24 March 2016

The  pantomime-like performance of leading figures in the United States Primary elections  hardly shows American politics in its best light.  A  shortage of  the tolerance, openness and integrity implicit in a strong democracy suggests that a significant number of Americans are less democratic in their commitments than American patriots may believe.  And that is also the conclusion drawn by the Electoral Integrity Project which evaluates elections worldwide.  Its latest annual report analyses parliamentary and presidential elections in 139 countries over the last three years, including 54 national elections last year. EIP is jointly run by University of Sydney and Harvard University research teams with contributions from more than 2000 election experts.

The perception of election integrity in many countries is not encouraging.   Approximately 15%  of the national elections scored lower than 40 on the 100 point EIP index for measuring  international standards, with another 15% not much better.  These scores are the aggregate of 49 questions grouped into 11 sections.

Only a third of elections were rated as “passing” campaign finance standards, with a third failing an adequate quality of media coverage

Long-standing Northern European democracies rank highest in electoral integrity, led by Denmark, Finland and Norway.  Germany is the only country with a large  population in the top 20. Except for the Netherlands, the others all have fewer than 10 million inhabitants.

New Zealand’s democratic lustre looks somewhat tarnished at 16th place on the Index, following newer democracies like Estonia, Costa Rica and Lithuania.

The 2015 UK general election assessed as the worst performance in Western Europe, means the UK at 39th,  ranks alongside Italy and Greece.

Even worse, the United States, based on the 2012 Presidential election and the 2014 Congressional elections, was ranked below other long-established democracies, at 46th equal with Panama, on the cusp of being classified as only “moderately” democratic.

2015 Election Integrity Index

1              Denmark

2              Finland

3              Norway

4              Sweden

5              Costa Rica

6              Germany

7              Estonia

8              Netherlands

9              Switzerland

10           Iceland

11           Lithuania

12           Austria

13           South Korea

14           Slovenia

15           Czech Republic

16           New Zealand


18           Canada


26           Australia


39           United Kingdom


46           United States


The Economist Intelligence Unit publishes a Democracy Index each year.  New Zealand can take more heart from that evaluation. In the latest survey New Zealand remained in the top four – along with the Scandinavians. The United Kingdom and the United States were more aligned with their traditional roles as champions of democracy, being placed among the top 20 democratic states.