There are many different kinds of democracy, but American democracy is known for having the following characteristics:
1) Representative democracy.
The United States is a representative democracy
, which means the people elect other people to represent them in the government. These representatives make decisions for the people who elected them. The representatives
have to run for re-election after a certain amount of time (called a term). If the people don’t like the way they are being represented, they can vote for someone else to represent them instead. Representative democracy is the only way a democratic government could work in a country with as many people as the United States. Such a form of government is also known as a republic
2) Rule of law.
The United States is governed by laws that are created by the people’s representatives in the government. The most important law in the country is the Constitution
, but there are many other laws as well. Some laws are made at the national level, while others are made by the states or by local governments. In America, no one is above the law, meaning that every person in the United States is equal before the law. In other words, all laws apply to all of the people.
3) Limited Government.
Americans believe that the power of government should be limited, and they organized their national and state governments so that their power cannot grow too big.
One way that Americans limit government is by writing constitutions for both the federal government and the state governments. Constitutions are documents that limit what the government can and cannot do.
Another way that Americans limit the power of government is to divide the government into three levels: the national government, state governments, and local governments. This division is called federalism
. The government is divided this way so that no part of the government will grow too big and powerful. Each level of government can only govern in its own areas.
Americans also limit the power of government by dividing power between different branches of government and then allowing each branch to check the others. The national government is divided into three branches: the executive branch
(the presidency), the legislative branch
(Congress), and the judicial branch
(the Supreme Court). The branches must work together to govern the country, pass laws, and make sure laws are followed. The government’s power is split, or balanced, between them. This is called a separation of powers
. One branch can also stop the other branches from getting too much power, which is called a check
. This separation of powers and system of checks and balances
is also used in states to limit the power of their governments.
4) Free and fair elections.
Americans choose their representatives by voting. Because voting is so important in America, Americans must trust the results of our elections. The state governments are in charge of running elections. They are responsible for making sure that every citizen
is allowed to vote and that every vote counts. Not every adult citizen has always been able to vote. In fact, laws have sometimes been used to deny people the right to vote in the past because of discrimination
. Each state makes its own decisions about how to carry out election rules fairly. It is a very complicated and important responsibility. Using technology to cast ballots
or count ballots is also a new way of helping citizens vote, although making sure the technology works the way it is supposed to can be a challenge. Today, there are many arguments over how people can vote and whether all people have the same opportunity to vote. Some states have passed laws to make it harder for people to vote.
5) Active citizens.
Americans participate in government in many different ways, including voting, contacting their representatives, speaking up when they are unhappy with the government, and serving at the town, state, or national levels as elected officials. Americans also form citizen groups to solve problems in the country or in their community, such as the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. These groups are not part of the government. They rely on people to volunteer their time to help make things better for others. These groups work outside of the government but often cooperate with the government to solve problems that Americans are facing, which is another example of an active citizenry.
6) Free press
and the media
play important roles in American government. They report to the people through written articles; television networks and videos; podcasts and radio; and social media. They tell people what the government is doing and how government officials are doing their jobs. Sometimes they criticize the government for doing a bad job, and sometimes they praise the government for doing a good job. Journalists do not work for the government; they are independent, which helps them report on the government fairly. In the United States, most people depend on the free press
to keep them informed about the government. The freedom of the press to do their jobs and report on the government is one of our most important rights.