The world leader with the highest approval rating in a Gallup global poll was elected indirectly—but it isn’t Donald Trump. Germany’s Angela Merkel was the most popular across the 135 countries polled, beating out Trump by 11 percent.
Americans are sometimes told that no other country has a system like our Electoral College. But that’s false. In fact, many countries use indirect election systems, including Germany.
Germany has both a president and a chancellor, the former is considered the head of state and the latter the head of government. While the president of the United States fills both roles, many countries have this division, usually where a monarch is the head of state and a prime minister is the head of government.
The German president is chosen by an electoral college, and then appoints the chancellor based on the recommendation of the parliament. Allen Guelzo, director of the James Madison Program Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship at Princeton University, explains why and how the German system works.
The German federal republic, for instance, is composed (like ours) of states that existed as independent entities long before their unification as a German nation, and whose histories as such have created an electoral system that makes our "antiquated" Electoral College look like a model of efficiency. In the German system, voters in 299 electoral districts each cast two votes in elections for the Bundestag (Germany's parliament): the first for a directly elected member and the second for one of 34 approved parties (in 2017), whose caucuses then identify candidates. A federal president (Bundespräsident) is elected every five years by a federal convention that reflects the party majorities in the Bundestag and the state parliaments of the 16 German states. Finally, the federal president proposes … the chancellor (Bundeskanzler) to the Bundestag.
This complicated system was created after World War II to protect against radical factionalism that might allow the rise of another Hitler. Another very complicated system exists in Indiain order to prevent that vast and diverse nation from falling into damaging regional politics.
Guelzo points out that the experience of direct elections in some nations shows why these tradeoffs—a little more complexity in order to protect against radicalism and regionalism (and to limit fraud)—are worth it.
It is also useful to bear in mind the examples set by some of the nations that do hold direct elections for their heads of state: Afghanistan, Iran, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe are just a few. Jettisoning the Electoral College for direct popular elections would not automatically guarantee greater democracy.
Photo by European People's Party / Flickr