New Report from Electoral Integrity Project Analyzes the rise of Populism and its Impacts in Global Elections

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: (617) 495-1115
Date: May 08, 2017

A new report today released by the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University, scrutinizes whether support for populism is rising or whether it has stalled, comparing elections in the United States, the Netherlands, France, the UK, and Germany. The EIP is directed Pippa Norris, the Paul. F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

The study suggests that populists heighten risks of electoral malpractices through three main mechanisms:

  • Damaging public trust in the electoral process, such as where Trump’s supporters believe the president’s repeated claims, without evidence, of massive electoral fraud and vote rigging;
  • Undermining international standards of electoral integrity and engaging in illegal malpractices, through practices such as corruption, coercion, and the lack of a level playing field as exemplified after populists came to power in the Philippines, Hungary and Turkey, as well as several specific cases of populist leaders violating electoral laws in Western democracies; and
  • Colluding with authoritarian interference in democratic contests abroad, including where populist candidates benefit from Russian cyber-attacks in the United States and France.

Ranking elections worldwide

The report, drawing upon the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity dataset release 5.0, also ranks the integrity of elections globally, identifying numerous polls beset by gerrymandered boundaries, restrictions on the free press, ballot box fraud, violence, and the abuse of money in politics. The data suggests that problems of corruption and coercion are widespread.

The data is from a comprehensive survey by more than 2,700 social scientists. The report compares 241 parliamentary and presidential elections in 158 countries around the world (excluding micro-states). All countries are ranked by the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) Index. To go beyond the numbers, the report highlights illustrative case-studies in the United States, Australia, Russia, Lithuania, the Philippines, Iceland, Gabon, the Gambia, Syria, and Iran. The report demonstrates several striking findings, for example:

  • The United States ranks 55th worldwide in integrity, the worst performance of any Western democracy, due to a series of problems including growing party polarization over electoral procedures and rights. Tensions were exacerbated by President Trump’s repeated claims of massive voter fraud, both before and even after his entry into the White House.
  • Australia’s 2016 Federal Election ranked 28th worldwide in integrity. One in four voters surveyed by an EIP panel survey believe fraud is common, raising a need for measures to restore public confidence.
  • Russia’s 2016 Duma election rated 120th worldwide; the contest lacked a level playing field due to abuse of state resources and media coverage that predominantly supported Putin’s United Russia party.
  • By contrast,the good news is that Lithuania and Iceland were ranked in the top dozen elections last year. Similarly several poorer societies and newer democracies, such as Ghana, Cape Verde and Benin, held elections last year which were relatively well rated by experts.
  • Yet many other contests in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Gabon and the Gambia, were particularly prone to conflict and instability.
  • Not surprisingly, last year’s elections in Syria, racked by internal conflict, population displacement, and instability, were ranked among the worst in the world.

Evidence and methods

The Year in Elections report is drawn from a rolling survey with responses received from 2,709 experts. The global survey monitors Perceptions of Electoral Integrity in 158 countries and 241 national parliamentary and presidential elections held between mid-2012 and 30 December 2016. Separate surveys are also run to compare states and provinces in several larger federal countries, such as in Russia, Mexico, India, and the United States.

The researchers surveyed social scientists with demonstrated knowledge of electoral processes in each country to monitor election quality based on almost 50 performance indicators. The experts’ responses are clustered into 11 stages that occur before an election, during official campaigning, on polling day, and after an election. 

EIP is directed by Pippa Norris (Harvard and Sydney Universities) as an independent research project with an international advisory board and a team of scholars focusing on why elections fail, why this matters, and what can be done about it. The survey manager is Max Grömping

The full report and data is available at www.electoralintegrityproject.com. Further maps and graphs are available upon request.

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