The Perceptions of Electoral Integrity: The 2016 American Presidential Elections

Ever since Florida in 2000, America has seen growing partisan polarization over basic electoral procedures and rights.  A long series of vulnerabilities in the conduct of U.S. elections has been widely documented, for example in the 2014 report of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. The Pew Center’s Election Performance Index has repeatedly and carefully highlighted uneven standards across U.S. states. 

Like its predecessors, the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign saw concern about many issues in American elections. During the campaign, problems focused on the prevalence of negative reporting, disinformation campaigns, and fake news. Republicans continued to express concern about the potential risks of voter fraud while Democrats highlighted the dangers of the suppression of voting rights on polling day. The aftermath of the election saw further questions raised by issues of cybersecurity and vulnerability to Russian hacking. The contests also revived concern about several long-standing issues associated with gerrymandered boundaries in several states, and disparities between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote.

What is the evidence about the severity and extent of these problems in American elections? And how do U.S. states vary in the performance of their elections?

To address these questions, the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), an independent academic project based at Harvard and Sydney Universities, gathered expert perceptions of electoral integrity for PEI-US-2016.

The project has conducted expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity for the last five years to evaluate the quality of parliamentary and presidential elections around the world, including the 2012 and 2014 US elections. This technique is commonly used for evaluating performance in the absence of directly observable indicators. It is similar to the methods employed for the Perception of Corruption Index by Transparency international. The empirical evidence is gathered from rolling expert surveys gauging Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) globally (across 213 elections and 153 countries worldwide since 2012), and across US states (in 2014 and 2016).  The EIP has also conducted similar sub-national surveys in Mexico, Russia, India, and the United Kingdom, as well as in twenty U.S. states in 2014. 

‘Electoral Integrity’ refers to international standards and global norms governing the appropriate conduct of elections during the pre-election period, the campaign, polling day and its aftermath.

For PEI-US-2016, the Electoral Integrity Project gathered evaluations from 726 political scientists based at universities in each state. Two weeks after polling day, experts were asked to evaluate electoral integrity in their own state.

This report highlights the key findings of the new PEI-US-2016 dataset and suggests areas for further exploration by scholars and policymakers.