One objection to direct democracy that is sometimes raised is that the majority of people would vote for capital punishment. Jonathan Freedland addresses this in his book 'Bring Home the Revolution' (Fourth Estate Ltd., 1998, ISBN 1-85702-547-4):
"Opinion polls show Americans and Britons with remarkably similar views on capital punishment. In the US, most surveys show three out of four people in favour of it, while a 1996 poll for MORI put the British figure at 76 per cent. Accordingly, the wheels of US democracy have turned and capital punishment is now practised in all but twelve of America's fifty states. Yet in Britain we do not have the death penalty. As these polls show, opponents of judicial killing have hardly won the argument among the British people. Instead our political system has simply failed to express the popular will. If the pro-execution figure was below 50 per cent, then perhaps Britain could justifiably praise itself as a society of compassionate humanitarians. Until then, what is often a cause for self-congratulation - with progressive Britons imagining ours to be a more civilised society than the US - should perhaps be a trigger for self-doubt." (page 31)
I am cautious about opinion
poll results on capital punishment. If the majority of people really were in favour of capital punishment they would surely vote for the parties that do support it, but this has not happened.
Democracy is about choices and preferences. It is not about right and wrong, because democracy necessarily requires that all participants will accept an opposing viewpoint if that is supported by the majority.
Another objection to direct democracy is that it is conservative, because a referendum for a reform often loses - people don't like change. Perhaps the purpose of democracy, whether representative or direct, is to be conservative and slow - to restrain an all-powerful monarchy or government from imposing their whims on the people. When representatives do not reflect voters' opinions adequately the democratic process breaks down and government legislation increases
Hitler used referenda to gain endorsement for his policies, so this is cited as an argument against direct democracy. Strangely, the fact that he gained power in the first place through the representative system is not put forward as a reason to avoid representation!
Revised September 2009