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Models of Democracy: Behind the Design and Use of New Media in Politics
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication
************ VAN DIJK **** EJC/REC Vol. 6, No. 2, 1996 *****


Jan A.G.M. van Dijk
Utrecht University

     Abstract.  David Held's Models of Democracy(1987)
     constructs nine models of democracy developed
     throughout history:  four classical and five
     contemporary.  In this article, the author
     summarizes each of the five contemporary models
     and attempts to ascertain how changes in
     information and communication technology (ICT)
     could help, hinder, or have no consequence within
     each within each of those democratic paradigms.
     Ultimately, this article is about the positive
     contribution of the use of ICT to the political
     system in general and political democracy in


     It seems safe to say that there is a relationship
between the application of information and communication
technology (ICT) and democracy.  For decades now the
consequences of ICT for social and political life are
disputed in an ideological way.  Some call them technologies
of freedom (de Sola Pool 1983), while for others they are
technologies of central control and registration.  Visions
of the rebirth of Athenian democracy are opposed by
nightmares of Orwellian proportions.  Others again, like the
author of this article (Van Dijk 1991/1994;1993), stress the
ambiguity of this technology which is enabling as well as
defining and leaves opportunities of choice within certain
limits.  These are theoretical interpretations of the use of
ICT which existed before it was practised on a large scale.
In the meantime ICT has massively entered organisations,
among them political, government and administrative
organisations.  The effects of ICT on the practice of these
organisations can not be denied any more.  The
interpretations of the meaning of ICT can be specified now
and released from some of the early speculations.

     This article is about the positive contribution of the
use of ICT to the political system in general and political
democracy in particular.  It deals with several directions
of improvement guided by different conceptions of democracy.
This does not mean that negative effects of the use of ICT
for the political system and democracy, lightly touched upon
in the former paragraph, can be ruled out in advance.
People who conceive ICT as a technology of central control
and registration will not perceive any beneficial effects
for democracy and reject particular views of the renewal of
democracy, such as notions of direct democracy, as utopian
or dangerous views.  They tend to think that the best thing
which can happen is a preservation of the current political
system and the present quality of democracy.  One type of
analysis can not be ignored.  Several analysts argue that
the field of democracy itself is losing ground together with
the declining influence of the political system of the
nation state.  The American computer scientist Mowshowitz
(1992) speaks of the advent of socalled virtual feudalism.
This is a type of rule by the fragmented global political
power of transnational corporations and other organisations
who, like feudal lords, surpass the nation states and
undermine their power to take or implement decisions.  This
could even mean the end of democracy, a forecast made by the
French political analyst Gu‚henno (1994) in his book La Fin
de la D‚mocratie.  Gu‚henno observes the crisis of the
nation state and the "Libanonization" of politics.  All
kinds of national and international organisations are
filling the vacuum and creating undemocratic or
uncontrollable types of political power by means of
information and communication networks, informal social
networks, corruption and even crime.  Gu‚henno does not
perceive any serious project of a world government.  If this
dark perspective does not mean the end of democracy, it
would surely mean a significant set-back.  The democracy
within transnational corporations and other global
associations is at a far lower level than the democracy of
national institutional politics.  The power of a European
parliament or a United Nations does not match the present
power of the nation states with a democratic rule either.
The analysis of the decline of the nation state by some
other social or political scientists is less dramatic.
Ulrich Beck, for instance, in his Der Risikogesellschaft
(1986; Risk Society, 1992) observes a displacement of
institutional politics, not only on global affairs but on
civil society as well.  The political primacy of the nation
state and institutional politics are questioned, not
democracy in its own right.  Other places and ways of
democracy in civil society can replace or add to the
institutional democracy of the nation state.  This position
at least can be located in one of the positive models of
democracy to be dealt with now.

                    Models of Democracy

     From the first introduction of the new information and
communication technologies, marked by the design and
diffusion of interactive and integrative (multi)media, these
technologies appeared to be connected to conceptions of
democracy.  The new facilities of telepolling, telereferenda
and electronic elections immediately spurred visions of the
rebirth of the Athenian agora and other means of direct
democracy and self-representation (Toffler 1980; Becker
1981; Barber 1984).  These visions were rejected with equal
vigour by defenders of an (improved) representative system
and people who were very sceptic about "push- button
democracy" (Laudon 1977; Burkert 1985; Arterton 1987;
Abrahamson, Arterton and Orren 1988).  The discussion about
the opportunities of the new media for direct or
representative democracy has lingered for about twenty
years.  In these decades two things appeared.  First, the
conceptions of democracy are much more complicated than a
simple dualism between direct and representative democracy.
Second, discussions have become less theoretical; the media
of ICT are maturing and entering into the daily practice of
the political system.  One can observe stages of
experimentation and beyond.

     So we will have to do two things:  elaborate the
conceptions of democracy connected to the practice of ICT
and describe this practice with regard to its introduction
in the political system.  Both can only be done here in the
typifying and summarising way imposed by the narrow limits
of an article.  Still we hope to show in a plausible way
that some typical views of democracy are connected to
particular practices of ICT in politics.  This goes as far
as the suggestion of a relationship of these views with
concrete instruments of ICT in the political system like
computerised citizen enquiries, opinion polls, referenda,
public information systems, government information and
registration systems, electronic town halls and freenets
(see Table 1).

     TABLE 1: Electronic Instruments of Politics and
              Democracy Arranged According to Information
              Traffic Patterns

|    ALLOCUTION                                           |
|         - computerised election campaigns               |
|         - computerised information campaigns            |
|         - civic service and information centres         |
|                                                         |
|    CONSULTATION                                         |
|         - mass public information systems               |
|         - advanced public information systems           |
|           (the Internet, etc.)                          |
|                                                         |
|    REGISTRATION                                         |
|         - registration systems for government and public|
|           administration                                |
|         - computer-assisted citizen enquiries           |
|         - electronic polls                              |
|         - electronic referenda                          |
|         - electronic elections                          |
|                                                         |
|    CONVERSATION                                         |
|         - bulletin board systems                        |
|         - discussion lists                              |
|         - electronic mail and teleconferencing          |
|         - electronic town halls                         |
|         - group decision support systems                |
|                                                         |

     We even hope to show that these instruments are
disputed by different views of democracy.  Sometimes these
views are very explicit, as in the conception of direct
democracy mentioned above.  More often they remain implicit.
In this article they are made explicit for the purposes of
clarification and explanation.  There is not much to prove
yet at this stage of introduction of ICT into the political

     The large number of conceptions of democracy can only
be summarised by analytical means.  A successful attempt to
do this has been made by David Held in his Models of
Democracy (1987).  Held constructs nine models in the
history of democracy.  A model is "a theoretical
construction designed to reveal and explain the chief
elements of democratic form and its underlying structure and
relations" (Held 1987, 6).  He distinguishes four classical
and five contemporary models.  The classical models are
classical democracy (Athens, Rome), protective democracy
(liberals against the absolutist state), developmental
democracy (stressing the education of the citizenry) and
direct democracy (based on a system of councils and/or
referenda).  The contemporary models are competitive-
elitist democracy, pluralism, legal democracy, participatory
democracy and developmental autonomy.  The first four of
these models will be used in this article.  We have clearly
observed views belonging to them in the design and use of
ICT in politics.  This is not the case with the last model,
developmental autonomy, which seems first of all the
favourite model of Held himself.  Instead of this model we
add a fifth one which is based upon direct democracy.  It is
clearly present in some designs and uses of ICT in politics.
We will call it plebiscitary democracy.  Held's analysis can
be elaborated and improved by the construction of an
analytical space relating the five selected models of
democracy.  Two dimensions typify the differences in the
present views of democracy:  what should be the goals and
the means of democracy?  Should its prime goal be opinion
formation or decision making?  In other words, is democracy
primarily a matter of substantial input or of procedure (an
output)?  Should these goals be reached first of all by the
ways of representative or direct democracy?  The selected
models of democracy can be located in a two-dimensional
analytical space (Table 2).

TABLE 2: Five Models in Two Dimensions of Political

   |                  |      PRIMARY GOAL                |
   |                  |                                  |
   | PRIMARY MEANS    | OPINION             DECISION     |
   |                  | FORMATION           MAKING       |
   |  ----------------|--------------------------        |
   |                  |                                  |
   |  REPRESENTATIVE  |                     LEGALIST     |
   |  DEMOCRACY       |                                  |
   |                  |                     COMPETITIVE  |
   |                  | PLURALIST                        |
   |                  |                                  |
   |                  | PARTICIPATORY                    |
   |                  |                                  |
   |  DIRECT          |                     PLEBISCITARY |
   |  DEMOCRACY       |                                  |

     Information and communication technology offers means
first of all.  So it seems most interesting to find out
which means are favoured in the design and use of this
technology in the political system.  In Table 1 a spectrum
is drawn of representative and direct means which will be
described in the next sections.  Here we will also observe a
third dividing line most often corresponding to the
representative-direct distinction.  ICT can be used to
reinforce the present, mainly representative political
system to confront its difficulties mentioned in the
introduction and to rescue or revive the primacy of
(institutional) politics.  ICT can also be used to displace
politics on to civil society by means of participation,
pluralism and direct citizen power, abandoning the attempts
to save the present political system attached to the nation
state in crisis and removing the political primacy, at least
partially, to the associations and individuals of civil
society.  With the aid of ICT, politics can be moved to the
market as well.  In this case the freedom of choice of
producers and consumers is made equal to the vote of
citizens.  ICT is treated as a technology of freedom
offering ways of decision making which can replace
traditional ways of political decision making.

     It is very important to realise that these models are
theoretical constructions.  In fact they are ideal types.
In the reality of political systems and views several of
them can be combined, often in contradictory ways.  For
instance, the political system of the United States is a
combination of a legalist model (stressing the
constitutional separation of powers and the checks and
balances in the system), a competitive model (a presidential
state and the election of individual political leaders), a
plebiscitary model (direct elections of officials and a
growing number of referenda in the states) and a pluralist
model (America as a multicultural society from the very
start).  Still, these models describe real institutions,
conceptions and differences of opinion, as we hope to show
in the next five sections.

Legalist Democracy

     The first model is based on the classical Western
conception of democracy which came into being after the
decline of the absolutist state in Western Europe.  It is
reflected in most contemporary constitutions.  The first
advocates of the legalist model were Locke (1690) and
Montesquieu (1748).  It is called legalist as it clearly is
a procedural conception which takes the constitution and the
law as the basis of democracy.

     According to most contemporary constitutions state
authority is separated into three powers (trias politica)
controlled by a system of checks and balances.  Another
important principle is majority rule.  This rule is taken to
be universal except for particular basic rights of the
individual which are also part of the constitution.  In the
legalist model, democracy is a means to safeguard the
freedom of individuals from authoritarian power.  It is not
a goal in its own right.  A system of representation is
proposed.  The heart of our political system is the
judgement of heterogeneous interests and complex problems by
representatives of the people.  Direct democracy is
rejected.  Populism is feared.  The power of every political
institution and public administration has to be limited by
the least possible, but effective rules.  The system of
politics and public administration has to be small and
effective.  For this reason the legalist model is very
popular among conservatives and liberals (see, e.g., Hayek

     The basic assumption in this model with regard to the
meaning of ICT for the political system is that it should
solve its basic problem:  information shortage.  The present
crisis of the political system and the nation state (see the
Introduction) is viewed as the crisis of organisations which
can not sufficiently deal with the increasing complexity of
the environment and the system itself, as information is
lacking, among others by the obstructions caused by
bureaucracy.  The so-called gap between governors or
administrators and citizens is also conceived as a kind of
information shortage on both sides.  Finally, all kinds of
threats to the separation of powers, and checks and balances
in the system, most often caused by the rising power of the
executive as compared to the legislative state, are
accounted to deficiencies of information as well.  It is a
matter of sharing the power of information.  The problem can
be solved by an equal supply of the resources of information
to the executive and to parliaments, municipal councils,
political parties and other representatives.

     So, following the legalist model ICT is designed and
used as a means to remove information shortages and
reinforce the present political system by more effective and
efficient ways of information processing and organisation.
ICT is also applied to increase the transparency of the
political system.  By all these means the system would be
capable to confront the problems of complexity.  For some
proponents of the legalist model, usually not the
conservative or liberal ones, this means a revival of the
steering ambition of the state, so much discredited in the

     Which are the favourite media or instruments of ICT
following this model of democracy?  The chosen instruments
should serve two functions.  First, they would have to
supply more and better information to governors,
administrators, representatives and citizens.  Second, the
interactive communication capacities of the new media might
create a representative government which is more open and
responsive to the people, not directly controlled by the
people.  Both functions can only be fulfilled by instruments
of ICT under the control of governors, administrators and
representatives.  In Table 1 they can by found under the
headings of allocution, consultation and registration.  The
preferred instruments are computerised information
campaigns, civic service and information centres, mass
public information systems, registration systems for the
government and the public administration and
computerassisted citizen enquiries.  Registration and
conversation media such as electronic polls or referenda and
electronic debates between citizens are not adopted at all.
They are deeply distrusted.

Competitive Democracy

     The second model of democracy is also based on a
procedural view of representative democracy.  Elections of
representatives are considered to be the most important
operations of the political system.  The advocates of this
model strongly reject the possibility of direct democracy.
According to the best-known designers of this model, Max
Weber (1921) and Joseph Schumpeter (1942), direct democracy
is impossible in large, complex and heterogeneous societies.
A central role for bureaucracy, political parties and
leaders with authority is inevitable.  Politics has to be
seen as an everlasting competition between parties and their
leaders for the support of the voting public.  In this way
the best leaders and representatives are elected.  This is
the solution for the problems of complexity and the crisis
of the political system.  It is also the main difference as
compared to the legalist model which is based on a balance
of executive and legislative power and on responsive
representation.  In the competitive model power is entrusted
to leaders and experts in the executive power.  They rule
the apparatus of state, they weigh matters and interests
against each other, they solve conflicts with negotiations
and they command authority.  As leadership is emphasised in
this model, it is called competitive-elitist by Held.  In
one respect this is not a good label for it:  populism is
one of the best-known electoral strategies in this model.

     The competitive model is practised first of all in
presidential states and two-party political systems.  It is
gaining popularity in contemporary politics as the role of
persons and personalities in politics grows.  This role was
reinforced by old media such as television and will be
strengthened even further by the audio-visual new media
enabling all kinds of techniques in direct mail, marketing,
targeting and visual manipulation.

     The last-called facilities show the way to the design
and use of ICT in politics according to this model.  First
of all, ICT will be used in election and information
campaigns.  The voting public will be reached by a
combination of television and interactive media which serve
as direct channels to target a selective audience of
potential voters with differentiated political messages.  In
the second place, the interested public, the fragmented
electoral base of political leaders and parties should have
the opportunity to get information about views, stands and
voting behaviour of their leaders and representatives.  So
they need access to mass and advanced public information
systems.  Finally, the registration systems of the
government and the public administration are vital to a
strong and efficient state authority.  Other means of
registration and conversation, such as electronic polls and
town halls, are only used for the benefit of the political
leadership.  Their resemblance to direct democracy is
deceptive.  For instance, the electronic polls, conferences
and interactive television shows in the campaign of the
American presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1992 were
meant in the first place to boost the popularity of this
leader in his competition with other candidates.

Plebiscitary Democracy

     The design and use of direct channels of communication
between the political leaders and the citizenry can be
transformed into an altogether different view of politics
and democracy.  In this case these channels are not used to
strengthen the position of governors, politicians and
administrators, but to amplify the voice of the citizenry.
This is the central tenet of the plebiscitarian model of
democracy.  It is based on notions of direct democracy as a
way of decision making.  The essential difference with the
competitive and legalist models is the displacement of
politics from the government and the administration on to
society and the world of the individual citizen in
particular.  According to the plebiscitarian views the
decisions in the political system should be taken by as few
as possible representatives and as much as possible by
individual citizens by means of plebiscites.  For these
radical views the supposed democracy of the Athenian agora
and the Roman forum, revived in some late-medieval city
states, have always been the prime source of inspiration.
They were for the Founding Fathers of the American
constitution, like Thomas Jefferson (see Jefferson 1969).
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the United States
had several forms of direct democracy.  Among them were mass
meetings with political speakers and polls among the
audience.  In the twentieth century these forms have been
degraded to the level of caucuses and conventions of the two
major political parties controlling them to a large degree,
a series of referenda in a number of states and the election
of some officials by the citizens.

     The advent of ICT and the new interactive media
stimulated a renaissance of plebliscitarian views in the
United States from the 1,960s onwards.  The concept of
teledemocracy was invented.  Many local experiments have
been waged (see Arterton 1987).  In these experiments old
and new media were (re)designed and used to open channels
between the local government or administration and
individual citizens.  Well-known American experimenters were
Becker (1981) and Barber (1984).  They set their hopes on
the technical capacities of the new media.  They would be
able to remove the age-old practical barriers of direct
democracy in a large, complex society.  The political
primacy of the government and institutional politics,
already in a state of crisis, would not have to be saved.  A
political system based on a continuing registration of the
peoples will and, for some advocates, the will of consumers
on the market as well, might be able to replace this role
and this primacy.

     Following the plebiscitarian model the logical
preferences in ICT are registration systems of the votes and
opinions of citizens.  Telepolls, telereferenda and
televotes by means of telephone and computer networks, two
way cable television or future information highways are the
favourite instruments.  As a well-known criticism of this
conception of democracy points at its individualisation and
atomisation of the citizenry and its simplification of
issues, instruments of conversation are added sometimes.
This means the design of electronic town halls,
teleconferencing and other new discussion channels.  Of
course, instruments of consultation by citizens themselves,
mass and advanced public information systems, can not be
discarded either.  However, all instruments filled with
information by institutional politics are distrusted.

Pluralist Democracy

     In the competitive, legalist and plebiscitarian models
of democracy nothing seems to exist between the state and
the representation on the one hand and the individual
citizen on the other.  In the pluralist model, to the
contrary, attention is called to the role of the
intermediary organisations and associations of civil
society.  Alexis de Tocqueville (1835/1864) observed the
conspicuous role of these organisations in the American
democracy of the eighteenth century.  Robert Dahl (1956) did
the same about a century later, depicting a political system
based upon a representation of competing and negotiating
interest-, pressure-, religious- and ethnic groups or
political parties.  According to this view the political
system should consist of many centres of power and
administration.  A network conception of politics is
favoured as opposed to the centralist views of the legalist
model (a pyramid of representation) and the elitist
competitive model.

     The present decline of the central nation state and the
displacement of politics is not deplored.  On the contrary,
it is acclaimed.  In the pluralist model, democracy is not
the sovereign power of the majority but an always shifting
coalition of minorities.  The state should act as an
arbiter.  If it is supposed to put the different parties in
an equal position by some kind of social policy, you have a
progressive type of pluralist democracy.  If it is supposed
to refrain from doing this, you meet a liberal or
conservative type of it.  So, the pluralist model is a
combination of direct and representative democracy.
Representation is made continually, not only by professional
politicians selected every four or five years, but by all
kinds of organisational representatives as well.  The
constitutional state can be accepted, but its real substance
and resources are produced by the intermediary organisations
of civil society.  In Western Europe the most frequent
result was some kind of corporatist state.  The words
"substance" and "resource" indicate that substantial
democracy is preferred to a procedural conception of it.
Ultimately, opinion formation in civil society, based on
interests, discussions and all views, is more important for
democracy than decision making in the central state.

     Two characteristics of the new media in ICT are very
attractive to this model of democracy.  First, the
multiplication of channels and stand-alone media supports
the potential pluriformity of political information and
discussion.  Every view and every organisation or
association can have its say.  They can reach their own and
every other interested audience.  Second, the advance of
interactive communication networks, in contrast to the
allocution of broadcasting, perfectly fits to a network
conception of politics.

     Following these two general preferences, all
instruments or systems which can be used to reinforce
information and communication inside the organisations of
civil society or between them will be favoured.  These are
most instruments arranged under the patterns of
consultation, registration and conversation in Table 1. This
time these instruments are used, first of all, by the
organisations of civil society to inform and register their
membership and external audiences.  They are mass and
advanced public information systems (during the Internet
hype in 1995 only organisations with their own WWW-page seem
to count), registration systems, and computerised
selfsurveys inside organisations.  However, the most
favourite instruments to a pluralist model of democracy are
conversation systems inside or among organisations,
associations and individual citizens:  electronic mail,
discussion lists, teleconferencing and decision support
systems for the most complex problems.

Participatory Democracy

     The last model of democracy to be described is close to
the pluralist model in several aspects.  It is a combination
of representative and direct democracy.  It is based on
views of democracy emphasising the substantial aspects and
resources of democracy even more than the pluralist model.
The big difference is the shift in attention from
organisations to citizens.  The support of citizenship is
the central aim in the model of participatory democracy.
Jean Jeacques Rousseau is the first classical advocate of
this model.  He can be considered a proponent of direct
democracy, but not in its plebiscitarian brand.  Rousseau's
notion of the people's will is not based upon the
measurement of the views of individual citizens, but it aims
at the development of citizenship by means of collective
discussion and education.  Educating citizens as active
members of the community is the primary aim in this model
which clearly originates in the Enlightenment.  For
Rousseau, the people's will was not a sum of individual
wills but some kind of totality revealing the sovereignty of
the people as a collective.  This totality had to be created
in public meetings and legislative assemblies.  One of the
latter-day interpretations was the council or Soviet type of
democracy covering a large part of the Marxist tradition; in
its practice this totality was often transformed in

     A necessary condition of this model of democracy is the
presence of informed citizens.  Present-day proponents of
participatory democracy, such as Carole Pateman (1970) and
C.B.  Macpherson (1977), want to stimulate active
citizenship.  The centres of political power themselves
should become more accessible to citizens.  They should be
responsive to their questions and certainly not only pose
questions to them.  The individualist bias of the
plebiscitarian and competitive views is firmly opposed.
Plebiscites, electronic or otherwise, are feared for the
isolation of the individual citizen and the possibility of
central manipulation.  Another threat is a separation of
opinion polling and opinion formation.  Polling in its own
right is considered to be a poor and passive type of
political participation directed by simple and prefabricated
questions.  A complete fragmentation of political practice
is expected; collective opinion formation in discussions and
educational contexts is preferred.

     The logical consequence of this model of democracy is
the option of instruments of ICT which are able to inform
and activate the citizenry.  Computerised information
campaigns and mass public information systems have to be
designed and supported in such a way that they help to
narrow the gap between the "information rich" and the
"information poor," otherwise the spontaneous development of
ICT will widen it.  Therefore the access and the user
friendliness of the new media should be improved.  According
to the participatory view this is the only way to really
open or make transparent the political system to the mass of
the citizenry.

     The electronic instruments of discussion are taken as a
second option.  They are attractive as they could be means
for opinion formation, learning and active participation.
Discussion lists on public computer networks,
teleconferences and electronic town halls might be very
useful.  However, a first condition is that not only the
social and intellectual elite will participate in them.  A
second one is their design as suitable instruments of
discussion.  Both conditions are badly fulfilled at this
moment (Van Dijk, forthcoming).  The socalled virtual
communities created on the Internet and other public
networks are extremely overpopulated by male, affluent
people with high education.  The quality of the discussions
in these networks is rather low, as some communication
capacities of these new media do not support fruitful
discussion.  Not much conclusions and agreements can be
reached (Van Dijk, forthcoming).

     Disputes About Electronic Instruments of Democracy

     The description of the relationship between these five
models of democracy and different practices of ICT in
politics might be considered as a pure construction of the
author.  He hopes to show that this relationship is firmly
grounded.  One way of doing this is to take practical
experiments with electronic instruments in politics to
reveal which goals the experimenters have and to make it
acceptable that these goals are related to different
conceptions of democracy.  Fortunately (for our
argumentation),there are not only preferences for different
instruments of democracy, but disputes about the design and
use of the some of the same instruments as well.  The author
of this article has conducted several evaluation researches
of these instruments in the Netherlands.  He has selected
three typical cases of a dispute about the same (kind of)
instrument in this country.

Case No. 1: Public Information Systems in the Netherlands

     The most general dispute about the uses of ICT for the
improvement of the communication between local government,
public administration and political parties on the one side
and the citizens at the other in the Netherlands is a
collision of two proposals for the design and implementation
of public information systems informing the citizenry about
official and political affairs and giving it means to react
and interact as well.  Some local authorities, experimenters
and service providers propose to develop and to implement
mass public information systems.  Their aim is to reach the
mass of the citizenry with elementary information about all
kinds of local affairs.  They are using a mix of the present
old and new media trying to reach anyone:  cable-TV with
teletext (ceefax etc.), hybrid networks combining cableTV,
cable-text and a digital telephone (a kind of videotex) and
free computer terminals in official buildings.  The main
public is a television audience.

     Others propose to support advanced public information
systems.  Most often they are young enthusiastic computer
hobbyists and activists introducing so-called freenets and
entries to the Internet.  In the Netherlands they are called
Digital Cities, for instance the Digital City of Amsterdam.
The goals of these people are much more ambitious.  They do
not only want to supply elementary information, but advanced
political information and real-time discussions as well.
They want to offer all the facilities of the Internet.  Tey
now can only reach a "modem audience," that is less than 10
percent of the population.  However, they suppose that the
small elite of present users are the pioneers of the
population which will follow very soon.  They are not
pleased with the limited and one-sided information supply of
the mass systems, they want to take every opportunity for
discussion and change of the political system now.  Their
systems have much more to offer (advanced political
information, discussion and polling).

     Very likely these systems and channels will be
technically integrated in the future.  However, what is
interesting to our argument are the priorities made now.
Several models of democracy can be used to explain these
differences of design and opinion to some extent.  They are
not only a matter of technical choices.  It is a political
choice to inform the mass of the citizenry first of all and
to let them react in a limited way only.  This would be the
first option in the legalist and competitive models of
democracy.  It is also a political choice to preselect the
high capacities for interaction and discussion in computer
networks, even if they can only be accessed and used by a
small minority of the population.  This option is taken by
people who want fundamental changes in the political system,
most often more direct ways of democracy as to them official
politics is discredited.  Within the plebiscitarian model
advanced systems like the Internet and the freenets will be
used for a multitude of applications, first of all
electronic polls and discussions.  The participatory and
pluralist models are ambivalent on this matter.  Their
advocates will hail the high quality of participation and
the manifold discussion in the advanced systems, but they
will complain about the quantity of participation and the
low accessibility.  For them mass public information systems
offer better opportunities.

Case No. 2: Citizen Enquiries of Hoogvliet, Rotterdam

     In the first part of 1993, a population of 1,345
citizens of Hoogvliet (a part of Rotterdam) received five
different questionnaires sequentially about all kinds of
local affairs along the channel of the experimental twoway
cable-TV.  This is a case of a computer-assisted citizen
enquiry (see Table 1), which might be a prototype of the
electronic polls and votes which are expected to be
organised in the future information super highways.

     After some discussions by all parties engaged (official
authorities of the municipality, local political parties,
public information service providers and the designers of
the enquiry) three goals were selected for this experiment
(see Paans 1993):

1. to ask for the opinion of the population about
   local policies and affairs (information demand);

2. to inform about these policies and affairs
   (information supply);

3. to increase the involvement in these policies and
   affairs (attitude change).

     The most interesting thing about this set of goals is
that they were heavily disputed.  The initiators and
designers of the enquiry put forward the first and third
goals.  However, the official authorities and the political
parties insisted that the second goal would be selected.
They did not want to accept a one-sided telepoll.
Information about policies and affairs should be the primary
aim.  For our analysis of the models of democracy this
really is a splendid example.  An attempt is made to put
upside down an instrument which is the favourite option in
the plebiscitarian model, telepolling, and turn it into an
information campaign.  This fits very well in the legalist
and competitive models.  The third goal, to increase
involvement, would be a primary option of the participatory

     The result was a compromise of three goals.  The first
was not reached, as the response was not representative for
the population (293 out of 1,345).  The results of the
enquiries were barely used in official policies.  However,
the second and third goals were achieved to a certain extent
according to the result of an evaluation questionnaire at
the end (see Paans 1993).

Case No. 3: "City Talks" of Amsterdam

     Between 1989 and 1994 about a dozen so-called city
talks (stadsgesprekken) were organised by the information
service of the local administration and local organisations
of Amsterdam.  These talks were some kind of electronic town
hall meetings.  Discussions of more than two hours about
urgent local matters were broadcast live on local
television.  For these discussions a panel of politicians
and representatives of local organisations and an audience
of citizens was gathered in a theatre ("the town hall").  In
every city talk three questions were posed to the television
audience at home.  It was able to respond by means of
interactive teletext, videotex and the plain digital
telephone by just pressing keys for yes or no.  In every
programme between 3,000 and 6,000 people among 30,000 to
40,000 viewers responded to one, two or three of these
(tele)questions.  The responses were processed immediately
and presented live in the ongoing discussion influencing the
debate.  The city talks were organised to reach at least
five goals (Van Dijk 1993):

1. to collect (tele)opinions about a particular local affair
   among municipal organisations and individual citizens;

2. to improve the communication between the city government
   and the citizenry;

3. to promote discussion among the organisations in the

4. to continue discussion in the city (city talks should not
   be only a single meeting);

5. to activate the citizenry.

     These goals were so ambitious and some of the means to
realise them so contradictory _ for instance, a successful
television programme for the masses and a detailed and
balanced (every one is able to participate) discussion among
a panel and an audience require different directions _ that
none of these goals appeared to be attained sufficiently in
the overall evaluation (Van Dijk 1993).  Most interesting to
the argument in this article are the tensions between these
five goals.  The first of it (telepolling) "belongs" to the
plebiscitarian model and the second (to remove information
shortages on every side) to the legalist one.  It was not
surprising that this second goal was emphasised by the
politicians in the evaluation (Van Dijk 1993).  The third
goal (to promote discussion among municipal organisations)
can be derived from a pluralist model.  Again, it was not
amazing that this goal was backed first of all by the
municipal organisations themselves.  They did also want to
take the opportunity of a television programme to present
themselves to a large audience.  Finally, the fourth and
fifth goals (continuity and activation) are the first
options of a participatory model.

     In conclusion, the city talks of Amsterdam were a
perfect compromise of all models of democracy, a compromise
which did not work as it was too ambitious and the tensions
in the realisation of diverging goals remained.


     The elaboration of five contemporary models of
democracy was made to suggest that the goals and means of
designing and using ICT in the political system can be very
different.  The same goes for the promotion of democracy
within this system.  It makes a difference whether the
primary goal of democracy is opinion or decision making.
These goals could be reconciled in practice as some
electronic instruments used in politics and for the benefit
of democracy are able to serve both aims, for instance
computer-assisted citizen enquiries (e.g., the informed
choice questionnaire), electronic mail and teleconferencing,
electronic town halls, and group decision support systems.
To reconcile the different means of democracy is a much more
difficult matter.  As general models representative and
direct democracy are fundamentally opposed.  You can have
some instruments of direct democracy within a representative
system, for instance referenda, but the effects of this
combination are contradictory in many cases.  As any one
knows, the results of referenda often disturb and contradict
the decisionmaking process in the representative system.
This is why these direct instruments should remain
subordinate to the workings of the representative system of
democracy according to the advocates of this system.  On the
other hand it is possible, and presumably necessary in
practice, to insert some kind of representation in a working
system of direct democracy.  However, a fundamental problem
is that a system of daily telepolls, referenda, tele-
elections and electronic debates would undermine the
authority of every representative and parliament

     In the course of the exposition we have revealed a
third dividing line between the views of democracy, often
linked to the representative-direct distinction.  This line
is characterised by contemporary discussions about the
steering role of the state.  The electronic instruments of
democracy and politics mentioned in this article (see Table
1) can be designed and used to reinforce institutional
politics and to revive the steering ambitions within states
in their present crisis caused by globalisation and
increasing complexity.  However, they can also be applied to
displace politics on to civil society and even on to the
non-political sphere of the market, which means a much
broader definition of the political system.

     The discussion between the advocates of the models of
democracy can not be solved.  Only compromises can be made.
Of course they really are made in daily political practice.
However, often these compromises are uneasy and
contradictory ones.  These kinds of compromises are most
likely to increase in the design and application of ICT in
politics and democracy.  In practice the results often are
unclear definitions of the goals of experiments with ICT in
politics or they are a compromise of a multitude of very
different, even contradictory goals.  In the former section
we have described some cases which were a partial or even an
almost complete failure as a result of fuzzy compromises.
So, a practical proposal to be derived from our argument is
to take great pains to clarify in advance the goals of every
experiment with ICT in politics.  If compromises have to be
made, they should at least be made in an explicit way.  This
article was written to assist in this process of

     Finally, three suggestions for compromises will be
made.  For all models of democracy (1) a more responsive
government, (2) a better information supply in both
directions _ the government and the public administration on
the one side and the citizenry at the other _ and (3) a more
transparent political system would be very important goals.
For the legalist and competitive models these compromises
would help to integrate some proposals of a plebiscitarian,
pluralist and participatory model without having to yield to
a system based on telepolling, telereferenda and teledebates
from the outset.  For the plebiscitarian, pluralist and
participatory models they could afford the means to promote
plebiscites, pluralist discussion and participation of the
citizenry without having to submit to the institutions and
workings of official politics.


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Author Information:

Jan A.G.M. van Dijk is lecturer in Department of Mass
Communication, Faculty of Social Sciences, Utrecht
University, PO Box 80140, TC Utrecht.
                      Copyright 1996
   Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.

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