From the Electoral Integrity Project: Campaign finance failed in two-thirds of all elections in 2015

Contact: Pippa Norris
Date: March 14, 2016

Flawed and failed elections around the world are manipulated through vote rigging and corruption, intimidation, and violence. Political finance is often a major problem. Malpractices undermine civic engagement, political accountability, and faith in democracy. These problems arise despite the fact that each year the international community invests about half a billion U.S. dollars to improve elections.

New evidence from the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) assesses which elections across the world meet international standards. The EIP is an independent research project based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University, directed by Professor Pippa Norris.

The EIP’s report covers 180 national parliamentary and presidential contests held from mid-2012 to end-2015 in 139 countries worldwide, including 54 national elections during 2015.

Evidence is gathered from a global survey of more than 2,000 election experts. Immediately after each contest, the survey asks domestic and international experts to monitor the quality of an election based on 49 indicators. These responses are clustered into eleven stages occurring during the electoral cycle and summed to construct an overall 100-point expert Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index and ranking. "Failed" elections are defined as those which fall below 40 on any of the 100-point scales. 

  • The most widespread problems concerned money and media. Experts rated around two-thirds (68%) of all elections last year as having "failed" standards of campaign finance.  Similarly, 38% of all elections were rated as having "failed" media coverage.
  • Electoral integrity was undermined by societal constraints such as deep-rooted poverty and a legacy of conflict. It was strengthened by international linkage (e.g. membership of regional organizations), andthe design of political institutions (including proportional electoral systems and impartial electoral management bodies).
  • One in six elections (8/54) failed last year (ranked below 40 on the 100-point PEI Index). This included contests in Africa (Ethiopia, Burundi, Togo), Eurasia (Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan), and Haiti. These elections typically saw fraud, protests, and conflict. Ethiopia, ranked worst, is a key example, where the ruling party, the People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, won all seats in May 2015, amid repression, intimidation, and censorship.
  • Another nine elections were flawed last year, (rated 40-50 on the PEI index). This included elections in Africa (Zambia, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt and Guinea), in Latin America (Guatemala, Venezuela), and in Turkey and Kazakhstan.
  • Some long-established democracies performed relatively poorly. This includes the May 2015 UK general election (ranked 39th worldwide), the worst performance in Western Europe. In the United States, the 2012 Presidential election and the 2014 Congressional elections were ranked worst of any long-established democracy, especially on campaign finance and electoral registration.
  • By contrast, however, experts rated 9 elections very highly, including in Denmark (ranked 1st), Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Israel, and Canada.
  • Some notable gains also occurred last year, although contests still had room for further improvements, including in Nigeria and Myanmar. Elections in some developing countries and newer democracies were also scored fairly well by experts, including Benin, Croatia, and Lesotho.

Further evidence will cover national elections each year, to broaden the comparison worldwide.

“More elections are held worldwide during recent decades, but too often elections fail to meet international standards,” said Pippa Norris. “This study is the first to gather reliable evidence from experts to pinpoint where contests last year are problematic- such as in Ethiopia, Burundi and Haiti – and also to celebrate where they succeed, such as in Estonia, Finland and Denmark. This study will provide useful evidence for a wide range of scholars and policymakers, including public officials, human rights organizations, academic researchers, and reporters covering elections and seeking to strengthen electoral integrity.”


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