El Salvador–unusual legislative organization

On 14 May, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador passed the required measure to organize the governance of the chamber for the coming term, following the elections this past March. It is a rather unusual arrangement: The second and third largest parties will each hold the assembly presidency for half of the three-year term.

Lorena Peña of the FMLN will be assembly president for 18 months, and then on 8 November 2016, Guillermo Gallegos of GANA will assume the assembly presidency for the remainder of the term.

The opposition ARENA won 32 seats (39% of 84), against 31 (37.8%) for the FMLN and 11 (13.4%) for the GANA. The latter party has its origins in a split in the right-wing ARENA that occurred following the election of the first president from the left-wing FMLN in 2009. It has been an ally of the FMLN ever since. ARENA partner PCN won 4 seats on its own in the election, and another three seats were won by ARENA-PCN alliances in various constituencies. Therefore, the actual balance of the assembly is 42 FMLN+GANA (51.2%) to 39 ARENA+PCN (47.6%); one seat was won by the Christian Democrats (PDC).

The directing board (junta directiva) will have 4 members each from ARENA and the FMLN and 3 each from GANA and the PCN. This body, then, will have equality between the two blocs, thereby slightly over-representing the right-wing bloc. I do not know the actual powers of the presidency vs. the directing board.

I certainly do not claim exhaustive knowledge of how power is divvied up in legislative organization around the world, but the alternation of the presidency for equal time periods between two parties that are quite unequal in strength (and second and third in seat totals) must be a rare occurrence.

The Lib Dems’ demise–and what might have been

I have long been something of a fan of the Liberal Democrats (and their immediate predecessors in the Alliance). So the result of the election saddens me to an extent. While (ex-)party leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg held his seat, several of their best MPs, like Vince Cable and Simon Hughes, were dumped. This is a loss for British politics.

It is obvious that the party was punished by many of its previous voters for choosing to go into coalition with the Tories when many of their supporters would have expected them to partner with Labour if the opportunity ever came up. However, let’s put the strategic choice in context and ponder the alternatives the party’s leaders faced.

I suspect they would have fared worse from a coalition with Labour given that (1) Labour had clearly lost the 2010 election going from a majority to second place, and (2) It would have been a minority coalition dependent for survival on the SNP (and others).

The more interesting question is what would have happened if they had just agreed to back a minority Tory government, which was what I expected at the time.

The reason for not doing that was probably the fear that the Tories would call an early election and win a majority. The coalition, and the passage of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, prevented that. However, the political situation, as it turned out over the five-year term, meant that an early election was never in the Tories’ interests anyway, and in the end the Tories still won a majority. Would the LibDems have benefitted in this election from not being in power, and making the case that only liberalism could save the union? Yes, I think they would have. Maybe we’d be looking today at a real chance of a Lab-Lib coalition, which would have 4-5 seats in Scotland and an ambitious program of political reform.


On the (minimally) bright side: The LibDems retain seats in England, Scotland, and Wales. Liberal ideas, still bridging divides. I hope the party will recover from this setback. It is too long and significant a fixture of the UK scene to whither away.

And I still agree with Nick.

UK 2015 and Duverger’s Law

Before the election, I said that it was premature to declare Duverger’s Law dead. With an apparent late swing, relative to what opinion polls were showing, in English votes from Labour and especially from Liberal Democrat to Conservative, I am going to say that my “prediction” was not the worst one on this election!

The swing from Labour might be interpreted as nationally focused voting–“which government would I prefer?”. English voters certainly seem to have recoiled from the idea of a Labour government dependent upon keeping the Scottish National Party content. The swing from Liberal Democrats was far greater than had been anticipated, and looks like the district-level “psychological effect” working as anticipated. The party generally benefits more than others from incumbency, given its incumbents’ reputations as good constituency MPs. In this sense, the Lib Dems could be thought of as the party that made FPTP “work”–it is supposed to be a system in which local representation matters, after all. In this election, however, it seems the LibDems suffered major desertion even in districts where they were up against Conservatives. (Defection to Labour from Lib Dem was widely expected, ever since they entered the coalition in 2010.)

In making the case for Duverger’s Law not being dead yet–even if it has been on life support in the UK for some time–I suggested that this election would be more “top two” than the last one, at least in England. That looks like a good call. The following table shows the percentage of votes and seats for Conservative + Labour in 2010 and 2015 in the UK as a whole, and in England.

UK UK England England
votes seats votes seats
2010 65.1 86.8 67.7 91.7
2015 67.3 86.7 72.6 98.5

Even with Scotland included, there was a slight increase in the top-two percentage, back up over two thirds (which is still low for a “classic” FPTP system!). In England alone, it was more dramatic, and the collapse of the Lib Dems, plus the failure of either UKIP or the Greens to win more than a seat apiece despite major growth in votes, sure is noticeable in the top-two seat percentage. The UKIP vote in England was 14.1% in this election, compared to 3.5% in 2010. The Greens won 4.2%, up from 1.0%. The mechanical effect is especially alive and kicking!

The increase of these two small parties’ votes obviously cuts against the notion of a Duverger’s Law rebound. Yet in spite of their increases, we still see an almost five percentage-point increase in the Labour + Conservative percentage, thanks to the major third party having collapsed to fourth place: the Lib Dems, in England, fell from 24.2% to 8.2%! Their seats–still England only here–fell from 43 to 6 (57 to 8 in the UK as a whole).

So, yes, overall a more Duvergerian result. But let’s not overstate it. UK-wide, the effective number of vote-earning parties (NV) went to 3.93. That is by far the highest it has been in the entire post-WWII era. The next highest were 3.71 (2010) and 3.60 (2005). So the trend as of 2015 remains upward, and fairly substantially so. The effective number of seat-winning parties (NS), on the other hand, did decline, although only a little bit: to 2.53 from 2.57. As I pointed out in the previous post, based on Taagepera’s Seat Product, the UK’s large assembly should lead us to expect NS=2.9. So it is still much more a “two-and-a-half” party system than expected–even with the massive SNP win (56 of Scotland’s 59 seats).

Speaking of the Scottish result, that near sweep certainly is a gift from the electoral system. The SNP’s 94.9% of the seats in Scotland comes on almost exactly half the votes. By contrast, the formerly dominant party in Scotland, Labour, in 2010 had 69.4% of the seats on 42.0% of the votes. In 2010, the SNP was a distant second in votes (19.9%) and an even more distant third in seats (6), compared to the Lib Dems (11 seats on 18.9%). What a difference a 30 percentage point swing can make under FPTP!

It is also noteworthy that the SNP received 1,454,436 votes in the parliamentary election. The YES side in the independence referendum last September obtained 1,617,989. Given the turnout differences, the YES vote was 44.7%, so just over five percentages point less than the SNP obtained in this week’s election. (In the last Scottish Parliament elections the SNP had 902,915 votes, which was 45.4%.)

Finally, below is a table of NS, NV, and the gap between them since 1945. The final column is an “expected NV” derived from NS, based on another (as yet unpublished) Taagepera formula that I will put below the table. The noteworthy thing is that we could expect the NV– NS gap to be around .4, given the actual  NS, values in UK elections. In most elections since the resurgence of the Liberals (in votes) in 1974 it has been above that. The gap has been more than 1 in each election since 1997, but surged all the way to 1.4 in 2015. This is extraordinarily high; in fact, I record a gap that high in only 31 of 517 parliamentary elections worldwide (details in the first comment below).

The 2015 result thus appears to confirm that there is demand for more party representation than the electoral system can deliver, but due to what we might call the “Duvergerian rebound”, I have to agree with Alan Renwick that the probability of electoral-system reform has gone down, rather than up, as appeared at least somewhat likely (despite many obstacles) if the result had been as anticipated in pre-election forecasts.

year Ns Nv Nv-Ns ‘Expected Nv’ from Ns
1945 2.12 2.58 0.46 2.56
1950 2.08 2.44 0.36 2.52
1951 2.05 2.13 0.08 2.49
1955 2.02 2.16 0.14 2.47
1959 1.99 2.28 0.29 2.44
1964 2.06 2.52 0.46 2.50
1966 2.02 2.42 0.4 2.47
1970 2.07 2.46 0.39 2.51
1974a 2.26 3.15 0.89 2.68
1974b 2.25 3.13 0.88 2.67
1979 2.15 2.87 0.72 2.58
1983 2.09 2.83 0.74 2.53
1987 2.17 2.85 0.68 2.60
1992 2.27 3.03 0.76 2.69
1997 2.12 3.23 1.11 2.56
2001 2.17 3.33 1.16 2.60
2005 2.46 3.6 1.14 2.87
2010 2.57 3.71 1.14 2.97
2015 2.53 3.93 1.4 2.93
mean 2.18 2.88 0.69 2.61
mean, 1983- 2.30 3.31 1.02 2.72
mean, 2005- 2.52 3.75 1.23 2.92

‘Expected Nv’ here is NV=(NS3/2 +1)2/3.

Trust me, it works amazingly well across hundreds of elections under different electoral systems. To see the derivation, you will have to wait for some forthcoming Shugart-Taagepera work!


Italy’s new electoral law

Guest post by Filippo Tronconi


On Monday, 4 May, 2015 the Chamber of deputies has finally approved Italy’s new electoral system. It has not been a consensual decision, as Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had initially hoped. Although Berlusconi’s Forza Italia had voted in favor of an identical text in the previous passage at the Senate, it subsequently withdrew its support. Part of the Democratic Party led by Renzi himself has opposed the reform too, together with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement and other minor opposition parties.

The new electoral law, similar to the one adopted in 2005 and invalidated by the Constitutional Court in 2013 is a bonus-adjusted proportional representation system. At the same time, many differences have been introduced, the most important of which are 1) the fact that the majority bonus is now allocated to the most voted list, and not to a coalition of parties; 2) a run-off between the two most voted lists is foreseen in the event that no one reaches 40% of valid votes in the first round; 3) a national threshold is set at 3% of valid votes, in place of the multiple thresholds of the old system; 4) preference voting has been re-introduced.

Let’s analyze the functioning of the new system in detail.

Italy’s 630 Deputies are divided into 618 members elected from the national territory, and 12 members elected by Italians living abroad. The latter are elected through proportional representation. Of the 618 national MPs, 340 are allocated to the most voted list, provided that it reaches 40% of the valid votes nationwide. In case no lists reach this threshold, a run-off is held two weeks later between the two most voted lists. Of course, in the unlikely event that a party obtains 340 seats thanks to the proportional distribution, no further bonus is awarded. Therefore, whatever the result, this is a majority-assuring system. Either after the first or the second round, one list gets 340 seats, equal to 54%. A few additional seats are likely to join the majority from the ones elected by Italians living abroad. The remaining seats are allocated proportionally (via Hare quota and largest remainders) to the other parties obtaining at least 3% of the valid votes nationwide; parties below this threshold do not get any parliamentary representation.

While the bonus is allocated in a nationwide arena of competition, intraparty competition is based on 100 districts electing 3 to 9 MPs, depending on the resident population (with particular arrangements for the two Alpine regions of Valle d’Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, characterized by the presence of Francophone and German linguistic minorities). In each district, lists are made of a head-of-list, whose name is printed beside the symbol of the respective party, and the remaining candidates, whose number range from half to the full number of seats to be allocated in that district. Voters can express one or two preferences for the “open” candidates (i.e. excluding the head-of-list) of their party, writing the corresponding name or names on the ballot. If a party is entitled to only one seat in a district, that is reserved to the head-of list. If more than one seat must be allocated, they go, after the head-of-list, to the candidates obtaining more preference votes. Heads-of-list (and only they) can be candidates in up to ten different districts; if elected in more than one district they will opt for one after the elections. The remaining districts where a head-of-list has been elected will allocate those seats to candidates chosen by preference vote.

In sum, this is a flexible list system, where voters are allowed to choose among candidates only beyond the head-of-list. The most voted list will have 340 seats, with 10 to 100 of them being filled by “closed” candidates and the remaining 240 to 330 by “open” candidates, depending on how extensively the multi-candidacy rule is used. For opposition parties, the balance between “closed” and “open” MPs will mainly depend on vote fragmentation. In general, the smaller the party, the higher the chances to have only heads-of-list elected.

Several rules are oriented to increase a gender-balanced representation: 1) heads-of-list of the same gender cannot exceed 60% within the districts of each region; 2) “open” candidates are alternated by gender; failing to comply with such rules determines the exclusion of the list from the ballot; 3) voters who express two preference votes need to choose one man and one woman; if not, the second preference is invalid.

One final important remark is in order. All the above refers to the Chamber of Deputies only. The electoral system for the Senate is currently the 2005 one as modified by the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which means open-list proportional representation without majority bonus. A comprehensive Constitutional reform is currently under way in Parliament, which would transform the Senate into a sort of federal chamber, indirectly elected by Regional assemblies and without the power to vote the confidence to the executive. For this reason the new electoral rule for the Chamber will be effective only from July 2016, when the Constitutional reform is expected to complete its second reading in Parliament. It is clear that the effects of the electoral reform would be seriously jeopardized in the event that the current symmetrical bicameralism remains in place.

Overall, the new electoral law is intended to have a strong majoritarian imprinting, similar to the 2005 system for the Chamber of Deputies. The nationwide competition for the bonus makes the Italian territory similar to one big district, and this is expected to lead towards a two-party equilibrium in the long run. On the other hand, the relatively low threshold will leave room for small parties, though preventing them from gaining a pivotal coalitional power, as currently happens. Clearly, nothing prevents parties from agreeing to form ad hoc joint lists before elections and splitting once in parliament, although this will have the cost of not displaying their own symbol on the ballot. Furthermore, the new electoral system cannot be expected to reduce the traditional factionalism of Italian parties, nor the trasformismo of elected representatives. But this is probably something one would better avoid to expect from any electoral system.

Model of the new ballot:
new ballot italy

PEI 2015

Thanks to Wilf Day for the reminder that there is also a provincial election in Prince Edward Island this week–today, in fact.

It will be another large manufactured majority, with Liberals currently on 18 seats with a bit over 41% of the votes. Conservatives 7 seats on 37%, and a Green MLA elected (11% province wide). The NDP looks to be shut out in seats, despite currently being just slightly ahead of the Greens in votes.

As for the one Green win, in Kellys Cross-Cumberland, it is not close. The Green candidate, Peter Bevan-Baker has 54.8%, and the Liberal trails far behind on 27.6%. I know nothing about Kellys Cross-Cumberland or Bevan-Baker, but I am always intrigued by constituencies where Greens win, given how rare they are.

Alberta 2015 election

5 May is provincial election day in Alberta. It really is hard to exaggerate just how tectonic a shift the result of the election result will be–if there is not some major polling error or late swing.

The Conservatives have ruled since the 1971, sometimes with massive majorities. They are now clearly in third place, according to the ThreeHundredEight projection. The NDP–yes, Canada’s most leftwing major party–is poised to win. The farther-right (almost tea-partyish for you south-of-the-border folks) Wildrose is in a clear second.

Yes, an NDP government in Alberta! One of the biggest oil-producing jurisdictions of North America, and the political base of the Canadian Conservative PM, Stephen Harper.

Wildrose led polls late in the 2012 campaign, but not by as much as NDP leads now. On the late collapse and the tea-party parallel, see a Weekly Standard article from just after the 2012 election. I like how that article says, “It’s as if the Tea Party movement here in the U.S. had been more of a real revolt, with tired taxpayers and fiscal conservatives fed up with overspending by Republicans and Democrats alike forming their own party.” Yes, just like that–and then the voters saying, forget both the old and this ‘new’ right, and while we are at it, forget the old center-left, too; let’s give social democracy a try!

There has been a discussion in the comment thread to the post about the 2012 election that has been going on for a while now. But it seemed about time to start a new one related to this election.