Farbod Faraji and Lee Drutman: Hungary’s Viktor Orbán can thank the US for facilitating his rise to power

Article/Op-Ed in Chicago Tribune
Aug. 3, 2022

Lee Drutman and Farbod Faraji wrote for the Chicago Tribune about Viktor Orbán's American-style electoral system.

When Orbán came to power, he and his Fidesz party made three key changes that helped consolidate authoritarian power — changes that mimic key features of the U.S. electoral system.
First, Orbán’s Fidesz party took a more proportional voting system and made it more majoritarian. In reducing the size of the legislature, Fidesz also increased the share of parliamentary seats chosen through “single-member districts.” Second, Fidesz gerrymandered the new single-member districts, echoing recent efforts in the U.S. (by both parties but predominantly Republicans). In 2014, for example, gerrymandering enabled Fidesz to win 88% of single-member district seats with just 45% of the relevant vote. Third, Fidesz abolished runoff elections, allowing candidates to win with only a plurality rather than a majority of the vote — the same way most federal general elections in the U.S. work too.
Why would Orbán, the self-proclaimed champion of illiberal democracy, find inspiration in the U.S. electoral system? Simply put, our electoral system uniquely advantages authoritarians such as Orbán and rewards anti-democratic extremism.
Most advanced democracies today elect legislatures through some form of proportional representation so that a party’s number of seats roughly corresponds to its share of votes. But the U.S. remains an outlier: Our nonproportional electoral system uniquely translates support for extreme political factions into outsize political power.
Related Topics
State of Global Democracy Voting, Electoral, and Local Reform