Five Charts That Show How Our Democracy Isn't Working

America's political system ranks far behind other rich democracies.

A young boy waves American flags at a campaign event in Columbia, South Carolina.

The American public believes the Founding Fathers were close to infallible, and that while our political system has its faults, it functions far better than other democracies.

But is it true?

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Not at all, says United Nations statistician Howard Steven Friedman.

In a new book obtained by Whispers, "The Measure of a Nation: How to Regain America's Competitive Edge and Boost Our Global Standing," out Tuesday, Friedman finds America lags far behind other affluent democracies in many areas, including our political system.

Change we must, Friedman says, or face extinction.

Below, Whispers has five charts from "The Measure of a Nation" that show how our political system is failing us:

1. Number of Effective Political Parties

This chart shows that the American two-party system is the exception in the world, not the norm. And as we've seen in an increasingly partisan landscape, less parties can lead to narrower views. The "winner-take-all" voting system in the U.S., says Friedman, has drowned out a diversity of voices.

2. Voter Turnout of Registered Voters

The U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any rich democracy in the world. "Just the idea that you physically have to go to the voter booth on Tuesday to vote doesn't make sense," says Friedman. "Even India... has online voting."

3. Voter Turnout of Age-Eligible Population

Young people are 20 percent less likely to vote in the U.S. than elderly citizens. Not so in other democracies. (There was a spike in young voters in the 2008 election, but that trend likely won't continue).

4. People Per National Representative

This chart shows that the U.S. has more people per representative in office (580,000) than any other affluent democracy Friedman tracked. The U.S. is nearly seven times less representative than its competition.

5. Index of Democracy

According to this chart, culled from the Economist's Index of Democracy, the U.S. is average compared to other rich democracies. This is largely because of low scores on our electoral process and the functioning of government.

Friedman has some suggestions to fix our ailing poliical system: Institute electronic voting, end winner-take-all elections, encourage more political parties, expand the House of Representatives, and correct what he calls "constitutional errors," like the Electoral College.

"America... has grown tired and lost its vitality," he writes. But there is "much we can learn from the rest of the world... and much we can learn in our own backyard."

If not, he argues, "America the great" could become a distant memory.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.