France’s toxic combo of institutions finally bites

I still think Emmanuel Macron will win reelection, but it is going to be a closer fight than most prognosticators expected before this past Sunday’s first round. In the results of that vote, Macron has the expected plurality, and it was a few percentage points higher than he got in 2017 (27.8% vs. 24.0%). His runoff opponent in both 2017 and later this month, Marine Le Pen, also improved a bit over last time (23.3% vs. 21.3%). What is new–or really accelerating a trend that was already there–is the total collapse of older established parties. The Republican (mainstream right) got 20% in 2017 but only 4.8% this time, fifth place. The Socialists were already in dire shape in 2017 with 6.4%, but did even worse this time, 1.75%, despite (or because of?) running the mayor of Paris, a seemingly high-quality candidate. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise, a far left group, made the race for a runoff slot pretty close this time, coming third with just under 22% (19.6% last time, fourth place). Given just over 7% for the far-far-right Eric Zenmour, one could say there was a majority for extremes of one sort or another.

While the Economist’s forecast model still has Macron’s win probability at around 80%, it was just short of 100% as recently as 21 March. An extreme right candidate actually has a roughly 20% chance of being the next president of France.

It is never a good thing for democracy when the fate of the republic hinges on one person. But it is hard to exaggerate how absolutely essential it is that Macron win. France has been running a decades-long experiment in whether a highly presidentialized system would eventually destroy the party system. The French party system held up pretty well, despite the adoption of a relatively strong presidency with the 1958 constitution and direct election to that office in 1965. The party system did indeed become presidentialized in ways that David Samuels and I document in our 2010 book, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers. Parties reorganized themselves internally around the goal of advancing their presidential candidate, rather than emphasizing their parliamentary party organization. This presidentialization was only further enhanced by the decision in 2002 to make assembly elections follow immediately after presidential, with both elected for five-year terms. The party system’s left and right blocs, starting from the 1960s, came to be dominated by whichever party could present the successful presidential candidate–the identity of these parties changed over time on the right, but presidentialization allowed the Socialists to surpass the Communists on the left. However, with the demise of the old right and left, there is not much remaining to the party system other than presidential aspirations. Macron himself is the perfect demonstration of presidentialization–having no party at all till he was on the cusp of the presidency, and then creating one that swept into power on the heels of his own win.

The combination of direct election of a politically powerful presidency, honeymoon election of the assembly, and majoritarian electoral rules is toxic. It means that someone from outside the party system potentially can win the presidency and then, in short order, a majority in the assembly. If you get lucky with this combination, you get a Macron. If you get unlucky, you get a Le Pen (or potentially a Mélenchon).

Make no mistake. Honeymoon elections, with majoritarian rules, are the real deal. If Le Pen manages to win the runoff, there will be no “second chance” at which voters can check her with a majority opposed to her in a cohabitation via the assembly. Presidential and semi-presidential democracies just do not work that way. If she wins the runoff, we can expect her National Rally to win around 28% of the vote in the first round of the assembly (see the just-linked post or the one from 2017), and that to be a plurality. Could a broad alliance form to block her candidates, given the two-round majority-plurality system? Sure. Just don’t count on it. Do count on her getting support from various other anti-system forces and being in a much stronger position going into the second round of the assembly election than that 28% estimate implies.

Do I think this is the most likely outcome? No, I do not. I think Macron will win, and go on to win a large majority of the assembly. However, it is a bad situation for French democracy–and the world–to be dependent on this one man not slipping up in some way in the final days before the presidential runoff–especially with a major war going on in the extended neighborhood and related economic difficulties at home. France is in dangerous territory in these moments with its toxic institutional combo, and the overly high stakes that combo generates.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party leader says he stays in job to block “lunatics”

Quite a juicy report about the governing party of Alberta today. Premier and United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Jason Kenny has been recorded having told a caucus staff meeting that he does not need the job and could just walk away. However, he says the party is at risk of being taken over by conspiracy mongers and other fanatics, and he is trying to stop them. “I don’t say this stuff publicly, these are just kooky people generally,” he said, and “I will not let this mainstream conservative party become an agent for extreme, hateful, intolerant, bigoted and crazy views … the lunatics are trying to take over the asylum.”

The backstory is that the UCP is itself a merger of the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose, which is indeed a far-right “populist” and conspiracy-motivated group. This division on the right is what enabled the NDP to win government in 2015, but the two parties did not draw from the same voter pool and hence the merged party has always been a fraught marriage of convenience. The UCP has a leadership review coming up, which might cost Kenney the job he does not need but is fighting to keep. From the recording–released obviously by an opponent inside the staff–his remarks on party leadership fights make for amusing reading. From the above-linked CBC story:

At a normal convention, he says, “1,300 hungover [Progressive Conservatives] would wake up at a convention hotel on Saturday morning and they’d grab a coffee and they’d stumble in to cast a ballot in the leadership review. 

“And 15 or 20 per cent or so — the people that didn’t get the appointment, didn’t get the funding, or the premier didn’t send flowers on their birthday or whatever — they would come and vote against the leader. And then everything was fine. And if that was what I was dealing with, no problems. No problem. Normal internal politics I can handle. I can handle that. There’s nothing normal about this.”

The leadership review itself has been changed to mail-in, after the number of new registrants for party membership greatly exceeded the capacity of the hall the party had booked for the planned in-person vote.

Canada confidence-and-supply agreement, and irresponsible opposition

The Canadian government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have forged a confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democratic Party (NDP). Under the terms of the deal, set to run thorough June, 2025, the NDP publicly commits to supporting the Liberal minority cabinet on budget and confidence votes, in exchange for the government advancing some NDP policy priorities. Seven policy areas are mentioned in the agreement itself. One of the key priorities–in fact, the first item in the list–is a dental care program, which has been a campaign pledge of the NDP in recent elections. There are proposals for “making democracy work for people,” but in case anyone is wondering, no, electoral system reform is not on the list.

Predictably, figures within the opposition Conservative Party is decrying the “back room” deal (as if it were not public–it is on the official government website, after all–and as if bargaining processes themselves were ever predicting when carried out in a “front room” of scrutiny). But two candidates vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party have gone well beyond normal criticism of such a deal or the policies it will lead to. Jean Charest accused the government of ignoring the results of the election and of embracing an “anti-democratic” ideology. Patrick Brown said “the will of Canadians has been subverted.” (There are several contenders for the leadership; the party has been with an interim leader since shortly after its 2021 election defeat. Among the contenders, Charest and Brown would actually be considered relatively moderate!)

These are irresponsible statements, and are playing on ignorance about how parliamentary democracy works. Quite contrary to Charest’s statement, the Liberal-NDP agreement is precisely how democracy should work. Canada has a parliamentary form of government (far superior to the presidential form, by the way). Governments must maintain the confidence of the majority of elected representatives. If no party has a majority on its own—something the Conservatives have managed to achieve just once since 1988–then inter-party agreements stabilize the government and facilitate passage of policies favored by parties representing a majority. 

As for “will of Canadians” most political scientists would caution that there is no such thing as a general will. What makes democracy work is accountability at the next election, and cooperation between elections. That is what this agreement is about.

I believe it is not the first such agreement in Canadian history, although it is the first of many minority governments in some time to have such an explicit agreement. Broadly, there are three options when an election in a parliamentary system does not result in one party attaining more than half the seats. (1) Two or more parties can form a coalition cabinet; (2) one party can govern alone with a public commitment from a support party (or parties) in parliament; or (3) one can govern alone and seek case-by-case support from various parliamentary parties on specific bills and on the annual budget. One could add other options, as well, such as act as if you are the majority and dare the opposition to combine and vote you out, or call an early election and try to win a majority. The latter is, of course, precisely what Trudeau attempted in 2021, and the result ended up being hardly any different from that of the 2019 election.

This agreement represents the second of those three main options. The NDP gets no cabinet seats, and thus it is not a coalition. The NDP commits specifically not to vote against the government on budget or no-confidence votes, while the Liberals agree to take up some NDP policies. Thus the Liberal Party does not have to worry about the NDP joining with other parties against it, nor do the Liberals have to attempt to please the Conservatives or Bloc Quebecois in order to gain support for legislation. Thus it is firmly in the category of public commitment between a minority government and a support party. (Like all coalition and confidence-supply agreements, it is not legally binding, and either side could elect to break it at any time.)

It is worth noting that the Seat Product Model expects no-majority situations to be a regular occurrence. Given the district magnitude (1) and assembly size (currently 338), we should expect the leading party to average around 48% of the seats. Over time, this is very close to what we have observed. Since 1997, the first year the House of Commons had over 300 seats, the mean seat share of the largest party has been 49%, and the median has been 47.3%. The Liberals currently hold 47.0%. Five of nine elections since that time have resulted in less than 50% of seats, while the others have returned majority governments. Over the entire period since 1949, eleven of twenty four elections have returned minority situations. So roughly half of elections result in no majority, which is about what we would expect from a seat product that predicts about half the seats, on average, for the largest party.

Canadian party elites and the public thus should have got used to the idea that a majority is not the natural outcome of an election. They should further get used to the idea that, as a result, parties might strike deals to enable minority government to be stable and successful at implementing policy. Yet the habits of majoritarianism die hard, especially when both the empirical record and the Seat Product Model show that majorities always are a likely outcome, even if not necessarily the most likely at any given election. The majoritarian habit is even harder for the Conservatives to kick, given that they currently have no viable partners, and if they form minority government, their best hopes are either case-by-case deals or provoking early elections and hoping vote splits among other parties and wedge issues allow you to get a majority (both of which were practices during Stephen Harper’s two minorities before winning a majority in 2011). If the consecutive elections with similar results in 2019 and 2021 have convinced at least some party elites that a more consensual style is needed, it would mark an advance for Canadian democracy. But not an advance the Conservatives are going to find it easy to reconcile themselves to. Hence their resort to claiming inter-party cooperation is an illegitimate and anti-democratic practice, when that could hardly be farther from the truth.

Will Macron lose his assembly majority?

French election season is upon us. In four rounds of elections over the next three months France will choose their President and National Assembly. The presidency is elected by two-round majority (10 and 24 April), followed closely by the assembly using two-round majority-plurality (12 and 19 June). Predictably, the news media are already starting to suggest that President Emmanuel Macron, while likely to be reelected, might be at risk of losing his assembly majority (e.g., The Economist). Will he?

What is almost as predictable as the media expressing this outcome as a real possibility is that presidents–just elected or reelected–see their parties do really well in honeymoon assembly elections. You can’t get much more honeymoon-ish than the French cycle. The assembly election occurs with approximately 1/60 of the time between presidential elections having elapsed. It just so happens that we have a formula for this.

Rp=1.20–0.725E,

where Rp is the “presidential vote ratio”– vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own vote share (in the first round, if two-round system)–and E is the elapsed time (the number of months into the presidential inter-electoral period in which the assembly election takes place, divided by the total months comprising that period).

In 2017, there were actually news reports suggesting that because Macron at the time he was elected did not yet have a true political party, he would face cohabitation. That would mean an opposition majority, which under French institutions would also mean a premier (head of cabinet) from parties opposed to the president. This was, even at the time, obviously hogwash.

The formula suggested that, once we knew Macron’s first-round vote percentage, we could estimate his (proto-) party’s first-round assembly vote percentage–assuming he would go on to win his own runoff (which was never seriously in doubt). Given that Macron had won 24% of the vote in his own first round, that implied 29% of the vote for the party in the first round for assembly.

What did his party, branded by then La République En Marche!, get? The answer would be… 28.2%. Not too bad for a political science formula. Not too surprising, either. It does not sound impressive as a vote percentage, but when you have the plurality of the vote in a multiparty field with a two-round majority-plurality electoral system, it can be pretty helpful in terms of seats won. Even more when you are a center party, and your opponents are split between left, right, and farther right (and we should not leave out farther left, too). After the second round, LREM ended up with about 54% of the seats. When combined with a pre-election ally, Democratic Movement, the seat total was over 60% (the two parties had combined for about a third of the first-round votes and got 49% of second-round votes).

The Economist article I linked to in the first paragraph was published in the March 5 edition. I want to check how plausible its claim was, using the Economist’s own election forecast model. As of a few days before March 5, that model was basing its forecast on aggregated polls that averaged about 27% of expected first-round vote for Macron himself. In other words, a few percentage points higher than he ended up winning in the first round in 2017. The model also gave Macron at the time an 88% chance of winning the presidency. Thus on the basis of information available at the time–including the Shugart-Taagepera formula for expected presidential-party vote share–we should conclude that LREM would win about 32% of the vote in the first-round assembly election. Assuming this would be the plurality share–a very safe assumption–that would again imply a strong chance of a single-party majority of seats. Not a loss of the majority, or even the need to forge a post-electoral coalition.

Now, since that article was published, Macron has been enjoying quite a surge in the polls. As of today, the forecast model at The Economist has his odds of winning the presidency above 95%. His polling aggregate as of March 12 is up to 31% (Marine Le Pen, his runoff opponent in 2017, is a distant second with 18%). From this we could estimate the first-round assembly vote share is up to 38%.

I will caution that the formula is not a logical model. It is empirical. There is good logical basis behind the general idea of honeymoon surge (and midterm decline, for countries with such cycles). But the specific parameters of the formula do not have a logical basis. At least yet. The graph of the relationship that is shown in Chapter 12 of Votes from Seats (and also included in the 2017 “predictive” post on France) shows a couple honeymoon elections in various countries that have defied the expected surge. However, only one has an elapsed time of less than 0.1 (the specific example of a relatively early honeymoon decline was Chile 1965, in an election held at 0.083 of the presidential inter-election period.1)

So I can’t predict what LREM will get in June. But it would be a surprise if it was worse than around a third of the vote, even if Macron’s own polling surge does not hold. Given the fragmentation of the party system–which looks even higher now than it was in 2017–and the majoritarian nature of the electoral system, anything short of a majority of seats for Macron would be a surprise at this point.

The notion that voters will come out and vote to “check” a just-elected president that they maybe were not all that enthusiastic about is a hard notion for the news media (not only The Economist) to shake. But there just is not much evidence that politics in presidential and semi-presidential systems works like that.2

____
1. This election saw the Christian Democratic Party of newly elected President Eduardo Frei win a very strong plurality, 43.6%, but Frei himself had won 56%. The problem–for the formula–is that there were only two serious candidates and three total in the presidential election, whereas the PR-elected legislature featured many parties, including allies of the president running separately. The formula implicitly assumes that all parties contest both elections. This is one of the reasons I can’t call it a logical model, because such conditions have not been incorporated, and perhaps can’t be without making it too complicated to be useful. It is pretty useful as it is, even with its oversimplification and lack of true logical basis!

(By the way, in the next Chilean assembly election, held with 75% of the term elapsed, the party’s vote percentage fell to 31%. The formula suggests 37%, but given that we already know the party did worse than “expected” at the honeymoon, we should just use the expected drop from what it actually had. That would “predict” about 25% of the vote at the late-term election. So they did better than expected, actually.)

2. On this point, let me shout out a just-published article by some recent UC Davis Ph.D.s Carlos Algara, Isaac Hale, and Cory L. Struthers on the Georgia (US) Senate runoffs. Even I was skeptical that honeymoon logic could apply to those elections. And in fact it did not turn out as a Dem surge, but there was clearly no evidence of “checking the president” behavior by voters.

The invasion of Ukraine

My field is not international relations/security nor is it Russian or East European affairs. So I won’t say a lot, or pretend to be speaking from expertise. I will speak more personally. It has been quite some time since an international event has upset and shocked me as much as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

While I did not believe Putin was bluffing, I was not prepared for such a massive assault on positions all around the country. I guess I was in denial, as the leaked intelligence reports of the week before suggested it could be a really extensive attack.

It is an unprovoked aggression. I would say more unprovoked and more dangerous than any of the other invasions of sovereign states that we’ve seen in many decades. But, again, this is not my speciality. And Putin will get away with it because…. well, because no one with the means to stop him will try. And trying could be… risky. It is just a deeply depressing situation, and feels like a real shift in the international order, whatever that means.

Photos with this post were taken by me in 2005, on one of the most meaningful and interesting foreign travel experiences I have ever had.

Costa Rica 2022: Continued high fragmentation

Costa Rica recently (6 Feb.) held its presidential and national assembly elections. In the case of the presidency, it was the first round; a runoff will be needed (3 April), as no candidate came close to the 40% required for a first-round victory. The result shows a continuation of the impressive degree of fragmentation that has occurred in recent elections, following a prolonged period of dominance by two major parties.

I will focus first on the assembly election. The largest party in the new assembly will be the National Liberation Party (PLN), one of those formerly major two parties, but in this election it won only 24.5% of the votes for assembly party lists and 18 of the 57 seats, or 31.6%. That is a one seat gain from what it had in the outgoing assembly, elected in 2018, when it was also the largest party. No other party broke 15%. Six parties have won at least one seat, and a large number of parties obtained vote shares of around 2% or less but no seats.

In terms of effective numbers, for votes this works out to 8.3. Yes, eight point three! That is up there with the world’s highest observed values. In seats, the effective number is 5.02, which is also high but less remarkably so in world comparative terms. For comparison, the 99th percentile of effective number of vote-earning parties from over a thousand elections in the dataset I use is 8.6. On the other hand, Costa Rica’s value for seats in this election is just above the 75th percentile (which is 4.77). Another way of stating this is that Costa Rica is experiencing an unusually large gap between effective numbers of parties by votes and seats. This is not the first time, as the values in 2018 were, respectively, 7.79 and 4.78.

The precise reasons for why the votes are fragmenting so much would require someone versed in Costa Rican politics, which I certainly am not. However, it is obvious that the electoral system is struggling to accommodate the voting fragmentation that is being fed into it, and at at the same time, voters are no longer coordinating their votes around what the electoral system can sustain. That leads to a lot of wasted votes.

This is a new phenomenon for Costa Rica. Over the entire period of the current electoral system, which has been in place since 1962 (the year the current assembly size and the current mean district magnitude (8.14) went into effect), the mean effective number of vote-earning parties has been 3.67, and the mean effective number of seat-winning parties has been 2.97. The mean largest party vote share has been 0.413. The mean seat share for the largest party has been 0.453. So the recent two elections (and to some notable degree those since 2006) have been quite a break with the old “textbook” Costa Rican party system.

A point I wish to emphasize is that the old party system was what we should expect of an electoral system like Costa Rica’s. It is a proportional representation (PR) system, but one with a modest seat product. Its seat product (mean district magnitude times assembly size) is only 464, or a little higher than that of the USA (435). So it should be expected to have a party system with two major parties, one of which averages close to a majority of seats, plus some smaller parties–as indeed the USA should have! And that is what Costa Rica had. The expected outcomes of this system, from the seat product model, would be a mean effective number of seat winning parties of 2.78 (barely below the observed fifty-year mean of 2.97). For votes we should expect 3.17 (not far below the long term observed mean, 3.67). For largest party seat share, we expect 0.464 (nearly matching the observed mean of 0.453); for vote share, 0.421 (actual mean 0.413).

In other words, the longterm party system of Costa Rica is basically what we should expect to see, given the modest value of its seat product. We do not need to invoke a presidential electoral rule that allegedly supports a two-party system, as some scholars have done in the past (hey, including me!). In fact, it is not even clear that the presidential electoral system–40% or runoff–should support two-candidate competition. In some past works I classified it as close enough to plurality, which some folks allege supports two-party systems. Of course, it does. Except when it does not. And the runoff provision makes that “except when it does not” even more accurate a description of the systemic effect. Sure, if 40% in within reach for a leading contender, others may have incentive to coordinate and try to beat the leader to 40% When the PLN was politically dominant, that was exactly what the game was. But when expectations are that no one will get to 40%, all bets are off, because to a significant degree political forces can coordinate between rounds, rather than before the first one.

In Votes from Seats (2017), Taagepera and I showed that we can actually predict presidential vote fragmentation from the assembly seat product better than we can predict it from either the rule used to elect the president or the actual number of competitors in the presidential election. And Costa Rica was, until recently, a great demonstration of that effect, with (as noted) an assembly party system that was a near perfect fit for the assembly electoral system’s seat product. The presidential party system followed right along, as expected, with a mean effective number of presidential candidates of 2.5 since 1962. The predictive model Taagepera and I propose in our 2017 book suggests that with Costa Rica’s seat product, the effective number of presidential candidates should average 2.49–so there was basically perfect prediction of Costa Rican presidential competitiveness. However, something clearly has upset the old equilibrium.

In this election, the effective number of presidential candidates was 6.15! For comparison, this is almost the 99th percentile of over 200 presidential elections from around the world in the dataset (6.25). [Update: see my own first comment below.] The leading candidate, José María Figueres had only 27.3%. His opponent in the upcoming runoff, Rodrigo Chaves Robles of Social Democratic Program, won 16.7%, and three other candidates had between 12% and 14.8%. The party of outgoing President Carlos Alvarado, Citizens Action, collapsed, with its candidate getting only 0.66% of the presidential vote (and 2.2% of the assembly vote, and no seat–in 2018, despite winning the presidency it had won only 10 seats, good for third place; further, presidents are not eligible for immediate reelection in Costa Rica).

The level of fragmentation of the presidential vote in 2022 is an increase over 2018, when the effective number of presidential candidates was 5.51, and the leading candidate (who lost the runoff) had just under 25%. It is the third election in a row in which no candidate broke 31%. (In 2010, the leading candidate who was from the PLN, won without a runoff, getting just under 47%.)

While on average, the seat product model leads us to expect presidential systems to have assembly party systems similar to what their seat product predicts, and a mean presidential competition also predictable from the seat product, individual elections can upset this. That is, short term presidential politics–who is entering competition and who is seen as a viable presidential candidate–can shock the assembly party system, due to a “coattail” effect. So we generally get longterm predictability from the assembly electoral system’s seat product, but short term disruptions from “presidentialization” of competition. This is now Costa Rica’s third consecutive election with effective number of seat-winning parties over 4.5. That seems unsustainable, based on the electoral system. But at some point maybe a short-term shock settles down and becomes the new normal. I guess we will have to wait till at least 2026 to see if the seat product reasserts itself, or if fragmentation really is the norm. And not just any fragmentation, but an exceptionally high level by world standards, particularly in the votes for both assembly and president.

Portugal 2022–unexpected majority, but not that rare (for Portugal)

The majority of seats obtained by the Socialist Party (PS) in the recent general election in Portugal was seen as a surprise. Polling generally had not shown a majority as within reach and indeed showed a likely close result. However, Portugal has had relatively frequent parliamentary majorities over the years, despite its proportional representation (PR) system. How unusual was the 2022 outcome?

From 1976 to 2019, the mean seat share for the largest party in Portugal has been 0.478–not a majority, but pretty close. In this election the PS obtained 117 of 230 seats, which is 0.509. (The total includes the four seats for Portuguese abroad.) This is the fifth absolute majority won in 16 Portuguese assembly elections since 1976. Thus in terms of Portugal’s electoral history, the result was not so unusual. How unusual is it relative to what is expected from Portugal’s PR system?

Portugal’s electoral system has a seat product of around 2400. This is a modest seat product by standards of proportional representation, stemming from a moderate assembly size, S (currently 230; 250 before 1991), and a middle-range district magnitude, M (currently 10.5 on average), yielding a seat product, MS=2415. For such a seat product, the expected largest party seat share is 0.378, derived from the formula expecting this share to be (MS)–1/8. Thus Portugal’s actual largest party seat share has averaged 1.26 times the seat product model prediction.1 This indicates that while Portugal’s electoral system is not expected to produce a high degree of fragmentation (38% of the seats is a decent sized largest party2), actual Portuguese politics supports a more de-fragmented party system–at least so far–than what its electoral system could sustain.

As for votes, the associated formula of the seat product model implies we should expect the largest to have 35.4% of the votes, but the average has been 41.8% instead. In this election the PS won 41.7%. So, whatever people expected, it was a pretty ordinary voting result by the standard of Portuguese electoral history. There was a somewhat higher boost for the largest party, however, than the norm. The average advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) has been 1.14; in this election it was 1.22. I would guess that this larger seat bonus for the largest party comes in significant part from the main rival for national power, the Social Democrats (PSD, actually a center-right party) losing votes to a farther right-wing/nationalist party, CHEGA. The latter party was the big gainer in votes and seats in the election, as it had only one seat from 2019 but won 12 in this election. However, it had a very low advantage ratio, with its 5.31% of seats coming on 7.15% of votes, for a ratio of 0.74. Its votes thus did not translate efficiently into seats, which may have helped the PS harvest more seats than normally would be the case for a party with just over 41% of the votes given Portuguese electoral laws.3

Notes

  1. The mean actual largest party seat share in a sample of 634 simple electoral systems is only 1.048 times the model prediction; for PR systems the model is even better, with a ratio of 1.033. So a ratio of 1.26 indicates a strong degree of politics being needed in addition to institutions to explain an outcome. Less than a quarter of PR elections have ratios that high or higher.
  2. The mean largest party seat share for the sample of 280 PR elections in parliamentary (or semi-presidential) democracies that I am working with happens to be 38.2%.
  3. Relative punishment of smaller parties is an inherent feature of the system’s moderate seat product. For instance, in this election the significantly smaller Liberal Initiative won 3.5% of seats on just under 5% of votes. The wasted votes by smaller parties have to go somewhere; given that Portugal uses the D’Hondt formula, the result will tend to be generally more favorable to the largest party than it would be with other PR formulas, for a given seat product. (This is not unusual; more than two thirds of all simple PR systems use D’Hondt.) Still, for a party in its range of vote percentage, CHEGA’s advantage ratio is quite low. For instance, in 2019, the Left Bloc and Unitary Democratic Coalition, with 9.5% and 6.3% of votes, respectively, had advantage ratios of 0.86 and 0.82. So CHEGA must have had an unusually inefficient geographic spread for a party of its approximate size. Indeed, skimming the table the Wikipedia page offers for district-level results, it is easy to spot districts where CHEGA received above its nationwide vote share yet won no seats. As a final note on CHEGA, I will add that its single seat in 2019 was won in Lisbon, where the district magnitude is 48, on 2% of the vote.

Kosovo electoral system note

In light of our previous discussion about how Kosovo’s electoral system challenges our usual notion of what a “district” is, this note from Michael Gallagher‘s Election Indices is interesting.

I am not sure Michael has made the correct choice here–minority representation provisions are part of the electoral system, after all–but I am also not sure this is incorrect. The system really is challenging to classify and quantify. I note in particular his decision to count its assembly size–and therefore, its district magnitude, given there are no district divisions unless we count the ethnic reservation/guarantee as separate “districts”–as 100 before 2014 but as the full 120 since then. Here, for reference, are the indices he reports in the main part of the document:

The unusual nature of the system is what results in the effective number of seat-winning parties (NS) sometimes being higher than the effective number of vote-earning parties (NV), something that is otherwise rare, and certainly should not happen in a single-district nationwide proportional system. As I noted in the earlier discussion, in 2021 it was even the case that a single party list won a majority of votes, but did not win a majority of the full 120 seats. Because I assume all legislators are equal, and that a government needs a majority of the 120, and not just the 100, I think it is incorrect to treat assembly size as not including the 20 ethnic representatives. Gallagher’s data from 2014 do include them, and I think that should be the case for the earlier years as well.

The question of how to calculate the indices is indeed a vexing one. Gallagher very helpfully explains his choices and what would change if we use a different assumption about what “counts.” This allows the researcher using his valuable resource the ability easily to make his or her own decision. But this researcher still is not sure which decision to make with respect to this system!

I am not comfortable with the idea of counting these various ethnic guarantees as additional “districts” even though I see the case for it (which Henry made in a comment to the previous planting). That lack of comfort is not solely because these “districts” overlay the main one. That is, after all, the case of the Maori districts in New Zealand (each of which encompasses the territory of several general electorates). For that matter, it is also the case with any two-tier system. Rather, the conceptual difficulty is that a given party list may win seats in either component of the system–the general 100 or the set-aside for their ethnic group–if they qualify for additional seats beyond their ethnic group’s reservation/guarantee.

However we conceptualize the system, I believe all these parties should be taken into account in calculating the effective number of parties (votes and seats). The question of whether we count them for deviation from proportionality is less clear to me.

I think I need to count this as a non-simple system (by the criteria used on Votes from Seats), giving us a unique case of what could be called a single nationwide district PR system that is nonetheless complex. For countries whose electoral system has just a few ethnic set-asides (like Colombia or Croatia), I tend to ignore the reserved seats when thinking of whether they are “simple” districted or national-district systems. But when such seats are a sixth of the total, they are clearly a complicating feature, as the unusual outcomes reveal.

St Kitts and Nevis 2000–Crazy result

Given my sudden fascination with small assemblies, I was poking around in election results from St Kitts and Nevis, a Caribbean sovereign state with a population of just over 52,000. With 11 elected members, its assembly certainly counts as small. The 2000 election is really something. Look at the national result:

PartyCodeVotes% votesCandidatesSeats
St. Kitts and Nevis Labour PartySKNLP11,76253.85%88
People’s Action MovementPAM6,46829.61%80
Concerned Citizens MovementCCM1,9018.70%32
Nevis Reformation PartyNRP1,7107.83%31
Total Valid Votes21,841100%2211
Source: St Kitts and Nevis Election Center, Caribbean Elections.

The second largest party got no seats, while two parties with less than 10% each won a seat or two. This is a first-past-the-post system. The problem the PAM had was it came in second in all eight seats it contested, i.e., every district on the island of St. Christopher (none were close). The advantage the CCM and NRP had is they run only on the island of Nevis, which has three district. Here are the district results.

ConstituencyRegistered votersSKNALPPAMCCMNRPValid Votes
St Christopher #14,5191,7881,1492,937
St Christopher #25,6522,0111,5073,518
St Christopher #32,5961,2353771,612
St Christopher #42,4301,0137351,748
St Christopher #52,3288697691,638
St Christopher #62,5711,6131191,732
St Christopher #72,8741,4414791,920
St Christopher #84,3251,7921,3333,125
Nevis #92,9248087961,604
Nevis #101,517555184739
Nevis #112,4305387301,268
Total34,16611,7626,4681,9011,71021,841
Source: Same as for first table.

Note that there is some pretty serious malapportionment here, as well. Nevis constituencies have many fewer voters than St. Christopher constituencies. In fact, the three Nevis districts together have only about 1.2 times the population of the most populous St. Christopher district.

So what should we have according to the Seat Product Model? The seat product is 11 (magnitude of 1, times assembly size of 11), so the effective number of seat-winning parties should be 1.49. In this election it was actually 1.75. That’s actually not a terrible miss! But in most elections it has been considerably higher than that–as high as 3.90 in 2015. So just for fun, a quick look at that one:

PartyVotesvotes% votesCandidates
St. Kitts and Nevis Labour PartySKNLP11,89739.27%83
People’s Action MovementPAM8,45227.90%64
People’s Labour PartyPLP2,7238.99%21
Concerned Citizens MovementCCM3,95113.04%32
Nevis Reformation PartyNRP3,27610.81%31
Total Valid Votes30,299100%2211
(Last column is seats won, but the heading did not copy over.)

This time, the PAM benefitted greatly! It is in a clear second place in votes, yet won a plurality of seats. Not a majority, however. According to Wikipedia, there were alliances. But even at the alliance level, there was a plurality reversal: “The outgoing coalition (SKNLP and NRP) secured 50.08% of votes but got only 4 seats, the winning coalition (PAM, PLP and CCM) won 7 seats with only 49.92% of votes.” Oh, cool: Another case of pre-electoral alliances! The effective number of alliances was just 1.86.

And at the district level:

ConstituencyRegistered VotersSKNLPPAMPLPCCMNRPValid Votes
St. Christopher #15,0361,7271,7313,458
St. Christopher #24,7401,7581,6603,418
St. Christopher #33,2651,3481,0762,424
St. Christopher #43,1661,2161,2522,468
St. Christopher #53,1078841,2452,129
St. Christopher #62,8231,9692002,169
St. Christopher #73,1918671,6472,514
St. Christopher #85,7532,1282,3644,492
Nevis #96,1272,0331,7153,748
Nevis #101,3937543061,060
Nevis #113,5841,1641,2552,419
Total42,18511,8978,4522,7233,9513,27630,299

We might not expect regionalism in such a small country, with a small assembly. But the party preferences of the two islands obviously are genuinely different (and the PLP is “regional” in that it contested only two districts on St. Christopher); yet the parties aggregate into alliances for purposes of national politics.

The malapportionment is still noteworthy–look at the small population of Nevis 10. However, one of the other two districts is now the most populous in the country, quite unlike in 2000.

Final point: Its population may be small, but according to the cube root law St Kitts and Nevis should have an assembly more than three times what it actually has: 37. If they were proportional to registered voters, Nevis would be allotted nine of those 37 seats. It currently has 3 of the 11, so 27%, so quite close to its population share, unlike in 2000 when it was overrepresented. Making the seats allocated by island more easily fit population balance in itself would be a good argument for increasing assembly size, but an even better argument would be making anomalous results like the two elections shown here less likely–even if they insist on sticking with FPTP.

The political system of Guyana

What do we consider the political system of Guyana to be? On the one hand, there is an official who is both head of state and head of government, who is determined by nationwide plurality vote. On the other hand, the constitution, in Article 106, paragraph 6, states:

The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.

Thus the president is clearly subject to majority confidence, like a parliamentary head of government–President David Granger and his cabinet fell due to a vote in December, 2018. Superficially, this implies a form of elected prime-ministerial government (like Israel 1996–2001), in that an elected head of government, and the cabinet, must maintain confidence in order to stay in office. Thus we appear to have separate origin and fused survival. Moreover, the president has no veto power other than suspensory (article 170, para. 4-5), and no other constitutional legislative powers that can be used against the majority of parliament.

It is, however, questionable whether we should conceptualize the executive’s origin as separate. The president is elected as the designated candidate on the list of the party that wins a plurality. On this point, the constitution, at Art. 177, says, in part, that a list of candidates for parliament,

shall designate not more than one of those candidates as a Presidential candidate. An elector voting at such an election in favour of a list shall be deemed to be also voting in favour of the Presidential candidate named in the list.

There is thus no separate election for president. On the one hand, this could be classified as just another case of fused-ballot presidential election, like the Dominican Republic and Honduras have had at times in the past. (I do not generally consider these systems non-presidential just because voters can’t ticket-split between president and congress, although a case could be made for considering them in a distinct class.) On the other hand, defining the president as the head of a winning party list, rather than as a separate candidacy, could be said to be no more separate origin than we have in Botswana and South Africa (cases I consider unequivocally parliamentary). What is unclear to me is what happens in Guyana if the plurality list in the parliamentary election is opposed by a multiparty post-electoral majority in parliament. Is the head of the plurality list still president? It seems so. Yet Art. 106 implies such a leader would not remain in office.

It is thus unclear how this case should be classified, and I think I have tended to ignore it in the past. Now that I am planning no longer to ignore it, I need to decide if it is “parliamentary” or “hybrid.” There might be a case to be made that this is just a parliamentary system where the leader’s election only appears direct and separate. Or it could be that it is a hybrid of separate election but parliamentary-style fused survival through the no-confidence mechanism in Art. 106.

I should note that there is a constitutional office of Prime Minister, so unlike in Botswana or South Africa it might be odd to say that the “President” is really a prime minister on account of being dependent on parliamentary-majority confidence. However, the PM is clearly a subordinate appointee of the president (and also serves as Vice President, and the President may appoint others to be Vice Presidents as well). So I would not let this quirk determine which executive-type box I put the case in.

As for the country’s electoral system, it appears to be a straightforward case of two-tier PR. There are both regional multi-seat districts and a nationwide PR tier, and it seems there is full compensatory allocation. (See constitutional article 160 or the election results at Psephos.) This would make it one of the few two-tier PR systems outside of Europe (leaving aside the question of whether MMP–found in New Zealand, Lesotho, and Bolivia–is a sub-type of two-tier PR or not). Thus the case is valuable for my goal of maximum coverage of both simple and two-tier PR around the world. (For instance, my recent queries about small dependent territories and free-list systems, and ongoing efforts to make sense of remainder-pooling systems.)

But does Guyana have a parliamentary system, some sort of parliamentarized hybrid presidential system, or an elected prime-ministerial system?

Kosovo 2021: A single-district electoral system that violates the rank-size principle

In the previous planting asking whether free-list PR violated my own definition of a “simple system, I mentioned the criterion of avoiding violation of the rank-size principle in allocation of seats to votes within district (see footnote 2). I later happened up a major example of violation of the rank-size principle: Kosovo in 2021!

It is a single district of 120 seats, but per Wikipedia:

The Assembly had [under the Constitutional Framework] 120 members elected for a three-year term: 100 members elected by proportional representation, and 20 members representing national minorities (10 Serbian, 4 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian, 3 Bosniak, 2 Turkish and 1 Gorani). Under the new Constitution of 2008, the guaranteed seats for Serbs and other minorities remains the same, but in addition they may gain extra seats according to their share of the vote.

The result of this is that there are parties with as much as 2.5% of the votes but no seats (there is also a 5% legal threshold for non-ethnic parties), and parties with as little as 0.14% who have seats when somewhat larger ethnic parties do not. For instance, the United Roma Party of Kosovo has a seat with 1,208 votes while the Innovative Turkish Party, which I presume is an “ethnic” party, with 1,243 votes, has none. That would be because the two set-aside Turkish seats were won by the Turkish Democratic Party of Kosovo, which had almost 6,500 votes (0.75%).

Perhaps it is not a “single district” and we should think of each ethnic group’s set-aside representation as a distinct district in addition to the general constituency. But that is certainly not how I generally understand “district.” In any case, there is nothing “simple” about the provision or its impact on outcomes, particularly regarding the rank-size criterion.

In addition, these provisions result in the odd case of a party with a majority of the vote not getting a majority of the seats, which is certainly unusual for a proportional representation system!

Is free-list PR a “simple” electoral system?

This seems like a trick question. Of course, free-list has all sorts of complex features. In such a system, the typical rules are that any voter may vote for as many candidates as he or she wishes, even across different lists (panachage). A vote for any candidate on a list counts as a vote for that list for purposes of determining proportional seat allocation across lists, as well as for the candidate in competition among other candidates on that list.

However, this system handles votes and seats for lists just like any other list-PR system: It is designed to allocate seats to lists first, and only then to candidates. It thus is “simple” on the inter-party dimension, unlike SNTV or MNTV or STV (where candidate votes do not count towards aggregate party vote totals and seats are allocated based only on candidate votes).

My general definition of a “simple” electoral system is one that is a single-tier, single-round, party-vote system. The free-list could be said to violate that last part of the definition, in that “party vote” maybe should mean a single party vote per voter. My instinct is to keep free list in, because it remains “simple” in terms of how it processes the votes across lists. But I could be convinced otherwise, given that effectively every voter can vote for more than one list–a “dividual vote” in Gallagher’s terms.1

In Votes from Seats, Taagepera and I kept at least three free-list systems in our dataset: Honduras (since 2005), Luxembourg, and Switzerland. The issue came back to my mind because of my consideration of including some smaller countries and non-independent territories in a dataset for some further analysis of key questions. One of the smaller countries that could be added to the data is Liechtenstein, which I believe uses a free-list PR system. My gut says “yes, include” but now I wonder if we already violated our own criteria2 in having those free-list systems in the prior analysis. To be clear, none of our results would be changed if we had dropped them.3 It is just a matter of consistency of criteria.

Questions like this always nag comparative analysis, or science more generally. What things are part of the set being analyzed? It is not always clear-cut.

____

  1. Note that there is no question regarding standard open-list PR: Even if there are multiple candidate preference votes cast per voter, as in Peru, only a single list vote is registered per voter.
  2. In fact, on p. 31 of Votes from Seats, we say “Only categorical ballots and a single round of voting are simple, by our definition.” A free-list ballot is dividual and thus not categorical. However, the reason we give for limiting the coverage to categorical ballots is that “other ballot formats… may violate a basic criterion for simplicity in the translation of votes into seats: the rank-size principle” (emphasis in original). For example, the party with the most aggregate votes in a district may not have the most seats allocated in the district (or at least tied for most with the second-most voted party). This violation of the rank-size principle can occur with SNTV, STV, and MNTV, but as noted above it can’t occur in free-list PR (per my understanding, anyway). I note that in a later work, Party Personnel, my coauthors and I seem to adopt a stricter definition. On p. 53 of that book, we say that simple means “a voter votes once, and this vote counts for the entire party list of candidates.” Yet the conceptual point there is somewhat different, in that we are referring to “simple vote” not simple electoral system, and we remove open-list PR from the standard of simple vote because they permit differentiation of candidates within a list in the same district. But as for the vote counting for the entire list, free list still meets that part of the criterion. (A reminder that “voting system” is not a synonym for “electoral system”!)
  3. Although I did not think of this possible issue with free lists at the time, I definitely ran robustness-check regressions with Switzerland dropped. I did so mainly because of its multiparty alliance feature, which also is a complex feature for reasons discussed in the book (mainly with reference to Finland and Chile). Doing so did not affect the results, so we left the case in. There are not enough elections from the other free-list cases, nor are they observably different on our outcomes of interest, that they could affect results. (Switzerland is observably different–far more fragmented than expected for its seat product, and that seems to be mostly due to alliances, even above the impact of its ethnic fragmentation–see p. 269 of Votes from Seats. But the inclusion or exclusion fo the case is immaterial for the overall results.)

Small assemblies in non-independent territories

I am going to do a little crowd-sourcing here. What do people think is a reasonable way to define “autonomous enough” to include a territory in a set of small assemblies worthy of comparative analysis alongside independent nations with small assemblies?

That is, there are various countries with very small assemblies that are recognized as independent states, such as St. Kitts and Nevis (assembly of 11 seats) or Antigua & Barbuda (17). Like the two just mentioned, most of the small-assembly independent states that are also democracies with small assemblies are in one world region (Caribbean) and use one type of electoral system (FPTP).

Now suppose one wanted to branch out and include small territories that were either not in the Caribbean or used PR. Suppose further that one did not want to include obviously fully dependent territories that just happen to hold elections for an internal legislative council. Where would one draw the line?

For instance, are the Faroe Islands and Greenland “autonomous enough” to include? What about Aruba and Curaçao? These use PR systems, and the first two are not Caribbean. Or the Cook Islands, with is FPTP but non-Caribbean?

One would need a reasonable standard for autonomy. I sort of feel the places I just named might qualify, but I do not know why I feel that way. And I do not want the can of worms opened whereby I’d be asked–legitimately–why did you exclude Turks and Caicos (for example)? (Other than, well, I already had enough FPTP Caribbean cases.)

The smallest currently included independent country in my related datasets seems to be St. Kitts & Nevis (pop 54k). One of the territories I mentioned is much smaller than that (Cook Islands only 15k), but others are of the same order as St. Kitts (like Faroe Islands and Greenland, 53-55k). I probably have a floor somewhere on population–which might well exclude Cook Islands–but my current query is for a reasonable standard on what is sufficiently self-governing to be comparable to small independent states for purposes of analyzing their assemblies and electoral systems.

What do readers of this site think?

Chill catch-up

The orchard and vineyard on a cloudy day in mid-December, 2021. Some trees still have their fall color, most are bare, as are the vines. Sheep graze in the background.

It had been a very mild chilling season to start, but suddenly the chill mostly has caught up with last year. In all my years monitoring winter chill for my deciduous orchards–in San Diego County and now since mid-winter 2012-13 in Yolo County, pictured above–I have experienced very few 24+ hour periods like the current one. Below is a capture from my temperature station from Saturday evening. The high for the day was 44F. The low was 33F, but the temperature was below about 36 for only around five hours. And since then it has been even more remarkable: all night long and until a little after eight on Sunday morning the temperature has been a steady 40. As I type this, a little after 10:30 a.m., it is only 42.

Weather monitoring console as of 6:00 p.m., 18 December 2021. The lower left is a graph of hourly temperatures.

This range is prime chilling. An hour between about 38 and 45 is a full “chill unit.” Hours below about 38 but above freezing count for somewhat less than a full chill unit. Above 45 it also tapers, with some chill models saying you need to subtract hours above 65 or so from your running count (I have some reservations about that, based only on my own monitoring, but it matters little in my current climate–at least for now). Stone fruits and other deciduous fruiting trees have a chilling requirement, varying by fruit variety. Many varieties I grow here do their best with over 500 hours (or “units”), and a few would like 600. The hours/units do not need to be consecutive, but extended warm spells in the winter can accelerate the process of breaking dormancy. If that happens before the variety’s chilling requirement is met, fruit set will be reduced or nonexistent.

At the moment of my writing, we have had 24 chill units in the past 24 hours, and probably 20 in the preceding 24 hours. According to the UCANR station nearest me, the season total stands at around 234 chill units. At this point last year, it was 264. Last winter was a very good one. As of early December, I was a little concerned about the current winter chill season, as it had been so mild. The UCANR station, for example, showed only 122 chill units as of 9 December, compared to 211 on the same date the previous year–and 3 vs. 39 back on Nov. 17! But starting on the 10th of December, we have been enjoying overnight lows anywhere from 30 (which means some hours of no chill) to mid-40s (the prime range) with only one early morning low above that. And our daytime highs during this spell have not broken 60 and generally have been in the low 50s, till the unusual 44 yesterday. A couple good weeks really can make up for a slow start!