Characteristics of Democracy

In democratic societies, citizens are free to express their ideas in public, whether through the media or in meetings and discussions. They are also able to vote in elections and choose who makes decisions on their behalf, and laws are made in transparent ways and protect people’s rights. They can participate in civic and social activities, including serving on community boards or joining political parties and other voluntary organizations. They can challenge established institutions and norms when they feel they are not working as intended.

The term democracy covers many different political systems, and there is no one ‘best’ form of it. But it is essential to have procedures that allow for genuinely popular participation and that give the people real power over their affairs. The people must be able to speak up when policies are unpopular, and they should be able to change them, within a reasonable timeframe. If they are only wooed during election campaigns with high-sounding promises and then forgotten, then the system is not truly democratic.

If the people cannot even discuss ideas with each other, how can they debate issues and come to a common view about what they want from their governments? Similarly, if the government can prohibit the formation of interest groups and lobbying associations, how can it be a democracy when the people are not allowed to make their views known in a way that is likely to influence the decision-making process?

There are many other characteristics of democracy that are not easy to measure, but they are important. For example, the existence of a free press is not a necessary condition for democracy, but it does help ensure that government actions are transparent and that the people have access to information about what is happening in their countries. And freedom of religion is important because it allows people to believe what they want, even if that belief is incompatible with the views of the majority of the population.

Having a number of different measures for democracy is useful because concepts of democracy are too diverse to be measured in one way, and the measurement challenges are difficult. The best approach for answering any given question depends on what characteristics of democracy are being evaluated, which countries and years are under consideration, and what the research and policy goals are. But all the approaches put a lot of effort into developing measures that are valuable to researchers, politicians, and concerned citizens.