Research Article: Reevaluating the presidential runoff rule: Does a provision promote the protection of human rights?

Date Published: May 31, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Joshua Holzer, Sean Eric Richey.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217650

Abstract

In recent years, an increasing number of democracies have adopted a runoff rule to elect their president. Some have argued, however, that the benefits of such a rule are dubious at best. In this article, I seek to counter this claim, as I posit that a runoff rule promotes the protection of human rights by reducing outcomes that are negatively associated with high government respect for human rights. Using ordered logistic regression and an analysis of predicted probabilities, I find that democratic presidential elections held using a runoff rule produce presidents that are less likely to be associated with lower government respect for human rights, and more likely to be associated with greater government respect for human rights. I conclude by suggesting that politicians should consider embracing a presidential runoff rule, as its adoption could be a relatively easy way to reduce repression.

Partial Text

Today, “[t]he runoff electoral system is the single most used electoral system for presidential elections” ([1]: 1248). This system is “especially prevalent among those regimes that previously had presidents elected by plurality, but then lapsed into a period of authoritarianism” ([2]: 323–324). The thought seems to be that perhaps a runoff rule would give citizens two chances—instead of one—to avoid accidentally electing a leader with authoritarian aspirations. Recent research, however, argues that “[t]he need for runoff elections is dubious” ([3]: 129). In this article, I seek to counter this claim, as I posit that a runoff rule promotes the protection of human rights by reducing outcomes that are negatively associated with high government respect for human rights. Using ordered logistic regression and an analysis of predicted probabilities, I find that democratic presidential elections held using a runoff rule produce presidents that are less likely to be associated with lower government respect for human rights, and more likely to be associated with greater government respect for human rights. Bouton ([1]: 1249) notes that “despite the relative ubiquity of runoff systems, our understanding of their properties…is limited.” With this article, I add to the “scant empirical literature on…runoff elections” ([4]: 284), as my results suggest that democracies with such a provision would be wise to retain it, while those that have not yet adopted a runoff rule should consider doing so.

In this article, I argue that it is not whether an election advances to runoff round that is important for human rights, but rather whether the election could have advanced to a runoff round. In other words, I argue that it is not the runoff round that promotes the protection of human rights, but rather the presence of a runoff rule. To explain this, I have developed a theoretical framework of six premises, which together build up to my hypothesis. The first three premises relate to recent papers of mine that find government respect for human rights in presidential democracies to be affected by the president’s ideology, the composition of the president’s cabinet, and whether or not the president was elected by a majority [5–7]. My first premise is that president’s who are ideological distant from the median voter are less likely to be associated with high government respect for human rights. My second premise is that cabinets comprised of a high percentage of individuals in the same party as the president are less likely to be associated with high government respect for human rights. Finally, my third premise is that presidents elected without a majority are less likely to be associated with high government respect for human rights.

Davenport and Armstrong ([40]: 51) caution that there is no easy way to reduce repression, as the simple “adoption of some…elements will not automatically decrease repressive activity.” Rather, scholarship suggests that states should strive to slowly and steadily increase their national wealth, reduce overpopulation, and avoid civil conflict. On the contrary, this article suggest that perhaps it actually is possible to decrease repressive activity by simply adopting certain elements. While earlier research argues that advancing to a runoff round promotes human rights [41], in this article I have found that the mere presence of a runoff rule promotes human rights. This is good news for policy-makers as it suggests that simply adopting a runoff rule has the potential to improve human rights practices, even if subsequent elections do not advance to a runoff round.

 

Source:

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217650