How big will the PRI’s comeback win be?

If you are reading this, there is a pretty high probability that you know Mexico has elections today for President, Deputies, and Senators. There seems to be no doubt that the formerly hegemonic PRI, which last ruled Mexico in 2000, will win. The question is, how big?

The presidency is elected by plurality, and so a voting result in the low/mid-40s will be good enough–as it was for Vicente Fox of the PAN in 2000. (The incumbent, Felipe Calderon, also of the PAN, won in 2006 with only around 36%.)

The Chamber of Deputies is elected by MMM. There are 300 single-seat districts elected by plurality, and 200 list seats determined by nationwide proportionality. ((Some sources mention regional districts in the PR tier. That is true, but only on the intra-party dimension: these districts, and the separate list each party presents in each district, matter only in determining which candidates take the list seats a party has won. They do not affect the total balance of seats among parties, which depends on the parties’ nationwide total votes.)) These seats are elected in parallel. That means that a party’s proportional share of the 200 is added to however many district seats it has won, with a partial exception to be addressed below. The votes cast for single-seat candidates are summed up to determine shares for list allocation, as there is no separate list vote.

In the Senate, there are three members elected from each state, and another 32 elected nationwide; again, the nationwide seats are in parallel and without a separate vote. In each state a party presents a (closed) list of two candidates. The plurality earns two, and the second party wins one.

The President and Senators are elected for six-year terms, the Deputies for three years. No one at any level can serve consecutive terms.

Will the incoming PRI president–assuming no huge surprise when the results come in–have a majority in either or both houses?

In the most recent Deputies election, in 2009, the PRI won just short of a majority: 237 seats (47.4%) on only 36.9% of the votes. The PRI was in pre-election (pri-election?) coalition with the Green Party (PVEM), and this combine actually did win a majority: 258 seats on 43.6% of the votes.

The 2009 result shows clearly that the system is MMM (parallel), not not MMP (compensatory) as some sources claim. A near-majority of seats for one party that wins less than 37% of the vote is pretty non-proportional! The one way in which the system is not purely parallel is that it includes caps on over-representation. No party may win more than 60% of the seats, or more consequentially, a seat percentage that is more than eight percentage points greater than its vote percentage.

It seems (though I am not sure) from the 2009 result that this provision is applied to a pre-election coalition, and not to such an alliance’s parties individually (–UPDATE–see Manuel’s comment): the PRI’s own over-representation was more than 10 points. What matters, apparently, is the alliance, which was almost precisely at eight percentage points over-representation. Together in the nominal (plurality) tier the parties won 188 seats (184 PRI, 4 PVEM), which is 62.67% of the districts. (Oh, doesn’t plurality produce big distortions when there are three major national parties!) The parties’ combined votes, as noted, were 43.6%. However, there is a 2% threshold, so what really matters for the proportional-list seats is the “effective vote”: when below-threshold parties’ votes are removed, the two parties had 46.73%. That would earn them around 93 of the 200 list seats. This would get them to 281 seats. So, if my calculations are correct, the cap was triggered in 2009. ((I have said previously that it was not triggered at an election after 1997. Perhaps that was incorrect. The rest of this footnote is geared even more for anoraks than the main entry.

Maybe I am wrong here, rather than in my previous comments about the cap. That is, maybe the cap on over-representation is applied to individual parties, but is triggered only by comparing seat percentages with effective votes. If that is the case, the PRI, alone, did not trigger it, as it had 39.5% of the effective vote, and its total seat percentage won was then less than 8 points greater.

Maybe someone can clarify this arcane point!))

Will the cap be triggered in 2012? If so, will it affect the PRI’s chances of winning a majority? I would think it is likely to get a majority, as unless there is a great deal of ticket-splitting, the PRI should win over 42% of the vote. Winning 42% does not guarantee a majority of seats, but makes it likely. The party would have to win a sufficient number of district seats–about 167–to ensure the majority. However, even a small increase in the votes for the largest party should result in an even greater swing of seats in the PRI’s favor than the very large swing we saw in 2009 (when the PRI alone won 184). On the other hand, winning less than 42% of the vote makes a majority impossible–not counting votes and seats of alliance partners. ((The PRI is again in alliance with the Greens.))

Conclusion on Chamber of Deputies: A majority for the PRI looks likely.

As for the Senate, a majority depends on winning the votes plurality in many states, as well as a large enough share of the total nationwide votes. Given that the PRI currently governs about two thirds of the states, it obviously has the regional spread to pull this off.

Bottom line: a two-house majority for the new PRI president, Enrique Pena Nieto, looks likely, but not a sure thing.

Now, does this mean a restoration of the “old” PRI? Probably not, as the internal lines of authority in the party have changed, probably irrevocably. But that is a topic for another day…

32 thoughts on “How big will the PRI’s comeback win be?

  1. As detailed by Agreement No. CG426/2009 of Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute General Council (available in Spanish here), PRI would have been entitled to 79 PR seats in the 2009 congressional election. However, due to the fact that the party had won 184 SMD seats with 39.55% of the “national vote total” (which only includes votes cast for parties that crossed the two percent threshold), the eight percent maximum disparity clause came into play, imposing a total seat ceiling of 237 seats (47.4% of 500 seats). Therefore, PRI received only 53 list seats, or twenty-six fewer than it would have been otherwise entitled to receive.

    Note also that PR seats were distributed among individual parties, disregarding any coalition arrangements (the entire process is described step by excruciating step in the last dozen pages of the linked document).

  2. Manuel has definitely done his homework on this one! So, yes, it is abundantly clear that the cap was applied in 2009.

    The cap is really the only aspect of the system which is compensatory, and it very rarely comes into play. So here’s my reading of the whole thing.

    The 2007 reform makes it clear that proportional representation is party-based, not coalition-based. There is no such thing as a coalition vote by the time you get to distributing proportional seats. The coalesced-party votes (i.e. where the voter has voted for the same candidate more than once) have already been distributed (by dividing them between the parties). And there is no such thing as a coalition list; every party must submit it’s own PR lists. That part is all pretty clear.

    Also, the majority representation is candidate-based. You can vote for a candidate more than once, but at the end of the day (for MR purposes) you are voting for a candidate.

    The interesting issue comes at the point of working out the cap, because now you have to figure out which party each elected MR candidate actually represents. If the candidate was on the ballot more than once (i.e. is a “coalition candidate”), then the ballot doesn’t help you since the candidate is listed with every applicable party affiliation.

    The answer is that the coalitions are required to tell IFE which MR candidates belong to which party. In the case of PRI/PVEM, that was spelled out district-by-district in the coalition agreement, which is publicly available on IFE’s site. But the PRD-PT-MC agreement only indicates that the candidates will be selected through a precampaign (presumably some sort of primary) and that IFE will be informed afterwards. Presumably it was, but I haven’t been able to find any indication of the results. Fortunately, it didn’t make any difference in 2009 and it probably won’t make any difference today either, because PRD is unlikely to hit the cap.

  3. Another super-anoraky note: Step 35 (on page 75 of the Electoral Gazette linked to by Manuel in comment 1) says that when there is a super-represented party, the assignment of seats proceeds in two steps: first, assign the capped seats of the super-represented party, and then assign everything else.

    But that’s flawed, at least in theory, because the decision about which part(ies) were super-represented was made before the capping was applied. After capping, there are more seats to distribute, and it’s possible, though unlikely, that actually distributing these seats will cause some other party to hit its cap. Since no new capping computation is made, at this point it would theoretically be possible to end up with a super-represented party.

  4. rici @3, I assume Mexico uses (the normal Latin American) PR-List formula of Hare quota and largest remainders?

    It would seem more convenient to use highest averages (whether D’Hondt or Lague) and then stop allocating to any party that hits its ceiling, which would be the lower of (a) 300 seats out of 500 total, or (b) [that party’s proportional allocation] plus 40 seats.

  5. Tom, no argument from me. Mexico does use Hare, although its complicated by a regional distribution of seats (the 300 districts are divided into five “circumscriptions”). I would certainly have suggested D’Hondt, for what its worth. (Although that’s a tiny detail on top of the not-really-proportional system they divised.)

    For what it’s worth, I don’t know that it’s fair to say that Hare is the normal Latin American system. As far as I know, all the countries around here (here being Peru) use d’Hondt. I was going to say “except Chile”, but I looked it up: all districts have magnitude 2, and the law says that if the winning list has more than twice the votes of the next list, it gets both seats; otherwise they go one each to the top two lists. That’s precisely d’Hondt.

    In Mexico, Hare is used for PR of deputies and senators, but the “majoritarian” senators are elected in districts of magnitude 3, where the top party/coalition gets two, and the second one gets one, regardless of the vote spread.

  6. Pena Nieto apparently has won with less than 40%. That makes a Deputies majority for the PRI very unlikely. (Good.)

    • The PRI did surprisingly poorly in both houses, and the presidential race appears to be much closer than expected ( though no question of who won). More later.

  7. Hare (simple) quota is now common only in Central America. Colombia switched to D’Hondt in 2003, and most of the rest of South America has used it for some time. But I’m not sure about Ecuador.

  8. I stand corrected over Hare. I was basing that on an informative article published in the New Statesman around… err… 1990, which said that most PR systems around the world use D’Hondt highest averages, as it’s more favourable to larger parties, with Hare and largest remainders being confined (at the time) to Latin America. I remember wondering idly if presidentialism + PR might be a factor – whether a strong, separately-elected chief executive might prefer to gamble on getting more small-party legislators into the Congress? (Which brings us back to Israel…)

  9. … which would mean that, ironically, the largest-scale use of Hare + largest remainders in the world today would be… US presidential primaries…?

    • Ed, most of the gory details are in Juan Molinar’s chapter in M. Shugart and W. Wattenberg, Mixed-Member Electoral Systems (Oxford, 2001). The short answer: bargaining in 1996 between the opposition (PRD and PAN) and the PRI, with the former wanting MMP and the latter happy with MMM and never expecting that the cap would hit them. (At the time, the status quo was what Shugart and Wattenberg call “majority assuring”–big bonuses to the plurality, vaguely like the current Greek system.) The cap has hit the PRI now at least three times; this election probably makes four.

  10. Various Spanish-language media are reporting that Lopez Obrador is (again) refusing to admit defeat, despite having more or less promised to respect the results the other day.


  11. I’ve been going over the archive of IFE’s General Council agreements, and I can confirm that PRI’s lower house seat totals were capped in both 1997 and 2003, under the terms of the eight percent maximum disparity clause.

    In the 1997 mid-term election the calculations were relatively straightforward: PRI was entitled to 80 list seats, but having won 165 SMD seats with 38% of the vote (just under 40% of the “effective vote”), its seat total in Congress was capped at 239, which meant its PR seat allowance had to be reduced to 74.

    On the other hand, the corresponding calculations for 2003 are considerably more complicated, mainly because PRI and PVEM ran in a partial coalition agreement in 97 of 300 districts. Now, under the terms of the coalition agreeement, if PVEM won more than five percent of the vote in the 203 districts where it ran alone, the votes won by the joint PRI-PVEM ticket in the remaining 97 districts would be distributed in a way such that PVEM’s nationwide share of the vote would be identical to the party’s percentage in the 203 districts where the party ran candidates in competition with PRI.

    As it was, this turned out to be the case: PVEM won 6.15% of the vote in the districts where no coalition with PRI was in place, so the votes polled by the PRI-PVEM coalition were distributed to increase PVEM’s nationwide total to the same figure, with PRI getting the rest.

    However, while PRI was entitled to 74 list seats with a calculated 36.9% share of the “effective vote”,
    it had won 160 SMD seats (118 on its own, and 42 in coalition with PVEM, the latter party obtaining the remaining three seats won by the joint ticket), and the eight percent maximum disparity clause capped PRI’s seat total to 224, which meant the party would have ended up with 64 PR mandates.

    Moreover, the 2003 election outcome was further complicated by the subsequent invalidation of two district races won by PAN (which also lost both in repeat elections held in 2003).

  12. Thanks for wading through all that detail, Manuel!

    It is my understanding (now, after consulting with a Mexican contact) that the cap was also hit in 2009.

    That would make 2012 the first concurrent election where the cap has affected the results. It would also mean that the PRI has had its seats reduced in four of the six elections since the rule was adopted.

    Note that the cap still allows for a quite disproportional result, just less than would be the case without it.

  13. Incidentally the election/inauguration gap in the Mexican United States seems to be even longer than the United States of America.

  14. I recommend reading Sanford Leveson’s op-ed in the New York on the U.S. constitution, and the reader comments as well. The Slate series also seems to be interesting. But going through everything seems to take a major time investment. But then its Sunday and I have a bad knee and no plans to go anywhere.

    Leveson does raise an interesting question, if you could change one thing, and only one thing, about the U.S. constitution, what would you change? If you think the entire document needs to be overhauled, as he does, what would bring the most bang for the buck. Leveson picks the amending process itself for obvious reasons. I disagree, but this is way too much non-Mexico related content at this point.

    • May I gently suggest that this is a thread about Mexico (as Ed acknowledges in the preceding comment), not its big neighbor to the north?

  15. Well, back to Mexico the Federal Electoral Institute concluded today the district tallies of last week’s presidential race, and to no one’s suprise (except perhaps AMLO and his diehard followers) the figures are largely in line with the preliminary totals from election night.

    I have now updated my website’s Mexico page with 2012 nationwide and state-level presidential election results (plus a state-level electoral map), as reported by IFE’s 2012 district tallies website.

    Although the aforementioned district tallies site also reports the Union Congress and Senate results are 100% complete, the corresponding figures have continued to change throughout the day, so I’m waiting for those figures to settle down before including them on my site.

    Finally, I chanced upon an official listing detailing the affiliation of Progressive Movement candidates among its three constituent parties (PRD, PT, and MC) – more on that later.

  16. Now that IFE has concluded the district tallies for last week’s general election, the Mexican press is reporting about a disconcerting finding: the states and districts in which PRI and PVEM were running separately – twenty-two out of thirty-two states for the Senate and 101 of 300 districts for the Chamber of Deputies – are reporting significantly higher percentages of invalid ballots in the legislative races than the districts in which the two parties ran a joint ticket.

    I have confirmed that while this is indeed the case, the anomaly doesn’t extend to the presidential race, where PRI and PVEM ran together on a nationwide basis.

    Specifically, in the ten states in which there was a PRI-PVEM joint Senate ticket, the overall percentage of invalid Senate votes stood at 3.7%, but in the remaining states the figure shot up to 7.9%. However, on the presidential ballot the invalid ballot percentages were almost identical in states with and without PRI-PVEM Senate coalitions – 2.4% in the former, 2.5% in the latter.

    The figures are almost identical for Chamber races. The 199 districts with a PRI-PVEM joint candidate had an average invalid ballot share of 3.6% (2.4% in the vote for President), but in the remaining 101 districts the invalid poll soared to 7.8% (as opposed to just 2.7% in the presidential race).

    Moreover, the invalid vote percentage differences are quite sizable in states where PRI and PVEM fielded joint candidates for only one house of Congress. For example, in Baja California, where PRI and PVEM ran together in all eight Chamber districts but put up separate Senate slates, the invalid vote percentages were 1.8% in the presidential race, 2.5% in the Chamber vote, but 8.3% in the Senate poll.

    The sharp rise in the number of invalid ballots in states and districts without a PRI-PVEM coalition was apparently caused by voter confusion: in states and districts where PRI and PVEM fielded separate candidates, voters could choose only one of the two parties, but not both – as many voters apparently did, which of course invalidated their ballots.

    In fact, in the ten states where PRI and PVEM had joint Chamber tickets but separate Senate candidates – where voters could choose either or both parties on the Chamber vote but only one of them on the Senate ballot – the increase in the number of invalid ballots between Senate and Chamber races is almost exactly matched by the decrease in the total number of votes polled by PRI and PVEM.

    Finally, I checked the results for the 2009 mid-term elections, but the invalid vote percentage differences between districts with and without a PRI-PVEM coalition were far smaller, partly because the 2009 PRI-PVEM arrangement was far more limited (covering only 63 of 300 Chamber districts), and partly due to the fact that it was a Chamber-only vote. However, this year’s lack of PRI-PVEM coalition uniformity across different levels (Presidency, Senate, Chamber of Deputies) appears to have played a very significant role in the problem at hand.

  17. Thanks, Manuel. That is very interesting, and another troubling example of how ballots can be overly complicated. Probably, if two or more parties run joint candidates, they should be required to have a common ballot position (as was the case before 2009, if I am not mistaken).

  18. That’s really interesting. Apparently, there was also some cross-over effect with the other simultaneous elections (local/state elections). I found this article about a complaint from the (narrowly elected) municipal president of Nezahualcóyotl (State of Mexico) alleging that his victory should have been much greater; in his municipality, PRD, PT and MC ran separately so the ballot more closely resembled a federal election ballot. (I don’t think any of the states went along with the 2009 change, so the state ballots will have coalitions instead of individual coalition members.)

    I checked the IEEM prep results, and there seems to be a tendency for the “voto nulo” percentage to be higher in municipalities with no PRD-PT-MC coalition. But it’s not as marked.

    However, of all the ironies of the election, I have to say that my favorite is PRD-PT-MC coalition candidate (and former PRI cabinet minister, governor, and senator)Manuel Bartlett Diaz complaining about fraud in Puebla, after coming third in the senate race.

    Bartlett will certainly return to the Senate this year, because he is also the first name on PT’s national Senate list (yes, that’s apparently legal), but what’s most striking about the complaint is that this is the same Manuel Bartlett Diaz who was Secretary of the Interior in the PRI government of Manuel de la Madrid (1982-1988). As such, he was responsible for the 1988 vote tallying procedure, and we all remember where that ended up.

    Note: In this article from La Jornada (of all places), Bartlett is quoted as saying that he never said “the system crashed” (“se cayo’ el sistema”) The actual phrase, he claims, was that the system “se callo'” (became silent; i.e. no news was getting out.) It’s true that in Mexican Spanish, the two phrases have the same pronunciation, but still…

  19. So the PRI/PVEM alliance has an absolute majority in Congress, 51.6% of the seats, on 43.6% of the vote. Do many Mexican voters not find this strange? It doesn’t look like an election in Spain or most Latin American countries. Why is the PRD protesting irregularities in the count rather than the undemocratic voting system?

  20. Wilf, where are those numbers from? As far as I know, the PRI-PVEM will be short of a majority of seats, and combined for around 38% of the vote (or just barely over 40% of the “effective vote”).

  21. At this juncture, the PRI-PVEM coalition will indeed be short of a majority in both houses of the Union Congress: the allocation of seats according to the district tally results – which are subject to review by Mexico’s Electoral Tribunal – has PRI and PVEM four seats short of a Senate majority, and eleven mandates below the Chamber of Deputies’ absolute majority, as detailed on my website’s Mexico page, which now includes 2012 legislative election results.

    Incidentally, the distribution of Progressive Movement (PRD-PT-MC) Senate and Chamber of Deputies relative majority seat nominations among its constituent parties is available on IFE’s General Council Agreements No. CG192/2012 and CG193/2012, dated March 29, 2012. I derived the seat totals from the district tally results and the aforementioned agreements, but the figures were subsequently confirmed by a news article posted online by Mexican broadcaster Televisa, available in Spanish here.

    I should also note the eight percent maximum disparity clause capped PRI’s Chamber of Deputies seat total to 207 (157 FPTP mandates and fifty list seats); otherwise, the party would have been entitled to sixty-seven PR seats, for a total of 224, which would have given the PRI-PVEM coalition an overall Chamber majority.

  22. I went over the Mexican Senate election results for Puebla, and while it is true that the number of invalid ballots is almost five times larger than the difference between the tickets in second and third place, the fact remains that the share of invalid ballots – just over four percent for both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies – is only marginally larger than the three percent registered back in 2006. Perhaps more importantly, this year’s invalid poll figure lies significantly below the seven percent reached in the state for the Chamber of Deputies-only vote back in 2009, when there was a nationwide campaign urging voters to spoil their ballots. From that perspective, I’d say things don’t look too promising for Mr. Bartlett.

    By the way, PRI and PVEM ran together in Puebla at all three levels, except in Chamber of Deputies District No. 16 – which not surprisingly had a very high eleven percent share of invalid Chamber votes; the corresponding figures for the state’s remaining fifteen districts fluctuated between three and five percent.

  23. Manuel: As I mentioned, Sr. Bartlett Diaz is not the victim here, since he’s got a national list seat awaiting him. I just found it ironic that he, in particular, was crying “fraud”. (Perhaps he thinks he is entitled to claim a certain expertise on the subject.)

    In Mexico “voto nulo” can be a blank ballot as well as an incorrectly marked one. Of course, blank ballots are another form of invalid ballot but in many countries the two cases are distinguished. So it could be that a lot of poblanos are just unhappy about the senatorial choices on offer, rather than being unusually bad at marking their ballots.

  24. Rici, I remember well Sr. Bartlett from his PRI days two decades ago, when he came across very much as a party hard-liner.

    I also get the impression that even though he heads the PT Senate PR list – which means he will fill one of the two list seats won by the party, he’d much rather be in the Senate representing Puebla; considering he already has a safe seat in the bag, I find his complaining rather curious. And I concur it’s extremely ironic that Sr. Bartlett of all people is complaining about fraud, considering his sad role in the 1988 election.

    Incidentally, IFE’s General Council Agreement No. CG192/2012 lists Sr. Bartlett as a PT candidate both in Puebla and on the party’s PR list.

  25. Are there any limitations in the law to stop parties from splitting to allow a double count on the 8% cap?

  26. Nick, no there aren’t, and I did wonder for a bit if that was PRI’s strategy with the Green Party (maybe not getting two caps, but at least avoiding one). But in practice, it would be really difficult to do, and they didn’t manage to even avoid a single cap.

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