Chapter Summary

While most people would argue that democracy is an ideal to which all nations should aspire, in reality, democracy has its problems. As the 2000 presidential election in the United States demonstrates, even long-established democracies have sometimes had problems in figuring out which candidate has actually won an election. In fact, in any election in which there are more than two candidates, the way votes are tallied will affect the outcome. Thus, every democratic system is flawed. Most people today think of democracy as the use of elections for the selection of governmental representatives; however, democracy actually means rule by the people. Giving all people the opportunity to rule can create problems, because the majority can overrun the minority, and people have come to expect that democratic countries will protect minority rights. While some democracies make use of the direct-democracy mechanisms of referenda and initiatives, most democratic countries are republics. Republics also have problems; for example, the type of elections that a nation employs will affect which candidates are elected. A winner-take-all system is likely to produce moderate candidates in a two-party system.

Students should learn two very important lessons from this chapter. First, no nation can claim to represent its people perfectly; all systems, even democratic ones, are inherently flawed. Second, if you’ve ever thought someone was “a vernacular term to denote the back end of a horse” and wanted to mobilize the electorate to do something about it, the state of Washington just might be the place for you.