Republic vs Democracy

Republic vs Democracy

There is a lot of confusion on the use of the term republic vs democracy. Some confuse one over the other, while others simply thought they are just the same thing. 

In the United States, these terms have been a topic of debate and the cause of heated discussion in politics for the past few years.

But if you live in a country outside the US, the term “republic” often gets thrown around with the word “democracy.”

People living outside the US or non-native English speakers do not necessarily put a lot of weight into it. Since both terms are not exactly stated in their pledge of allegiance like the US, it is no longer surprising why they do not dwell on it too much. 

With that, we tried our best to explain the difference between democracy and republic as well as why they are often inseparable or labeled similar. 

What is a Republic vs Democracy? 

To put it simply, a republic is a form of democracy. 

The common definition of democracy is 

“government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”

dictionary.com

That being said, democracy can either be a direct democracy (where policies are decided by them or the people) or representative democracy (where policies are decided by their elected agents or representatives)

Republic is a representative democracy. In a republic government, representatives are elected by the people and the elected representatives are the ones making the decisions, rules, policies, etc. 

So differentiating democracy and republic can be misleading.  

Given that republic is a form of democracy, it is wrong to box them separately and compare them as if they are in the same category. 

Historically, the confusion between these two words stems from centuries ago. 

Former President James Madison and the US founding fathers commonly use “democracy” when referring to direct democracy.

That being the case, some people automatically equate direct democracy to the term ‘democracy.’ They also view democracy and republic as independent entities even when they should coincide with each other. 

Democracy

The term comes from the Greek word dēmokratiā, coined from dēmos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”). Democracy literally means rule by the people. 

Throughout history, the word democracy has undergone changes and has been used in different contexts. 

However, up until now, the main idea and intent behind it remains the same.  

Democracy means having a government in which the supreme power is held by the people. 

Having a democratic system of government means the people can exercise their power directly or through elected representatives. 

The Greek word dēmokratiā remains true, but the way in which people exercise their power now varies from country to country. 

Nowadays, the most prevailing form of democracy is through elected representatives. Many countries have adopted this system, allowing the people to exercise their power through voting.

With that, the most basic and universal meaning of democracy today is a government in which the people choose their leader by voting. 

As a result, majority rule becomes an integral part of democracy and it has been the pervasive system that facilitates people’s power nowadays. 

This alone already proves that the notion of democracy has evolved through time. 

Although the people’s power remains as the supreme power, democracy nowadays comes in different forms, models, systems, and so on.

That being said, it is no longer surprising why people view the word “democracy” differently. 

Top Democracy Ranking Countries

According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the top democracy ranking countries are Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland.

Overall ScoreRank
Norway9.871
Iceland9.582
Sweden9.393
New Zealand9.264
Finland9.255
Ireland9.246
Denmark9.227=
Canada9.227=
Australia9.099
Switzerland9.0310
Netherlands9.0111
Luxembourg8.8112
Germany8.6813
United Kingdom8.5214
Uruguay8.3815
Austria8.2916=
Spain8.2916=
Mauritius8.2218
Costa Rica8.1319
France8.1220
Chile8.0821
Portugal8.0322
South Korea8.0023
Japan7.9924
United States of America7.9625
Malta7.9526
Estonia7.9027
Israel7.8628
Botswana7.8129
Cabo Verde7.7830
Taiwan7.7331
Czech Republic7.6932
Belgium7.6433
Cyprus7.5934
Italy7.5235
Slovenia7.5036=
Lithuania7.5036=
Latvia7.4938
Greece7.4339
South Africa7.2440
Timor-Leste7.1941
Slovakia7.1742
Malaysia7.1643=
Trinidad and Tobago7.1643=
Colombia7.1345
Panama7.0546
Bulgaria7.0347
Argentina7.0248
Suriname6.9849
Jamaica6.9650
India6.9051
Brazil6.8652
Tunisia6.7253
Philippines6.6454
Ghana6.6355=
Hungary6.6355=
Poland6.6257
Peru6.6058
Croatia6.5759
Dominican Republic6.5460=
Lesotho6.5460=
Mongolia6.5062
Romania6.4963
Indonesia6.4864
Namibia6.4365
Serbia6.4166
Ecuador6.3367
Thailand6.3268
Sri Lanka6.2769
Paraguay6.2470
El Salvador6.1571=
Guyana6.1571=
Mexico6.0973
Papua New Guinea6.0374
Hong Kong6.0275=
Singapore6.0275=

Basic Principle of Democracy

The most basic principle of democracy is people’s power. In a democratic government, the people are the ultimate authority and source of power.

But with several notions of democracy cropping up, it is important to identify some of the essential principles shaping a democratic government today.

  • Free and fair elections and civic participation

The people should be allowed to vote for their representatives and participate in other forms of civic dialogue. 

  • Representation

Since the marginalized are also part of the people’s power, having a system of representation would prevent centralization of power and oppression. 

  • Rule of law

The powers vested on the representative should be based upon the consent of the governed. 

  • Political Equality

All people must be free to vote, have easy access to the place of voting, and votes should be given the same weight.

  • Economic Security

The people must be guaranteed a minimum level of economic security so that they can continue to be fully active citizens who regularly participate in elections or civic dialogue.

  • Natural Rights 

The people should be able to exercise their natural rights such as the right to vote, freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement.

  • Civil Rights 

The people must be guaranteed equal opportunities and protection under the rule of law. 

  • Constitution

The People do not give power to the government to oppress or abuse. Therefore, constitutions are placed to limit government power and protect the people. 

Main Types of Democracy

As we have briefly mentioned, democracy is a form of government in which the people exercise their power directly or through elected representatives.

Republic vs Democracy
  • Direct or Pure Democracy

It is a form of democracy in which the people decide on policy initiatives directly. Rather than voting for a representative, the people directly vote on issues and other policies. Pure democracy works even without the intermediary of an elected representative.

The people’s power is facilitated by means of direct legislation, either through referendums or initiatives. Such government system is particularly popular among countries with relatively small populations. 

  • Indirect or Representative Democracy 

In contrast to direct democracy, a representative democracy needs to elect a representative or government authority. The core principle of democracy is still present, however, the people exercise their power through their elected representatives.

So rather than directly voting on issues and other policies, the people under this type of democracy vote for an intermediary who would represent them in these issues and other policies instead.

Keep in mind that aside from these two main types of democracy, there are also other types of democracy such as constitutional democracy and monitory democracy. 

Constitutional democracy is any democracy that follows a constitution while monitory democracy is centered on modern means voting or polling. 

Pillars of democracy

Given that most countries now use representative and constitutional democracy; the power of the government has been divided into three main parts.

Republic vs Democracy
  • Legislative

The legislative branch is commonly enacting legislation, controlling taxes or government expenses, declaring war, and so on. 

It is composed of legislators who can question or scrutinize other government officials about their actions or decisions. Each legislator act based on the general welfare of the people.

  • Executive

In a modern democracy, an executive authority stems from either a presidential or parliamentary system. 

The president or the prime minister is primarily responsible for enforcing the laws of the land. They hold the highest position in the government and they are elected or partly elected by the people. 

  • Judicial

It is a brand of the government that adjudicates legal disputes.  The conflict brought before the judiciary can comprise of individuals, corporations, groups, government bodies, and so on. 

They are considered the guardians of the constitution and the protector of the citizens’ rights. The judiciary is mainly responsible for the interpretation and application of laws in each case presented to the court. 

The fourth pillar of democracy is not included in the main branch of the government because they are usually an independent entity or organization. 

  • Press

It is commonly referred to as the “fourth estate.” Media plays an important role in democracy because they act as the government watchdog. 

The press is viewed as the defender of truth and freedom. They helped frame political issues more clearly and promote healthy dialogue between the government and the people.

Republic

The republic comes from the Greek word res publica which means the public affair.

In a democratic government, a republic has a representative government, which means the state is ruled by an elected representative voted by the people. 

Rather than acting on a policy or issue directly, the people vote and elect government officials to represent them. 

Many democratic countries today are considered republic or democratic republic. 

In a republic democracy, the people exercise their power through various electoral representation. 

For instance, the United States elect their executive branch through the electoral college while the French votes for their president, who would then appoint a prime minister

Keep in mind that both countries are a republic, however, they have a different process of electing their representatives. 

Since some democratic countries transition from a monarchy system, the distinguishing factor often associated with a republic government is the election and not hereditary lineage. 

For a country to be considered a republic, the head of the state needs to be an elected official. 

That being said, even if the country has an acting president, it can never be a republic if its head of the state is not elected by the people. 

Any republic country remains true and loyal to democracy. With that, a republic country is also a democratic country.  

Types of Republic

Just like democracy, there are also different types of republic. 

In relation to that, a country can also run under more than one type of republic. For example, Pakistan is an Islamic federal republic with a multiparty parliamentary system of government. 

For easy reference, we have listed the different types of republic as well as listed some examples

  • Federal Republic

A type of government system in which some states or regions have some autonomy from the national government. 

Example: United States, Germany, and Brazil 

  • Unitary Republic

A country governed by a single unit with one legislature

Example: Haiti, Malta, and Georgia

  • Islamic Republic

A country that values the fundamental core democracy whilst also having a constitution based on Islamic law

Example: Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan

  • Presidential Republic

A representative democracy in which the president is considered the head of the nation or state.

Example: Philippines, Mexico, and Venezuela

  • Parliamentary Republic

A representative democracy in which the nation is led by the parliament and the prime minister. 

Example: Albania, Czech Republic, and Germany

Republic vs Democracy

What is the Difference Between an Independent Country and a Republic Country?

An independent country and a republic country is not under the same category. 

In a sense, an independent country can also be a republic country and vice versa

To help you understand the difference between the two, let us look at their individual definitions.

  • Independent Country

Historically, independent countries stem from colonialism and imperialism.  When countries start to self-govern, be autonomous and free from any foreign influence in their government, it becomes an independent country. 

  • Republic Country

Being a republic country means having a government in which the people exercise their power through elected representatives.

Just by simply looking at the definition of these two terms, you can already see the stark difference between the two. 

Independent country is a term used to describe the state of colonialism in a country; while republic country is a term used to describe the government system in a country. 

Both are adjectives used to describe a country, however, they serve a different purpose.

That being said, a country can both be an independent and a republic country. 

Type of Government the United States Use

The United States is a republic and a democracy at the same time. 

As we have established before, republic and democracy often go hand-in-hand.

Separating and putting them in a different box can mislead other people and even ruin the true essence of democracy. 

The US is not a direct democracy because it is a representative democracy, or in other words republic. 

To be more specific, the US is a federal republic, which means states have some autonomy over the national government.  

Despite that, the form of government is still considered a democracy because the people hold the highest power and they are the ones electing their representatives. 

What makes the US different from other democratic or republic countries is its two-party system and the way they elect its representative through the electoral college. 

When you look at other republic countries, the presidential election is pretty straightforward. They vote for the candidate of their choice and whoever wins gets elected. 

But in the case of the US, their founding fathers have made a complex electoral system called the electoral college. 

Rather than counting the popular votes, the electoral college instead counts the votes of each state’s electors. 

Their electoral system is a complex process so we highly suggest you read more about it here 

The important takeaway here is that the US is a federal republic that values the essential principle of democracy. 

Purpose of government

The true purpose of a government in a democracy is to safeguard the individual right of its citizen. 

The government is created to empower and better the lives of everyone. They are created and elected by the people not just to maintain law and order, but also to be representative of their ideals and beliefs. 

Conclusion

We hope we managed to clear up the confusion on republic vs democracy by answering some of your most frequently asked questions such as

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!

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