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US Citizenship - Free online Course on US Citizenship

Lesson 9


Compare different political systems with that of the United States.

The governments of the world are of many kinds. Some are similar to the United States' system with elected officials and distinct branches of governments. Others are very different, ranging from dictatorships to theocracies to monarchies. A review of various forms of government will help you better appreciate America’s form of government and understand how the United States relates to and interacts with other nations.

Political systems differ in several important ways:

  1. Source of political power/authority
  2. Mechanisms for citizen participation and holding government accountable
  3. Centralization and exercise of power
  4. Economic freedom
  5. Structure of government

As we review various kinds of governments, pay attention to differences across these five variables.

Representative Democracy and Republicanism

The form of government and the political system in the United States of America is best characterized as a democratic republic. While the term democracy, in its purest sense, means a system in which political decisions are made by the voice of the people, common usage has changed the meaning of the term to mean that governmental power arises from the people and that the government is accountable to them. A republic is a “democratic” system in which the people choose their leaders through popular elections. This form of government is also commonly referred to as a representative democracy.

In democratic republics, the people are clearly the source of governmental power and authority. Elected officials are chosen from among the people by the people. Elected officials are accountable, generally through elections, to the people themselves. Political power is generally divided and shared across branches and levels of government. Democratic republics tend to exist in predominantly free market economies, although some have a decidedly socialist tilt. Conversely, free market economies tend to thrive under democratic republican governments. The structure and functions of government vary, but they are generally spelled out in detail in a written constitution.



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