Elections: Was the 2000 Presidential Election Fair? an Analysis of Comparative and Retrospective Survey Data

By Wattenberg, Martin P. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Elections: Was the 2000 Presidential Election Fair? an Analysis of Comparative and Retrospective Survey Data


Wattenberg, Martin P., Presidential Studies Quarterly


Americans have long taken great pride in their presidential elections. With a proud history extending back over 200 years, the selection of a U.S. president has long been held up to emerging democracies as an example to be emulated. Power has been transferred peacefully and with widespread agreement on the legitimacy of the winner's electoral mandate. Of course, some elements of the election process were not as fair as they could be--particularly the Electoral College--but the overall sense of fairness is something most analysts of U.S. presidential elections have long taken for granted. The disputed outcome of the 2000 presidential contest between Bush and Gore changed all that.

In 1996, the American National Election Studies (ANES) asked about the fairness of the election only because this question was part of a module being administered in many countries as part of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES). Several days after the 2000 election, the ANES realized that in light of the controversy in Florida, it would be interesting to repeat this question in their post-election questionnaire. Two years later, when the ANES reinterviewed respondents from the 2000 study, they decided to see whether the controversy still simmered in the public mind.

The findings from 1996 indicate that even in the face of a normal undisputed presidential election, Americans did not rate the fairness of their election particularly high compared to citizens of other established democracies. And in the shadow of the contested outcome of the 2000 American presidential race, complaints about the fairness of the election were widespread. Only the Peruvian election of 2001 was worse in this respect among the 36 national elections covered in the CSES study. One might expect that by 2002, few Americans would continue to question the fairness of Bush's election given the rise in patriotism spurred by 9/11 and the war with Iraq. However, lingering bitterness about the election remained strong, and the patterns of opinion on this question had hardened along party lines. This research note reviews and expands upon these findings.

A Comparative Perspective on Election Fairness

As part of the CSES, random samples of populations in various countries were asked the following question soon after a national election: "In some countries, people believe their elections are conducted fairly. In other countries, people believe that their elections are conducted unfairly. Thinking of the election we've just had, do you believe it was very fair, somewhat fair, neither fair nor unfair, somewhat unfair, or very unfair?" (1) Table 1 displays the results of how citizens responded to this question in a wide range of both established and developing democracies.

Ranking the countries according to the percentage that responded that their election was very fair, the U.S. election of 1996 finishes in 15th place out of 36. The perceived fairness of the Clinton-Dole contest of 1996 pales compared to that observed in a number of parliamentary elections conducted under rules of proportional representation (PR). All of the countries in which elections were rated as very fair by at least two thirds of survey respondents employed PR. Given that the aim of PR is to distribute political power fairly according to votes received, it makes perfect sense that citizens are most likely to think an election is fair when PR is used. A presidential election, however, cannot use PR, as there is only one office to allocate. Hence, winner-take-all presidential elections are at a comparative disadvantage when it comes to being perceived as fair. Third-party voters in 1996 were the least likely to rate the election as very fair, with only 40 percent saying this, compared to 52 percent among Dole voters and 59 percent among Clinton voters. The fact that a typical Scandinavian voter was more likely to see their election as fair than even Clinton voters in 1996 indicates that perceptions of unfairness in U. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Elections: Was the 2000 Presidential Election Fair? an Analysis of Comparative and Retrospective Survey Data
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.