A government is a system that enforces rules and makes laws for a nation, state or other political unit. Governments also manage the economy, foreign policy and defense, and provide public services. There are many different types of governments, including democracies, totalitarian regimes and a range of hybrid systems between these two extremes.
In a democracy, people are elected to represent them in Congress and in state and local legislatures. These groups make laws to govern their areas, and raise money by taxing income, property and sales. The money is then used to pay for things like education, police and fire departments, roads and parks.
Most Western nations have well-developed, democratically run governments that protect their citizens’ freedom of speech and press. Some governments, such as the United States, also provide safety nets that keep families from being homeless. Governments also play a vital role in making sure that citizens have access to the goods and services they need, such as food, clean water, health care and energy.
The founders of the United States created a government structure that is known as a “representative democracy” and separated power into three branches: the executive, the judicial and the legislative. This system, called checks and balances, prevents any branch from becoming too powerful. The founders learned from history that giving any branch too much power led to big problems, so they designed a system where the other branches could limit its powers.
This arrangement also helps prevent corruption and ensures that all citizens have a voice in their government. Americans elect their president every four years, and they also vote for members of Congress and state and local legislators. Most voters belong to one of the two major parties: Republicans or Democrats. These representatives, along with their staffs, work to pass laws that benefit their constituents.
The judicial branch interprets the laws that Congress and the President make. Congress can override the President’s veto of a bill by passing it with a two-thirds majority. The executive branch enforces the laws and ensures that the other branches follow them. The Framers gave the President the power to veto bills, but they also created a system where Congress can block his actions by blocking funding for the Executive Branch.
Some adults think that the federal government should take on additional responsibilities, such as caring for people who can’t help themselves. This responsibility, however, is very polarizing. In the latest Gallup/Healthways Well-Being Index, those who say the government should be responsible for providing these services are more likely to identify as Democrats than as Republicans (74% vs. 55% respectively). People who receive benefits from government programs are even more likely to say the government should do this (85% vs. 61%). This reflects the fact that more people receive healthcare, housing assistance, food stamps and other aid to the needy from the federal government than from private charities and organizations.