Posted by Theodore Landsman on January 03, 2017
The Election Integrity Project recently released its U.S. Perceptions of Election Integrity (PEI) Survey results for 2016. News stories about their release immediately focused on the 7/100 score for North Carolina on the fairness of its district boundaries, the lowest score on this metric any state has ever received. However, district boundaries are only one aspect of election integrity, and it is telling that on the election integrity index overall, North Carolina ranked 39th, ahead of 11 other US states.
FairVote has its own metric of election integrity, our Dubious Democracy Index which looks at election results and competitiveness, and is a very different way of measuring the health of our state-by-state democratic institutions. Rather than surveying experts for their opinions, we assess the health of democracy by letting election results speak for themselves.
In comparing our rankings, we found a clear relationship between perceptions of election integrity as measured by the PEI index and our metrics measuring democratic outcomes in the U.S. House. There were also some important distinctions related to which issues each model emphasizes. FairVote’s model emphasizes competition, proportional representation, and turnout. The Election Integrity Project model centers on more subjective perceptions about election administration such as whether election laws, administration and campaign finance regulations were fair to both parties. In the Dubious Democracy ranking, North Carolina placed 26th in the nation. On the one hand North Carolina is significantly above the US average when it comes to descriptive representation, with 3 congresswomen and two African-American congressmen. On the other hand, despite its large population and swing state status, none of its congressional districts are competitive.
In the following graph, each state's position in the PEI index (x-axis) and its Dubious Democracy ranking (y-axis) is represented by a dot. Although there are significant outliers, highlighting the different emphases of the two measures, most states do cluster around a line from the bottom-left (states that rank highly by both measures) and the top-right (states that rank poorly by both measures), indicating the correlation between the two.
In our analysis, going from a lower ranking to the next highest ranking in the PEI index was correlated with moving up roughly .3 rankings in the Dubious Democracy index (p<.05). As we can see in the scatterplot above, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Maine perform well in both indices (bottom left), while Oklahoma, Mississippi and Tennessee rank poorly in both. There are also a significant number of interesting outliers. Idaho, for example ranked 2nd in the PEI index, but 41st in our Dubious Democracy index. As a state that is roughly 1/3 Democratic but elects virtually no Democrats, Idaho ranked poorly on many of our metrics of representation. However, in terms of perceptions of fairness and integrity that are measured by the PEI, Idaho performed much better. Another example is Arizona, which ranks 51st in the PEI index but 18th on Dubious Democracy. Arizona is a fairly competitive state, but has clear issues with districting, disenfranchisement, and partisan election control, which are highly weighted in the PEI index.
Overall it is a good sign that our metrics for election administration and policy is significantly correlated with the Election Integrity Project’s. Still, differences in the results are also important, and demonstrate that well run elections are not always competitive or representative, and competitive elections are not always well run.