The United States Is Not Really a Democracy - Essay Example

Published: 2022-05-20
The United States Is Not Really a Democracy - Essay Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  United States Democracy
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1723 words
15 min read

Democracy describe a type of government in which eligible citizens have equal opportunities of contributing to policies formulation and decisions which influence their lives one way or another. The United States usually takes pride in becoming the first country in the modern world to adopt a constitution considered to be democratic. The US even attempts to influence other countries to follow its democratic policies. But is the US really a democracy to begin with? As discussed below, the US cannot be branded as a democracy but rather more of a republic. Factors discussed to back this claim include: founding fathers never intended to make the US a democracy; the Electoral College system is an impediment to democracy; the inequality in the citizens voting power; and the gerrymandering practice. Those insisting on the democratic value of the U.S. claim that whatever the country has is the only realistic and achievable democracy. This is however refuted by the fact that many other countries have achieved full democracies without anarchy as claimed.

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According to McGowan (2008), America's founding fathers never intended to make the nation a democracy. In fact, the author claims that the Founding Fathers did all that they could do to make the U.S. a republic. The author further emphasizes this point by claiming that the word democracy itself cannot be found in any of the US founding documents including the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or any preserved document of the founding fathers. More so, some quotes by the founders demonstrate their non-commitment to democracy. For instance, James Madison seems to have an intention of preventing a rule by the majority in his article in the Federalist Paper Number 10 when he claimed that "policies are in most cases made, not by the rule of justice and in consideration of the rights of the minority, but by the forces of the superior and overbearing majority who often have their own interests in mind" (McGowan, 2008). Edmund Randolph claimed that the origin of most evils could be traced back to democracy's follies and turbulence. In a letter, John Adams further warned that democracy never exists for a long period as it is often self-destructive over time. On the other hand, John Marshall, a former Chief-Justice observed that the difference between a balanced republic and a democratic one can only be compared with order and anarchy (McGowan, 2008).

The Electoral College, a body perceived to uphold democracy, is, in fact, the biggest deterrent to democracy in the US as it does not represent the true choice of people. The role of this institution in the US democracy was highlighted after the country's 2016 elections where Hillary Clinton blamed it for her astonishing defeat. Nelson (2008) claims that unlike the simple majority vote system, the Electoral College undermines democracy by distorting the principle of one-person, one vote. This is because the Electoral College voting system does not fairly distribute votes according to the country's population. To back her claim, Clinton claims that a candidate with the most actual votes of the people can lose an election (Nelson, 2008). A true democracy is where a candidate who gets the most votes through the principle of majority voting or at least plurality voting wins. However, the 2016 bizarre US election proved that the country's election system fails to meet this basic condition. Donald Trump triumphed in that election to become president despite his rival Hillary Clinton getting about 3 million more popular votes. This undemocratic hogwash begins at the Electoral College with the "winner-takes-all" principle. In this system, a candidate who gets the most votes in a particular state is assumed to have won votes of all the Electoral College representatives in that state rather than his/her proportionate share. Whereas this system does not always produce disproportionate and unfair results, the 2016 U.S. Elections prove that it actually can. In fact, such a scenario was also experienced in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 elections (Nelson, 2008).

The Electoral College system and the institutions involved including the Senate also fail to ensure equality of voting power among citizens of US. The system gives some states and their people considerable weight in voting for the president. For instance, Wyoming with an average population of 600,000 is represented by 2 members in the Senate and 1 member in the House of Representatives. This can be translated to every 200,000 Wyoming people having 1 representative. On the other hand, the US most populous state California which has about 40 million people has 55 representatives which translate to about 715,000 people per representatives (Nelson, 2008). Comparing the two states, Wyoming people's electoral power is about four times that of California people in the Electoral College. This hence proves that the U.S. Electoral College system is not democratic as compared to the simple majority rule where one person, one vote principle applies. Additionally, the two houses of Congress sometimes act as an impediment to the democracy of the country. For instance, 51 senators can oppose and successfully block policies of 49 senators and 435 representatives. Besides, the fact that each state regardless of its population is entitled to two senators disregards the rule of proportionality which is the basis of democracy of representation (Nelson, 2008).

There is no factor as obvious as gerrymandering that undermines the democracy of the US. Stears (2010) describes gerrymandering as the process of reorganizing electoral districts' boundaries in order to strengthen the position of a certain political faction. According to the author, bipartisan gerrymandering has been used by political parties in the past to protect incumbents. Racial gerrymandering has also been used by politicians to strengthen or weaken minority voters' power depending on the interests of a political party. Politicians applying gerrymandering apply two tactics; packing and cracking. Packing is concentrating the voting power of an opposition party so as to diminish its influence in other districts. On the other hand, cracking is the dilution of the voting power of the opposing party in many districts. Gerrymandering has been an issue in various states including California, North Carolina, Michigan, New York, Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, Utah, and South Dakota Stears (2010). There are various cases in US courts including the Supreme Court on gerrymandering. This practice is mostly championed by Republicans especially after the 2010 elections as they are in control of more states. Democrats have of course taken up the battle with Barrack Obama making redistricting his post-presidency priority. Nevertheless, some Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger of California are also opposing the practice (Stears, 2010). Gerrymandering is meant to distort results and in the process undermine democracy as the true choice of the people is not manifested. The fact that this practice has gone on for so long in a country that prides itself as a democracy is astonishing.

There are relatively strong arguments for the US as a democracy as well. Some people argue that the U.S. is not and was never intended to be a full democracy. It is argued that full democracy is not achievable without mayhem and so what the country has is the best version of democracy. In fact, those who believe in the US being a democracy claim that the founding fathers intended that the country become a democracy but only to a level considered safe and beneficial to her citizens. This explains the skeptical nature of the founders on democracy described above. It is said that framers of the constitution were criticizing direct democracy rather than democracy in general. Besides, the kind of republic that the framers were advocating for was a representative democracy rather than a republic in its general meaning. Therefore, those opposing full democracy describes US democratic state as follows; "yes, US is a republic; and yes, the country is a representative democracy; so yes, U.S. is a democracy" CITATION DNe08 \l 1033 (Nelson, 2008). Americans who subscribe to this thought claim that the US is clearly a democracy- just not a direct one. Some people even argue that direct democracy is a horrible government system marked by mob rule, violence, and spiteful envy in cases where a faction of citizens raises its status far above the rest. In this argument, it is claimed that "people's will" is always superior to individual's rights.

Nevertheless, there are no gray areas in democracy. A country can either have a full democracy or no democracy. A country can also be a democracy or a republic. Half democracy is no democracy. The claim that a full democracy cannot be achieved without anarchy is not true as some countries have successfully practice full democracy. The 2017 ranking of democracy by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) categorized the US under "flawed democracy" with countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark being named as full democracies. Whereas it can be argued that direct democracies where citizens directly participate in policy making are not achievable in the modern society owing to a big population, it is actually positioned to make the citizens representation in such policymaking much fairer in the U.S. As discussed above, people in some states are more represented than others in policymaking. The whole system needs to be overhauled and a new fairer system of choosing representatives developed.

In conclusion, the US is only labeled as democratic by some people because the legal definition of democracy guarantees particular fundamental rights and its procedural definition calls for the conduction of regular elections. However, these are only the elementary conditions of any democracy but its full practice calls for much more. As discussed above, the US cannot be branded as a democracy due to several factors. These include the fact that founding fathers never intended to make the U.S. a democracy; the Electoral College system being an impediment to democracy; the inequality in the citizens voting power; and the gerrymandering practice. While some people argue that whatever the US is practicing is the only achievable democracy without chaos, this claim is refuted by the fact that other countries have achieved full democracies.


McGowan, M. (2008). America a Successful Democracy: A Critical Inquiry. New Haven: Yale National Initiative, Yale University. Available at:>.

Nelson, D. (2008). Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People. New Edition. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, New Edition, Pp. 272.

Stears, M. (2010). Demanding Democracy: American Radicles in Search of a New Politics. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, Pp. 256.

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