies are made up of thousands of private organizations, which can perform their functions locally or nationally.

Many of them even serve as mediators between society and the complex institutions of government, exercising roles that the government does not exercise and offering people the opportunity to be an active part of society without the need to be involved in political positions.

In an authoritarian society, all organizations would be controlled, licensed, monitored, and manipulated by the government. Within a democratic society, the government has defined duties established by law.

Thanks to this, private organizations operate independently of the government and citizens have the possibility to explore in a peaceful way different alternatives that allow them to play a significant role in society.

Pluralism gives citizens the possibility of exploring their potential free from the demands of the state. When pluralism does not exist, individuals must engage in tasks determined by the government according to their needs for skilled labor for the exercise of strictly defined functions. To this extent, democracy is characterized as being opposed to the authoritarian model (Bohman, 2000).


  1. Altman, D. (2011). Direct Democracy Worldwide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Association, I.H. (2008-2016). American Government . Retrieved from 1c. What Is a Democracy?:
  3. Bohman, J. (2000). Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity, and Democracy. London: MIT Press.
  4. Embassy, ​​U. (2008, 5 3). S Embassy . Retrieved from Characteristics of Democracy:
  5. Quigley, C. N. (2017). CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY: AN OUTLINE OF ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS. Calabasas: Center for Civic Education.
  6. Turner, L.L. (2017). Classroom . Retrieved from 4 Characteristics of a True Democracy:
  7. Urbinati, N. (2008). Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

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