COMPARED TO WHAT?
Americans know little of other nations' politics and governments. Recent surveys have revealed that many Americans are unable to identify other nations on a map, much less know something of their governmental systems. This may help to explain why many in the United States think of their governmental system as the world's best. America's electoral system has delivered governments that have presided over a period of liberty, peace, and prosperity, so what's not to like? An answer to that question requires knowledge of how the electoral systems of other constitutional democracies operate. This chapter examines America's electoral system in comparison with those of other nations and evaluates them in terms of the accountability, voter participation, deliberation, and governmental stability they produce.
America's electoral system is unique due to a combination of several unusual characteristics. First, America has the longest election campaigns in the world. It is the only major democracy that nominates party candidates through primaries, which add both months and expense to elections. No nation takes so long to select a chief executive, with American presidential campaigns—requiring primaries in dozens of states before the general election contest—often lasting up to twelve months. The length of American campaigns helps electoral politics encroach upon governing processes, as discussed in chapter i. The federalism of American electoral administration is also relatively rare in the world, and only in America do citizens elect so many statewide executive officials (the attorney general, auditor, secretary of state, and, in some states, even the secretary of agriculture) or state judges (Lijphart 1999, 189). This contributes to another