HKS Authors

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Doubts about the legitimacy of the 2016 U.S. elections continue to reverberate and deepen partisan mistrust in America. The perfect storm followed Republican allegations of fake news and massive voter fraud, Democratic complaints of voter suppression and gerrymandering, discontent with the way that the Electoral College anointed the presidential candidate who lost the popular vote, compounded by Comey’s interventions and intelligence reports of Russian meddling. These issues raise the broader question: how serious do any perceived electoral flaws usually have to be to raise doubts not just about the process and results – or even the legitimacy of the declared winner - but about democracy itself? Do ordinary people actually care most about the quality of their elections (input legitimacy) or are they more concerned with the pocket-book economy of jobs, growth, and taxes (output legitimacy) and/or are attitudes shaped by partisan cues (the winners-losers thesis)? And how do attitudes vary among electoral winners and losers? To understand these issues, Part I outlines the theoretical and conceptual framework. Part II describes the evidence used to investigate these issues drawing upon cross-national data from the World Values Survey 6th wave in 42 diverse societies and from the 7th wave U.S. survey, as well as expert indices measuring the quality of elections. Part III establishes the key cross-national findings. Part IV presents the US results. Part V summarizes the key findings and overall implications, demonstrating that doubts about electoral integrity undermine general satisfaction with how democracy works. Paper for the panel on ‘Election dynamics in the developing world’ at the American Political Science Association annual convention, Boston, 4.00-5.30pm on Saturday 1 September 2018.


Norris, Pippa. "Do Public Perceptions of Electoral Malpractice Undermine Democratic Satisfaction? The U.S. in Comparative Perspective." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP18-022, July 2018.