Palestine: Fatah’s district nominations, the party list, and the ‘personal vote’

Continuing a theme from earlier in the week, and continuing to rely on Jonathan Edelstein for the details, it is interesting to see how Fatah has rearranged its nominations in the local multi-seat districts and the national party list for the upcoming elections. (Recall that Fatah factions registered separate slates of candidates, and then a last-minute court order extending the registration period permitted them to re-join in a unified slate.)

Jonathan, at The Head Heeb, reports that several of the Future faction’s candidates were granted winnable list positions, and also that some popular Future candidates replace old-guard Fatah candidates in the mutli-seat plurality (nominal tier) districts, where their presence could help Fatah prevent what otherwise could be a Hamas sweep of the district.

As Jonathan notes, “lackluster names can be buried much more easily on the national ticket where most of the attention will be on the people at the top.” As I have discussed in one of the most-commented threads (or most-propagated plantings) in the illustrious history of F&V, the opportunity that mixed-member systems (whether proportional/compensatory, or–as in Palestine–parallel) provide parties for ensuring victory via a closed list of candiadtes who are unelectable in the nominal tier is often a source of controversy in such systems.

Relatedly, my own (ongoing) research into the extent of a “personal vote” in closed-list PR systems seems to be pointing in the same direction as Jonathan’s evidence from Palestine. Briefly, the personal vote is that portion of a candidate’s own vote that the candidate obtains based on who he or she is, rather than what party he or she was nominated by. In electoral systems where voters are more likely to notice who the candidates are–especially those where they have to give a vote for one or more candidates–the personal vote is theoretically expected to play a greater role in elections. Parties operating in systems with a higher personal vote can be expected to leverage the personal vote by nominating visible candidates whose appeal may be greater than the party itself, and by doing so they may obtain more votes than would be the case if their slates were full of (hypothetical) undifferentiated party “hacks” (or candidates who appeal only to internal party organizations, but not to the broader public).

So, in closed-list systems, party reputation is expected to matter much more than the personal vote, but that does not mean that the theory of the personal vote expects such votes to be zero when lists are closed. What it suggests is that candidates with notable personal reputations would be expected to be nominated high on lists, where voters woud be inclined to notice them as the “face” of the party. Lower on the list, parties can get away with nominating the more “hackish” party regulars who lack personal followings, because in a list that voters must accept or reject as a whole, there is little incentive for voters to pay attention to the full slate of candidates.

Jonathan notes that, on the new Fatah list, some reformists known for service outside party politics (e.g. a university chemist and a refugee services coordinator) have now been promoted to higher and thus more visible (and election-ensuring) list ranks from the more “marginal” ranks they had initially.

Jonathan’s information about how Fatah is making use of the nominal districts (where personal reputation is most important to the party’s chances), high ranks on the closed list (where it is somewhat important), and low ranks (where personal reputation–even a negative one–is not expected to matter much, because few voters notice) is totally consistent with the theory of the intra-party dimension of representation.

And, as Jonathan notes, Hamas had already submitted nominatons that reflected a similar strategy with respect to leveraging the personal vote: “featuring prominent local candidates to anchor the territorial slates and a national list with big names at the top and something for everyone underneath.”

It’s always great to see theory get real-world validation!

6 thoughts on “Palestine: Fatah’s district nominations, the party list, and the ‘personal vote’

  1. It’s always great to see theory get real-world validation!

    If you want even more real-world validation, the latest PCPSR poll suggests that the strategy is working. At least six of the Fatah and Future candidates who were moved over to the territorial districts are tipped to win, converting a potential Hamas blowout in the nominal tier into a neck-and-neck race. (Hamas is doing much better in the nominal tier than at the national level, which is further proof of your theory of the personal vote, but is also proof that Hamas outsmarted itself by insisting on national-list PR.)

    BTW, thanks for giving a theoretical framework to my observations.

  2. Keep that real-world validation coming! But why would Hamas have more personal vote? I would expect that Hamas would do very well in the nominal tier like Palestine’s: multi-seat districts, with voters having as many votes as seats in the district. But that would not be due to the personal vote. It would be due to party discipline of voters, who will give all their votes to candidates of the same party (an essential feature for the theoretically majoritarian nature of this type of voting system to be realized in practice). Evidence from its former use in Thailand, its recent use in Liberia’s senate races, and elsewhere suggests that voters in multi-seat plurality systems typically do not use all their votes and do not give all the votes that they use to candidates of the same party. That is precisely where opportunities for the “personal vote” to make a difference enter the equation.

    If a party can nominate attractive candidates, it can win some votes from voters who might not otherwise vote for the party. I would expect that phenomenon to be much more important for Fatah, which is a rather tired old umbrella of factions, than for Hamas, a newer and more ideologically distinct movement. Fatah thus would have relatively fewer partisan-committed voters, and would need personally appealing candidates to compete with Hamas in the nominal tier. That is, to break up the discipline of some more marginally committed Hamas voters, who might be willing to toss one of their votes over to a Fatah candidate who was known, but otherwise would vote the full Hamas slate if there were no appealing candidates from other parties (or independents).

    In other words, I would expect Hamas to do well in the nominal tier, but not because of the perrsonal vote. I would expect Fatah to do well in the nominal tier, but only to the extent that it has candidates with a personal vote (which is what the reorganization of the nominations was partly an attempt to take advantage of).

  3. But why would Hamas have more personal vote?

    Because Hamas has a long track record of providing social services, especially in Gaza, so many of its candidates are locally known and respected. The original Fatah slate, which emphasized party veterans, didn’t have that kind of local depth. The new slate includes more young activists who grew up in the territories and have a record of service there, so it will be able to compete more effectively against Hamas in the nominal tier.

    The greater discipline of the Hamas voter base will also, as you say, be a factor. That discipline might not be all it’s cracked up to be, however, especially in light of recent cleavages in the movement. I’d guess that Hamas has an unbreakable core of about 25 percent of the electorate, but its support above that is becoming soft.

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