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Myth: Other major democratic nations have nothing like our Electoral College

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Many Americans believe that the United States is an outlier among major democratic nations because we do not directly elect our chief executive and a candidate who did not receive the most votes can win. In fact, many major nations have similar systems.

In most major democratic nations, voters elect members of the national legislature which then elects a prime minister. The public has no direct vote for the head of government. (Some of these nations also maintain a hereditary monarch as head of state.)

Voters in these countries often know who a party will elect as prime minister (the leader of the winning party), but not always. In 2018, Giuseppe Conte became prime minister of Italy as part of a coalition government despite not being the leader of any party.

The leadership of these nations can also switch without a general election. In Australia, four prime ministers in the last decade have taken office after winning internal party leadership contests instead of leading their party to an electoral victory, and four out of the last six British prime ministers took office the same way.

Minority-led governments are not unusual in democratic nations either. In 2019, the Conservative Party in Canada won the most votes (it won extremely large margins in two provinces), but the Liberal Party had broader support throughout the rest of the country and won more seats in Parliament, allowing it to re-elect Justin Trudeau as prime minister. Other countries have had similar outcomes in recent decades, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

The Electoral College, like the systems of most democratic nations, provides a two-step, geographically distributed election process for choosing our head of government. And just like in those other systems, this occasionally allows a winner who did not receive a majority or plurality of the popular vote. Compared with the systems of these other democratic nations, however, the Electoral College is more democratic.

HOW THE TOP 20 MOST POPULOUS O.E.C.D COUNTRIES SELECT THEIR LEADERS

CountryPopulation
(State Comparison)
Head of Government
United States331,208,717

(3x California)

Election by electoral college
Mexico

127,792,286
(3x California)

Direct election
Japan125,960,000

(3x California)

Election by legislature
Germany83,166,711
(2x California)
President elected by electoral college, Chancellor elected by legislature
France67,098,000

(2x Texas)

Direct election
United Kingdom66,796,807

(2x Texas)

Election by legislature
Italy60,244,639

(2x Texas)

Election by legislature
South Korea51,780,579

(2x Florida)

Direct election
Colombia50,372,424

(2x Florida)

Direct election
Spain46,329,981

(2x Florida)

Election by legislature
Poland38,356,000

(California)

Election by legislature
Canada38,134,663

(California)

Election by legislature
Australia25,646,039

(Florida)

Election by legislature
Chile19,458,310

(New York)

Direct election
Netherlands17,497,581

(New York)

Election by legislature
Belgium11,528,375

(Ohio)

Election by legislature
Greece10,724,599

(Georgia)

Election by legislature
Czech Republic10,694,364

(Georgia)

Election by legislature
Sweden10,348,730

(North Carolina)

Election by legislature
Portugal10,295,909

(North Carolina)

Direct election

Election data from The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency.