The UK’s Brexit vote should remind Americans of the advantages of a representative republic over a pure democracy. The close vote to leave the European Union has already damaged the life savings and pension plans of millions who didn’t vote for it—while a switch of just 2 percent of the electorate would have changed the fateful outcome.
In a representative system, legislators take into account not only the will of majorities, but the passion of minorities who care most and (often) know most about an issue. For instance, though polling shows overall majorities favor fire-arm restrictions, the gun-owning minority can exert enough influence to protect the Second Amendment. Majorities might favor confiscatory tax rates on the super-wealthy, but economists and corporate planners convince legislators that such policies would stunt growth and cost jobs.
By-passing representative institutions and putting crucial questions to a direct vote of the people where even slim majorities prevail can produce dubious—and potentially dangerous—outcomes.