I've read various pieces arguing that the USA is not a democracy, but a (fill in the blank, ex., a Republic). Perhaps there is no perfect fit, but which form of government does the USA most closely match?

  • Which question are you asking: is the united states a democracy or which form of government does the US most closely match? The second question is much longer because it involves analyzing every component of government that the US could possibly be considered to adhere to.
    – Publius
    Sep 13, 2014 at 5:57
  • It seems that you've answered both questions by saying that yes, it is a democracy, and more specifically, saying it's a Republican Democracy (or is that a Democratic Republic?). Thanks for the answer.
    – yokimbo
    Sep 14, 2014 at 21:51

3 Answers 3


The definition of democracy varies, but for most definitions used, yes, the USA is a democracy.

Wikipedia's article on Liberal Democracy defines a liberal democracy as follows:

It is characterised by fair, free, and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all persons.

Though Gerrymandering and geographical concentrations of like-minded voters make elections less and less competitive, the United States meets these criteria. Elections are not, by and large, systematically rigged in favor of a single party, open to almost every adult American citizen (with the notable exception of some felons in some states), and there are multiple political parties that endorse different policies. Power is separated into an Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branch, and the Constitution guarantees certain civil rights and liberties.

The article also lists a number of Democracies, noting that they can be compatible with other forms of government:

A liberal democracy may take various constitutional forms: it may be a constitutional republic, such as France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, or the United States

(Emphasis mine).

However, democracies need not be liberal democracies. We can define a democracy more narrowly, as

a form of government in which all eligible citizens are meant to participate equally – either directly or, through elected representatives, indirectly – in the proposal, development and establishment of the laws by which their society is run.

At these criteria are the subset of a criteria for a liberal democracy, than any liberal democracy is also a democracy. If we can consider the United States a liberal democracy, we can consider it a democracy.

One can argue that the United States does not meet all these criteria perfectly. Many felons are not allowed to vote, and per-state representation in the Senate means that not every voter has equal say in how laws are made or conducted. However, nobody's perfect. Keeping this in mind, some organizations have chosen to rank countries by how democratic they are, taking into account multiple criteria. These organizations' definitions of democracy vary, but they tend to consider the USA a democracy.

The Economist Intelligence Unit gives America a rating of 8.11 out of 10. It considers any country with a ranking better than an 8 a "full democracy". By This definition, America is a Democracy. Freedom House has a list of electoral democracies which includes America, and also lists America as a "free" country.

It should be noted that a government can be a democracy and a republic, or even a democracy and a monarchy. The principles of democracy imply very little in the formal structure of a government. You can have a democracy that involves direct voting on certain issues, like in California, or you can have a monarch with Constitutionally limited powers, like in the United Kingdom, or a Republican Democracy without an elected head of government and no monarch, like the United States.

  • 1
    2 parties != multiple and Republicans are no longer distinct from Democrats they all want the same things and vote the same way (when it matters) they just lie differently. Sep 13, 2014 at 18:55
  • 2
    @Chad 2 is multiple (if not very many), and Republicans and Democrats vote more differently from each other than ever. Check out the DW-Nominate scores.
    – Publius
    Sep 13, 2014 at 21:28
  • 3
    @Avi - both parties voted for TARP. Both will vote for illegal criminal alien amnesty. Both voted to invade Iraq in 1990s and 2000s, and Serbia, and Afghanistan and both will likely vote to invade Syria over ISIS. DW-Nominate, by necessity, doesn't take into account context and qualitative differences between the topics being voted on
    – user4012
    Sep 13, 2014 at 22:19
  • 4
    @DVK Yes, if you decide yourself which votes matter and which don't then you can cherry pick your way to a conclusion that both parties are the same, but if we don't succumb to confirmation bias and instead look at the whole picture, the parties are further apart than ever.
    – Publius
    Sep 14, 2014 at 1:08
  • 1
    @Chad I'm aware of the fact that corporations have total control over policy in America, but it is nevertheless the case that there are historically substantial differences between the parties.
    – Publius
    Sep 15, 2014 at 4:27

The United States is a Representational Democracy. The people have no direct say in government, but have the ability to freely vote for those who do have direct say (the people's representatives).

This is contrast to a Direct Democracy (which is also sometimes called just a "Democracy" or a "pure democracy"), where every citizen is entitled to a vote on every issue (such as ancient Athens), and a Delegate Democracy where citizens may temporarily give their votes to a chosen delegate who can vote them as a bloc (similar to a corporate board). There are other types of democracy it's also not.

It is also a Republic, which is a term that can be applied to any country which is democratic but not a direct democracy. Technically, this makes the US a Democratic Republic, but the countries which currently use that term do not use it in that way, and that usage isn't common.


You cannot counter-posite democracy to a republic. Republic is a well-defined form of state. As such, the US is republic. Democracy is a form of government. There can be various degree of democracy and various opinions on what practice is more democratic.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .