The impact of California’s electoral-system change

Many readers of this blog would be interested in a series of entries at Mischiefs of Faction on the early results of California’s electoral-system change. The entries are based on lengthier articles in a special issue of the California Journal of Politics and Policy.

From the Mischiefs of Faction summary:

top-two, passed by California voters in 2010 and operating in elections since 2012, creates a two-stage election system that replaces the usual primary-then-general system the state used to have. In the preliminary election (ostensibly a primary), voters may pick from any candidates of any party for each office, regardless of their party registration. The top two vote-getters from that election then go to a November runoff election, even if those candidates are of the same political party.

The findings, as we’ll see, are rather mixed, and what evidence we have that the top-two system has changed politics is pretty modest, at best. Yet as the studies note, it is still early; the new system may be encouraging a new type of candidate to run for office, but it’s just to soon to discern the effects of that.

Lesotho election, 2015

Lesotho pulled off an alternation in government coalition earlier in March, in an election called following a coup attempt last year.

The two leading parties finished within one seat of each other, with the incumbent PM, Tom Thabane of the All Basuto Convention, in second place (47 of 120). The challenger, Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress, was able to form a collation.

Lesotho uses mixed-member proportional representation (MMP), with a single vote. The use of one vote was a response to an earlier election in which the two main parties each put up “dummy” lists in order to do an end-run around the compensatory mechanism.

Thailand political reforms (yes, again)

The current Thai political reform process, underway since the military coup of 2014, is churning out some significant changes. Already, decisions appear to have been made to move to mixed-member proportional (MMP), with the list-tier seats allocated via open party lists.

Thailand in the past has used mixed-member majoritarian (MMM or “parallel”). It has used multiple nontransferable votes (MNTV, also misleadingly known as “block vote”). It has used MMM and MNTV together. But MMP with open lists would be new, and not only to Thailand.*

The Bangkok Post, on 25 February, refers to various other matters under consideration, although it is vague on specifics.

To prevent the executive branch from being placed in a weakened position by squabbling coalition partners, it was decided that if the opposition wins a no-confidence vote, the House of Representatives would be automatically dissolved.

Constitution Drafting Committee spokesman Khamnoon Sitthisamarn is quoted as saying that under the new electoral system, coalition governments are expected to be the norm, and so they are seeking to make it more costly to change governments between elections.

The CDC spokesman said this would cause the opposition to think carefully about filing a no-confidence motion and only do so if it was really necessary and the government had made serious mistakes.

There could be more measures aimed at making governments stable:

Mr Khamnoon said there will be other measures to prevent parties in the coalition threatening to leave purely in order to obtain benefits from the core parties leading the coalition. These measures would be decided later, he said.

The new constitution will bar independent candidates from running. Given MMP, one would expect few incentives for independents in any case. There will also be a provision that appears to undermine the very idea of open lists:

Another requirement is that in order to be declared a winner, an elected candidate must have received more votes than the total “no votes” cast by those who do not wish to vote for any candidate on the list.

This is not very clear. On the one hand, an open list system in which voters can vote for the party rather than a candidate is unremarkable. However, if it is genuinely an open list, votes solely for the list do not affect who is elected from that list, and in what order; this still depends only on candidates’ ranks in preference votes. If a candidate needs more preference votes than there were list-only votes, then this is not an open list, as presumably few will cross such a threshold, implying that a pre-election list order would have to be a default. That would be a “flexible” (semi-open) list, and probably not a very flexible one in practice.

Clearly there are details to be worked out.

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* I know of no such case at the national level. The German state of Bavaria is sometimes said to be MMP with a tier of open lists. However, I remain uncertain whether that characterization is precise. Years ago I proposed a hybrid MMP/OLPR system before knowing of the Bavarian system. It seems Bavaria uses a system similar to what I proposed, although perhaps different in key details.

Seats by bloc: Israel 2015 vs. 2013

An important lesson from this week’s Israeli election: in complex multi-bloc political systems, the government that forms really is at least as much about the inter-party bargaining between elections as it is about the elections themselves.

Yesterday I noted the (small) changes in votes for the right, Here I will look at all the blocs. Note: blocs, plural–point being, there is no single left or center-left bloc to oppose the right or replace it as government. Caution: the 2015 results are not yet official.

Labor won 15 seats in 2013, and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah won 6. The blended list of these two forces (branded Zionist Union) is at 24 in the preliminary results of this election. [some correction of sloppy writing since original posting]

By contrast, the main parties of the right, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Bayit Yehudi, appear to have won 44 seats in this election. They won 43 in 2013 (when the first two of these had a blended list).

Yes, that is a net gain of 3 for the center-left and a net gain of 1 for the right. Such a landslide for Bibi!

We should add Meretz to the left bloc; this party won 6 seats in 2013 and looks to have 5 in 2015. So that would bring the net gain to this larger definition of the left down to 2.

The ultra-orthodox (Haredi) parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, combine for 13 seats. That is a fairly substantial drop from 18 in 2013.

The Joint List of Arab parties and the Jewish-Arab party, Hadash, is currently on 13 seats, whereas the three separate lists presented by this bloc (if we can even call it that, other than for threshold-clearing purposes this time) won 11 in 2013.

And then there is the assemblage of centrist parties (not counting Linvi’s, which we already accounted for): Yesh Atid, Kadima, and Kulanu. These parties combined for 21 seats (19 of them for Yesh Atid) in 2013. They also have 21 in this election, with Kadmia no longer in existence and Kulanu new to the scene.

Toting things up by bloc, from winners to losers:

    Arab +2
    Left +2
    Right +1
    Center +/- 0
    Haredi -5

Not much change, but the smallest gainer and biggest loser have enough to form a government, when combined with the centrist (or soft right) Kulanu.

The real difference in government outcomes will be less the voting patterns having shifted than shifts since 2013 in inter-party relations. In 2013, the election outcome would have allowed a right-Haredi coalition with the absolute bare majority of seats, 61. For various reasons, Likud leader and PM Benjamin Netanyahu preferred to bring into the coalition the election’s biggest seat gainer, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (who had 19 seats). Lapid and Naftali Bennet, leader of Bayit Yehudi, however, jointly thwarted the inclusion of the Haredi parties, having both campaigned (for their own reasons) in favor of “equalizing the burden” (ending military exemptions for the ultra-orthodox). Netanyahu never wanted this coalition, and seized upon various (largely manufactured) policy disagreements in late 2014 to un-do the government and force an early election. And now he can form a coalition with his natural partners, and with a likely more pliant centrist force in Kulanu. This latter party is headed by a former Likud minister and includes a former ambassador to the US (who served under Netanyahu).

Bottom line: There is no big shift to the right whatsoever in this election. But, with Shas and UTJ replacing Lapid and Livni, there will be a shift in both a right and religiously Orthodox direction to the governing coalition.

Israeli election results

I’ve been silent on the Israeli election partly because I’ve been on the road, and partly because I’m pretty upset with the result. But having read a few overhyped op-eds and other posts, I figured it was time to offer a little perspective.

Lost in all the hyperbole are a few small facts:

(1) Likud gained primarily at the expense of parties further to the right. Consider that the combined Likud-Bayit Yehudi-Yisrael Beiteinu vote in this election is just short of 35%. In 2013, these parties amounted to 32.4%. Not exactly a massive swing to the right, as it is being portrayed. But Likud alone won just over 23% this time, whereas the blended list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu won about that much last time, while Bayit Yehudi fell from 9.1% to 6.4%. Strategic voting happens even under extreme PR!.

(2) This campaign never offered a realistic path to a center-left government. Remember, Bibi chose the timing of this election, and he’s not stupid or a big risk-taker.

(3) There wasn’t going to be a negotiated agreement on a Palestinian state in the next few years under a Herzog premiership anyway.

Four days to election, Likud still looks hard to beat

A poll by Smith/Resget Blue on 13 March is one of the most favorable polls yet for the main center-left list, Zionist Camp (Labor + Livni + Greens). And even so, I still can’t see how you get to the necessary 61 to form a majority coalition without combining parties that are quite unlikely to agree to sit together.

That is, even with a 4-seat deficit, Likud retains the easier path to successful completion of coalition bargaining.

This does not stop reporters from writing things like this:

Israel’s center-left opposition is poised for an upset victory in next week’s parliamentary election, with the last opinion polls before Tuesday’s vote giving it a solid lead over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party. (Reuters)

The election is Tuesday. There could still be an upset center-left victory, but it would require some surprising coalition choices over the next month or so, not merely a lead for Zionist Camp on election night.