Direct democracy, representative democracy, republican democracy -- keeping the different forms of democracy can be confusing enough. Trying to decide the advantages or disadvantages of each might drop you into political science overload, but understanding those advantages can actually help sort the variations out.

Direct Democracy Defined

In a pure democracy, all citizens have the opportunity to participate in making the policies and laws for the society. In comparison, in a representative democracy, citizens choose representatives who are then responsible for making the rules and regulations for their constituencies.

Like other forms of democracy, direct democracy provides for frequent elections on a regular schedule. Through those elections, every citizen has a direct impact on every policy decision, since he has a vote on each issue. Through initiatives and referendums, citizens from every part of the society have the opportunity to speak and be heard, and there is an incentive for the community to be involved in town meetings, referenda and other elections.

Direct Responsibility

Direct democracy puts the power in the hands of the people, placing the responsibility for fair and equitable laws on the citizens, rather than on political parties or factions. Citizens have the opportunity to know about all of the important decisions, but they also have the responsibility to get the information necessary to understand the issues and make the best choices for laws and policies. Direct democracy also brings transparency to government, since members of the public can bring up any issue for discussion, making it difficult to ignore the concerns of small, less popular or powerful groups.

Direct Accountability

Because communities make decisions locally, rather than in a distant political location, politicians are more closely accountable to the people. With direct citizen impact on whether they stay in office, the politicians tasked with implementing the laws the citizenry passes have a strong motivation to listen to those citizens and implement the popular laws and policies, since ousting out-of-favor officials is easier. Because every member of the citizenry has the opportunity to voice her concerns, it's more difficult to brush concerns aside or to hide uncomfortable issues.

Direct Democracy Disadvantages

With these advantages, you may wonder why direct democracy isn't more prevalent, but there are disadvantages, as well. The apathy of some citizens who don't choose to attend town assemblies or vote can result in something more like a representative system than a pure democratic one. Direct democracy also involves many more elections, which can be both inconvenient and expensive. Finally, because direct democracy is usually effective only in small societies, the influence of the media and government officials may be stronger there than in a larger setting.