Since weeks, all of us drown in blogs, newspaper reports and all other kinds of media contributions on the presidential and congressional election in the United States. Many of these contributions refer to the effects of the electoral system – which has many particularities, including the electoral College (and the possibility to win the presidential office without a majority of votes), Gerrymandering (and the party politics behind it) and, most recently in the media, the option to change your early vote later on. We gathered our favorites from this vast amount of recent publications on electoral system effects in the United States and you can find a short summary and the links below. Enjoy reading!
The U.S. election will, as usually, be a (more or less) simple choice between one candidate of the Republican and one of the Democratic party (although, the third candidates hope to receive some votes as well). Yet, when it comes to the details, the electoral system is more than complex and far from simple. This recent article by the Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/how-does-the-us-presidential-election-work-and-what-are-the-swin/) provides certainly all the details needed to keep track of the current developments in the U.S. elections. For a more humorously elaboration on the question of how the American system works in contrast to the Australian electoral system see this post by Peter Marsh (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-03/us-election-vs-australian-election/7968490).
When it comes to the congressional election, the most particular aspect of the US electoral system is probably the option of Gerrymandering. While many countries redraw the boundaries of their constituencies once in a while to ensure equal weight of all votes, the process is usually organized by politically neutral committees. Just the opposite happens in the United States: Re-districting is highly political and might have decided the congressional election before votes are even cast:
In this post on Fruits and Votes, Michael Latner argues that there is a Pro-Republican bias in redistricting. He provides clear-cut evidence that neither the urban concentration of democratic voters nor the requirement of majority-minority districts caused the partisan bias in the constituency boundaries.
Further researchers share this opinion, including Samuel Wong (see here http://election.princeton.edu/2016/10/07/how-powerful-is-gerrymandering-anyway-a-conversation-with-david-daley-wednesday-october-12th-in-princeton/). Last summer, he published an article explaining us how we can uncover partisan bias in state-level redistricting (in Stanford Law Review, see here http://gerrymander.princeton.edu/static/Wang_CommonCause_contest_entry_March2016.pdf). However, an underrated factor in these studies might be incumbency effects. Michael Barber provides evidence that redistricting has only minor effects on the likelihood of Republican candidates to win seats (published at the Monkey Cage, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/10/27/how-incumbency-not-gerrymandering-may-protect-the-republican-house-majority/).
With great interest, we read about the possibility of early or absentee voters to change their vote before election day in certain Midwestern states (see e.g. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/nov/1/early-voting-buyers-remorse-some-states-allow-ball/). This electoral rule seems to be another particularity of the U.S. system and we wonder whether such or similar provisions exist in any other country. We would be grateful for comments or for information about research on this intriguing topic.
Admittedly, this piece by Drew De Silver (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/31/u-s-electoral-system-ranks-high-but-not-highest-in-global-comparisons/) does not formally address the electoral system as such but rather whether the confidence in the fairness and openness of the electoral process varies according to political affiliation. The article shows that almost two-thirds of the Trump and 11% of Clinton supporters have little or no confidence that the election will be free and fair. For future research, it would be interesting to find our whether the electoral system design affects the perception of electoral fraud. Intuitively, we would expect that voters are more likely to perceive the election as unfree (regardless of the de facto level of fraud) in winner-takes-it-all arrangements as there is more at stake.
Authors: Corinna Kroeber and Sarah C. Dingler in November 2016