By Nate Plautz
Communications Consultant

March 11, 2024

How many times have you heard someone insist that "America is not a democracy"? With the fervent zeal of a freshly commissioned missionary, these folks insist that America cannot be a democracy because it is, in fact, a republic.

This battle of semantics might be the world’s most ridiculous debate, but it’s important to recognize that there’s also a sinister origin to the argument that "America is not a democracy".

Before we dive into the debate, let’s begin with an Oxford Dictionary definition:

This definition pretty much sums up how our American government is supposed to function. So what did democracy ever do to become one of the internet’s most tarnished terms?

The short answer is there’s a common misconception.

Many believe that any reference to American democracy is a reference to the form of direct democracy associated with some ancient Greek city-states like Athens. But this is incorrect. In America, we democratically elect representatives who (at least in theory) represent our interests in the halls of government.

We are a republic because we are not a monarchy and we have elected representatives who exercise political power, and we are a democracy because “We the People” hold the ultimate political power. Our elected representatives are (or at least should be) fully accountable to the will of the voters.

If we want to be technical, our American form of government could most accurately be defined as a “federal constitutional representative democracy.” But that’s a lot of words to make such an unnecessary distinction. It’s like insisting, “ACTUALLY ‘America’ refers to two continents–not one country.” But don’t be that guy; that guy is zero fun at parties.

America is both a republic and a democracy… and it’s also a country.

A democratic form of government is of, for, and by the people, and democracy is the exercise of a mandate from the people to their representatives. That may sound good to you, but others see this as a threat to their power.

Insisting that America is not a democracy serves the interests of those who want to steal political power away from “We the People.”

Many special interest groups want representatives who are accountable to them instead of that representative’s voters. Their efforts to diminish the will of the voters, whether through gerrymandering, unrepresentative elections, dark money, or through various other means–serve the interests of those groups who want elected officials to do unpopular things without risking accountability from the voters.

If America is not a democracy, then which groups should be given more political power than everyone else?

The "America is not a democracy" argument is often used as a subtle, yet sinister tactic to oppose equal rights and equal representation. The argument was once weaponized to de-legitimize the civil rights movement, and it is today routinely used to dismiss popular solutions that would make our government more responsive to “We the People.”

Learn more: nearly every issue you care about is caught in the grip of corruption.

So, please... Let’s end the internet’s pointless game of semantics and just agree that “democracy” is about ensuring we can hold our elected leaders accountable in our “federal constitutional representative democracy” system of government.

Americans from across the political spectrum want representatives who actually work for us… and that’s what RepresentUs is fighting for.

Will you join us?

RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.