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What do other countries do?

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, Giauseppe 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 past 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 States
331,208,717
Election by electoral college
Mexico
127,792,286

(3x California)

Direct election
Japan
125,960,000

(3x California)

Election by legislature
Germany
83,166,711

(2x California)

President elected by electoral college, Chancellor elected by legislature
France
67,098,000

(2x Texas)

Direct election
United Kingdom
66,796,807

(2x Texas)

Election by legislature
Italy
60,244,639

(2x Texas)

Election by legislature
South Korea
51,780,579

(2x Florida)

Direct election
Colombia
50,372,424

(2x Florida)

Direct election
Spain
46,329,981

(2x Florida)

Election by legislature
Poland
38,356,000

(California)

Election by legislature
Canada
38,134,663

(California)

Election by legislature
Australia
25,646,039

(Florida)

Election by legislature
Chile
19,458,310

(New York)

Direct election
Netherlands
17,497,581

(New York)

Election by legislature
Belgium
11,528,375

(Ohio)

Election by legislature
Greece
10,724,599

(Georgia)

Election by legislature
Czech Republic
10,694,364

(Georgia)

Election by legislature
Sweden
10,348,730

(North Carolina)

Election by legislature
Portugal
10,295,909

(North Carolina)

Direct election

Election data from The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency.