The magnitude of the Hamas sweep: The electoral system did it

NOTE: The following has been partially updated to reflect the final results. I have not updated the votes totals for individual candidates, except for the district of Khan Younis, which was the only one in which the balance of Hamas and Fatah elected candidates changed from the preliminary results. From a quick check of the final results, it is clear that the ranking of candidates in districts other than Khan Younis did not change in any way relevant to what is reported below, even if the specific vote totals for candidates did change.

Seventy four seats for Hamas (officially known as Change and Reform), which obtained just 44.5% of the party-list votes, is a shockingly high level of seats. That’s 56.1% of the seats, for an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.26. Shocking! Or is it?

Remember, before the election, in surveying the electoral rules, I noted that a parallel mixed-member system in which the nominal tier was multi-seat plurality (in the form of multiple non-transferable vote) would tend to generate a highly disproportional result. With an average district magnitude in the nominal tier of around 4, the disproportionality would be expected to be quite high, because the relationship between district magnitude and proportionality under plurality rule is the opposite of that under PR: Higher magnitude, greater disproportionality. The Palestinian nominal tier includes one 9-seat district and other districts of 8, 7 and 6 seats each. Only four districts have fewer than three seats.

At the time, I was referencing a poll that suggested the leading party would have around 45% of the votes (correctly, though the poll had the wrong party leading), and I said that this electoral system would be expected to manufacture a majority for a party with around 45% of the vote, with one proviso. It would do so only if the voters for that largest party were very party-loyal, such that they tended to fill out the full slate of the party’s candidates in those multi-seat districts. And I suggested that a movement like Hamas would be more likely to have such voters than Fatah, and so Hamas would have a higher advantage ratio that Fatah would–even if, as expected at the time, Hamas had the second most votes nationally.

Then on election night, I warned that the exit polls would probably under-state Hamas’s actual vote. However, even as I said that, I never imagined that Hamas would win a plurality of more three percentage points over Fatah. Now that we know that it did–in the party-list vote–there is nothing shocking whatsoever about the scale of the Hamas victory. Given that it was the largest party, it would be expected to win the vast majority of the nominal-tier seats, unless there was significant regional variation in party support, such that each party won similar numbers of districts, or unless its voters tended not to vote full slates.

Actually, the Hamas victory was even larger than it seems, for five of Fatah’s seventeen nominal-tier seats came from seats set aside for Christian candidates. There were four districts with one or two such seats, and all but one of these seats went to Fatah (the other went to an independent). So of the 60 non-set-aside seats, Hamas won 45 of them (75%) and Fatah only 12 (20%).

These 60 seats are divided among sixteen districts. A Hamas candidate had the leading vote total in eleven of them. These eleven districts comprise 46 seats (ignoring from here on out the Christian quota seats). Of these seats, Hamas won 41 (89.1%) and Fatah 4 (with the others won by independents).

In four districts, the leading candidate was from Fatah. These districts comprise eleven seats, and eight of those went to Fatah. In the remaining district (Tulkarem) the leading candidate was an independent, and the other two seats went to Hamas.

Leaving aside the independent candidates (as well as the Christian set-asides), there were just four districts that were not clean sweeps. These were Jenin (2 Hamas, 2 Fatah), Khan Younis (3 Hamas, 2 Fatah), Deir al-Balah (2 Hamas, 1 Fatah), and Nablus (5 Hamas, 1 Fatah).

In each of the four districts that returned split results the one (or in Jenin and Khan Younis, 2) Fatah winning candidate ranked ahead of some Hamas candidates. I will later on do some analysis of the complete results, but the following based on preliminary totals, when only the votes of the winning candidates were available. What is clear is that, aside from the Christian set-asides and the three districts whose six seats it swept (Qalqilya, Jericho, and Rafah), Fatah won seats only because it had a few candidates who ran well ahead of any others of the party. In other words, there were some with personal votes that allowed them to stand out ahead of not only the rest of the pack of Fatah candidates, but also ahead of some Hamas candidates. Let’s look at these districts more closely.

In Jenin, the parties alternated in the order of election: a Hamas candidate followed by one from Fatah, then another Hamas, and then another Fatah. The two Hamas candidates had 30,761 and 27,857 votes, while the two Fatah had 29,059 and 26,909. Without the votes of losing candidates or a party-list breakdown by district, it is impossible to know exactly what the total electorate for each party was in Jenin, but suffice it to say that the two parties were very closely balanced, and with the movement here and there of even a few thousand votes (that’s votes, not voters, given the multiple votes each voter may cast), one party could have swept. This outcome is a reminder, then, of how important individual candidates are in this type of electoral system. If all the candidates of a party were undifferentiated in the eyes of the voter and every voter gave all his or her votes to one party’s candidates, party would be a perfect predictor of the vote and the leading party would sweep. The personal vote allows a candidate to obtain some votes from voters who might not otherwise vote for the party.

Khan Younis was the one district in which the partisan complexion of the delegation changed from the preliminary to the final results, and so this paragraph is the only one in which I have updated any individual candidate vote totals. In Khan Younis, the first candidate elected was Mohammad Yousif Shakir Dahlan, with 38,349 votes. The last of five candidates elected was also from Fatah, Sofyan al-Agha, with 32,964 (more than 5,000 less than the other Fatah winner). In between these totals, three Hamas candidates were elected with vote totals ranging from 37,695 (654 behind the leading Fatah candidate) down to 33,207. A fourth Hamas candidate came in just over 300 votes behind the the last winner in the district, Fatah’s al-Agha.

In Deir al-Balah, the one Fatah winning candidate came in second place, 2,227 votes behind the district leader, and just 346 votes ahead of the last-elected candidate.

Finally, in Nablus, the one Fatah winner came in third place among the six candidates elected. The district leader was Ahmad Ali Ahmad Ahmad, wth 44,634 votes. The next Hamas candidate, Hamid Suleiman Jabir Khadair was 1,182 votes behind him, and then came the one Fatah winner, Mahmoud Othaman Ragheb al-Aloul, another 5,244 votes back. The last-elected candidate had 36,655 votes, which is 7,979 votes behind the leader.

These results tell us that the variance between elected candidates of the same party is not large, but that it was only due to such variance that Fatah elected anyone aside from the set-aside seats and the six candidates that came from the three districts that Fatah swept.

Overall, the legislative dominance of the leading party is precisely what would be expected given the electoral system, unless there was wide variance in the personal votes of a party’s candidates (as was the case in Liberia’s two-seat plurality senate elections, for example). It is worth bearing in mind as we watch Israeli-Palestinian relations unfold in the coming months and years that the Palestinian electorate did not give Hamas an overwhelming victory, the electoral system did.

Posts at other blogs on related themes:
Charles Franklin of Political Arithmetik has his take, including some graphs based on the same less-than-ideal data that I use, showing how close the candidates of Hamas (in particular) tended to be in votes.

And I am really honored that Mystery Pollster has not only linked to me, but quoted me! (Thanks to Charles for making that possible, by his links to my previous posts here.)

Among the many bloggers with posts discussing the broader significance of the result, I wan to call specific attention to the following: Mark Lynch at Abu Aardvark, Steven Taylor at PoliBlogger, and, as always, Jonathan Edelstein at The Head Heeb.

Lynch notes the parallels to Algeria, 1992, which became a symbol of American conditional support for democracy in Islamic countries, and also the extent to which several political-science propositions are about to be put to the test: “does power moderate or radicalize Islamist groups?,” among others.

Edelstein notes, among many interesting points, that it is possible that an electoral victory far greater than Hamas itself could ever have expected could shift the internal balance of power within the movement: “Just as Fatah is in rebellion against its old-guard Tunisian leadership, Hamas may now escape the tutelage of its Syrians. On the other hand, the internal debate may result in the parliamentary delegation becoming an instrument through which Khaled Meshaal’s hard-liners exert influence.” And Jonathan also discusses the implications for Israeli domestic politics: “Likud now has a new campaign issue and the center will probably lose some ground to the right, but most of Kadima’s voters are already convinced that there is no Palestinian negotiating partner, and Hamas’ win may actually strengthen support for further unilateral moves.” And further, he notes that the Tel Aviv stock exchange “took only minor losses when the news broke and has since rallied” … and “all the politicians and commentators are saying exactly the expected things – Eitam is blaming Hamas’ victory on the withdrawal, Beilin blames the lack of Israeli support for Abbas, and the Kadima people are saying that the election result proves the necessity of unilateral moves.”

0 thoughts on “The magnitude of the Hamas sweep: The electoral system did it

  1. I linked to this post in a comment in a thread where someone was mystified about the subject matter. I gave a simple explanation that might be wrong as I’m often a little slow understanding alien concepts.


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  3. The Jerusalem Post has finally noticed:

    PART OF the post-election discussions concentrated on the election law, in which 50% were elected proportionally and 50% from local districts. A polling expert speaking at the Ramallah conference said that a number of Fatah candidates should be given a medal by Hamas for rejecting Mahmoud Abbas’s desire for a 100% proportional representation system. If that was the law of the elections Hamas might have gotten a few more seats than Fatah, but overall Fatah and its independent and left-wing coalition partners could easily have formed a majority government.

    A change in the election format would have resolved a major problem for Fatah. Having so many Fatah candidates run as independents (because they were not chosen to be on the official roster) meant that thousands of votes for the district seats were wasted. In Jerusalem, Bilal Natashe, a Fatah leader, told me that the lost votes amounted to a total of 37,000 – more than enough to have resulted in all Fatah candidates to win. In Bethlehem Fatah received more votes on the national lists, but still lost all their district seats except those earmarked as part of the Christian quota. . .

    In Gaza the single seat allotted for the Christian citizens didn’t go to the Fatah candidate, but to an independent supported by Hamas.


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  5. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

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