Jamaica: A razor-thin result

Jamaicans voted in general elections Sunday. According to BBC, the result was expected to be close.

A more recent update than that below has the JLP at 32 seats. ((More recent still: 33; see the link at the bottom.)) PM Simpson “accepts” the results, yet may still challenge them once the final count is in. The three closes seats, mentionend below, are already in the PNP column, so recounts there have no chance of reversing the overall result.

Result: Yes, yet another cliffhanger! JLP won the votes, 50.14% to the PNP’s 49.77% (a margin of 2,940 votes), and the seats split 31-29 in favor of the JLP. So, Jamaica will have a change of government, by the thinnest of margins. These results are preliminary, and, obviously, if there are even minor problems that result in some recounts, they don’t have to change much to produce a big change in the overall outcome.

BBC reports that three constituencies were decided by fewer than 100 votes. The PNP has not conceded defeat, and may challenge the results once they are official in a few days.

By the seat-vote equation, the JLP would be expected to have won almost exactly 30 seats ((In an earlier version, I said 35. I mis-read my data lines! The point estimate would be 50.6%.)) ; in other words, as in 2002, pretty much right on target to the actual result. When we are dealing with such slight margins, even a small degree of over- or under-representation can be consequential. Both a hung parliament and a plurality reversal (which would have been a spurious “reelection”) were narrowly averted (assuming these results hold), and the new majority can’t afford anyone to be sick on the day of an important vote!

The remainder below is unchanged from the original Sunday evening planting.

While we wait on the results, let’s look at our old friend the seat-vote equation and what it tells us about the performance of Jamaica’s first-past-the-post (plurality) system in recent elections.


The upper part of the graph (the dashed line) shows the gap in vote share between the two largest parties in each election. When there is a solid square symbol, it indicates an election in which there was alternation from one party to the other. (The 1983 election, boycotted by the Peoples National Party, is not shown.)

The lower portion, with the solid green line, indicates deviation from the expected seat total of the second largest party, based on the seat-vote equation. The second-largest party in parliament following each election is indicated (PNP=Peoples National Party; JLP=Jamaica Labour Party; in the world of Jamaican politics, the “labour” party is the right-wing party).

The seat-vote equation takes into effect the vote shares of the major parties, the number of votes cast, and the size of the legislature (60 seats since 1976) and gives an estimate of what each party would have in a “typical” FPTP election with those input parameters. (Click on “seat-vote equation” above and scroll for more detailed explanations related to other elections.) This method allows a quick assessment of whether the electoral system is performing as FPTP is expected to perform.

The verdict on Jamaica is that there is some tendency to under-represent the second party in recent elections, except in 2002, which was one of those ho-hum elections–the sort that, were it typical of FPTP, no one would talk about electoral reform! In that election, the PNP won its fourth straight with 52.2% of the vote and the JLP won 47.2%. The two parties split the seats, 35 to 25 (58.3% to 41.7%, or almost exactly what we should expect.

As the top portion of the graph shows. elections have been getting closer each time since the PNP resoundingly won its first reelection attempt after taking power back from the JLP in 1989.

Late polls, according to the BBC link above, put the JLP, led by Bruce Golding, slightly ahead of the PNP, which currently holds 35 seats, and its leader and Prime Minister Portia Simpson.

Both Ms Simpson Miller and Mr Golding are contesting their first general election as party leaders.

During the campaign the PNP has argued that it has improved health care and reduced unemployment to below 10%.

Mr Golding’s JLP has complained that Jamaica’s unemployment rate of 9% remains too high.

The party has also criticised the government’s handling of the economy and the island’s high crime rate.

Ms Simpson Miller became prime minister 18 months ago, but her popularity has since been declining steadily, our correspondent says, adding that the JLP now has its best chance for some time of ending its 18-year absence from office.

The vote had been planned for 27 August but was postponed after Hurricane Dean ravaged the Caribbean island.

It is, of course, in close elections that the performance of an electoral system–especially one based on single-seat constituencies–is really put to the test. Back in 1962 and 1967, the last really close elections in Jamaica, the graph shows us that the second party was significantly under-represented. (In those years the JLP won 57% and then 62% of the seats when the votes were split almost in half.) However, Jamaican politics has changed a lot in those forty years, so those elections offer little guidance as to what we can expect once results are in from today’s contest. Assuming the election is indeed close in votes, will the two parties have almost the same number of seats (perhaps even a hung parliament ((As in Jamaica’s one-time West Indies Federation partner Trinidad and Tobago in 2001)) or a plurality reversal ((As in Belize in 1993.)) ), as the 2002 seat-vote allocation would suggest? Or will the leading party be significantly over-represented, as has been the case in most Jamaican elections?

You can follow results at The Jamaica Gleaner‘s Elections site or their blog.

Update: Yes, it is close! As of 7:00 PDT, JLP with a very small lead in votes (around 4,000 about 800,000) and 24 seats to the PNP’s 23, with 3 seats not yet determined. (These results are very preliminary, of course, and from the links given in the last paragraph before this one.)

0 thoughts on “Jamaica: A razor-thin result

  1. Will anyone make a comedy film, I wonder, based on the inherent humorous possibilities in the election campaign of a Jamaican who has adopted the persona of a wanna-be Oxbridge-educated London party machine man…

  2. If Jamaica has a hung parliament split in half, they could simply just increase the size of parliament to an odd number to prevent such an occurance.

    If it is a reverse plurality, it would be hard to justify electoral reform in Jamaica when there are only two parties winning seats and significantly percentage of the vote. They was no third party that won a significant percentage of the vote and no seats to justify electoral reform.

    If Jamaica lets say did went ahead with electoral reform, and choose STV. Assuming after the change it would still have a two party system, Jamaica could face a reverse plurality under STV like Malta did. So an electoral reform might be moot.

  3. Well, there are plenty of other reasons to pick STV (or open-list PR) apart from reducing the risk that the party with more votes (on the final count) may win fewer seats than its rival.

    Intra-party choice of candidates, for one thing. Or ensuring that all the main parties have representatives from every electoral district, and that almost every voter has access to an MP whom they actually voted for. Party proportionality is only one factor for PR advocates, and especially for STV advocates.

    As Rose, I think, pointed out (in Lijphart and Grofman 1984), FPTP in the USA was for many years more proportional in purely party terms than some “reinforced” PR systems with high thresholds or small districts – I believe Spain and Greece were named.

    (These days, though, the US House of Reps and the State houses may have moved into the “less proportional” column as the sophistication of partisan gerrymandering has “improved”, especially with computers.

  4. A well-designed STV system can exclude the possibility of a reverse result. Malta’s is characterised by very low magnitude,which gives rise to some of the problem, and mildly partisan redistributions, which accounts for the rest.

    The South Australian constitution, at S83(1), provides:

    In making an electoral redistribution the Commission must ensure, as far as practicable, that the electoral redistribution is fair to prospective candidates and groups of candidates so that, if candidates of a particular group attract more than 50 per cent of the popular vote (determined by aggregating votes cast throughout the State and allocating preferences to the necessary extent), they will be elected in sufficient numbers to enable a government to be formed.

    A better rule would simply be to top up the under-represented party after the election, although the SA commission has been reasonably successful in ensuring that all redistributions meet the S83(1) criterion. It goes without saying it would be better for the provision to speak of fairness to electors, rather than candidates.

  5. There “was no third party that won a significant percentage of the vote… to justify electoral reform.” -Suaprazzodi

    That is very much accurate, and not only in the normative sense of “justifying” reform, but in the rational-interest sense of an actor with both the power and the will to pursue it.

    Even if there were a plurality reversal under such a “pure” 2-party system (as in Belize, 1993), the party that is “wronged” by the outcome is confident that it will again enjoy full power under the current electoral system.

    As for the tied parliament, there is always under FPTP the potential that an early election will restore majority government (as in T&T the year after the tie).

    On the other hand, when there are multiple parties, not only are anomalies more likely, but also there exist scenarios in which one of the major party that was “wronged” by the anomaly might look forward to possible coalitions with a currently under-represented minority party. And the presence of more than two significant parties also implies that there is a constituency for a different kind of politics, which might support PR.

    With only two significant parties, reforms are more likely to be within FPTP (e.g. changes in boundary formulas or redistricting process, increase in the size of parliament, etc.), rather than from FPTP.

  6. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

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