Monday, February 4, 2013

Strengthening democracy through institutional confidence

A recent book named Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, concludes what is now a widely accepted theory: the nature and strength of institutions is the variable that best describes progress and well being of nations.  In other words, institutional confidence is paramount to a cohesive, striving society. 

In the contrary, and as stated in a study by Kenneth Newton and Pippa Norris from Harvard University called Confidence in Public Institutions: Faith, Culture or Performance?  "An erosion of confidence in the major institutions of society, especially those of representative democracy, is a far more serious threat to democracy than a loss of trust in other citizens or politicians". "A loss of confidence in institutions may well be a better indicator of public disaffection with the modern world because they are the basic pillars of society".

As a blog that promotes best practices in election administration and advocates for the adoption of voting technologies, we firmly believe in the benefits of automation. In this young industry of automated voting, we have seen the positive effects e-voting has brought forth when well implemented. Nations with highly polarized political atmospheres, and in the brink of social and political unrest, have managed to strengthen their democracy through the institutional confidence that results from the efficient adoption of electronic voting. One such example is Venezuela. 

For the last eight years, Venezuela has managed to improve election automation to such level that theirs have been deemed as technically impeccable by pundits, politicians and international observers. Just recently, former President Jimmy Carter named Venezuela's voting system as the most advanced in the world. Now, the biggest contribution electronic voting has brought to Venezuela has been the levels of trust it has instilled in the general population. According to one of the most known Venezuelan pollsters, DatanĂ¡lisis, seven of every ten voters believe the voting system utilized is modern, and 95% believe it is easy to use.

The CNE, Venezuela's National Electoral Council, is nowadays among the most trusted institutions in the South American nation. According to a survey by Hinterlaces, an important and respected pollster firm, 71% of Venezuelans trusts the National Electoral Council. The church is one of the few institutions ranking with such high percentages. 

To put these numbers into context, let’s refer to Gallup's Confidence in Institution analysis. According to a poll done last June 7-10, 2012 in the United States of America, the Military ranks highest with 75% of approval. Small business follows with 63% and Police with 56%. After that, no other institution ranks with more than 50%. State branches, which could be compared to Venezuela’s CNE, are not so well qualified. The Presidency obtained 37%, the U.S. Supreme Court has 37%, and lagging behind is Congress with a mere 13%.

Venezuela is just one more example of how electronic voting has helped enormously to promote democracy. Fortunately, the number of countries resorting to e-voting is growing.