Argentina post-election report, 2013; plus staggered elections elsewhere (e.g. North Dakota)

***  The following is a guest post by:

Natalia Del Cogliano @NatyDelCo

Mariana Prats @MarianaPrats

Political Scientists. Natalia Del Cogliano is PhD candidate in Political Science at the National University of San Martín (UNSAM). Mariana Prats is PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA)/Sorbona Paris I. Teaching assistants, researchers and CONICET scholars. Both have worked in governmental positions and different international and national academic institutions.


Argentine Midterm Elections: Signals to the Government and Gestures for the Future.

Since the primaries on August 11, the legislative campaign was rocked by an unexpected development: just 19 days before the general election, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had to undergo surgery. Accordingly, Argentina held legislative elections on Sunday, October 27, with the most relevant political player prevented from governing and from taking an active part in the campaign.

Despite this and some other developments, the day before the election, the political landscape hadn’t changed much since August. As in 2011, the results were a foregone conclusion; the uncertainty that had characterized the primaries was now a missing factor. Polls witnessed only small changes and, as a consequence, many citizens conceived the act of casting their ballots (which is compulsory) a mere formality.

We weren’t expecting important electoral shifts. But politics is always exciting, even more when the political consequences of the election hinge on minor shifts in the vote and when the presidential succession of 2015 begins to take shape (either by the emergence of potential future candidacies or by a shift in the congressional composition).

Last Sunday, half of the Chamber of Deputies (127 seats) and a third of the Senate (24 seats) were up for election. According to polls released just nine days before the election, in the most relevant districts the electoral margins between the two main lists of candidates were expected to be wider than in the primaries. The polls predicted that the ruling party would suffer losses. The one area of uncertainty was the size of the margin of victory between the winner and the runner-up, which would send important political signals about the pulse of the electorate.

Aside from some tights races, the results confirmed the electoral forecast provided by the Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primaries (already identified as a “national general poll”). In general terms, the results showed that there was a considerable percentage of the electorate unhappy with the national government; such citizens opted for candidates of the opposition, and for parties governing the provinces. These parties are mainly concentrated in the biggest districts (the ruling Frente para la Victoria –FpV- was defeated in the five most densely populated districts).

In Buenos Aires (the most relevant district both in political and electoral terms) the FpV suffered a major setback. A Peronist and former Kirchnerist, Sergio Massa (party Frente Renovador, 43.92%) beat Martín Insaurralde (FpV, 32.18%) by almost 12 percentage points, more than the polls had predicted. These results confirmed that the FpV is having difficulty handling and keeping the provincial peronist aparato on its side. Having this key district in electoral terms (also a traditional source of presidential candidacies) undoubtedly is a good starting point for Massa’s presidential projection as the leader of the peronist opposition.

The results in the city of Buenos Aires were also disappointing for the President’s party. There, where the right–wing party PRO has ruled since 2007, the opposition (PRO and UNEN[1] –a center/center left alliance-) won 10 of the 13 seats at stake for the Chamber of Deputies. The FpV kept the remaining 3. Since this was not a surprising result, the real news was for the Senate. There, the FpV was fighting hand-to-hand with UNEN for the third Senator (according to the limited vote electoral system, two Senators belong to the party that gets the majority of the vote and the one left goes to the runner-up), but lost it by 4.5 percentage points.

Finally, in Santa Fe, a province worth mentioning for its importance regarding the 2015’ scenario, the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) won an indisputable victory by more than 15 percentage points over the runner-up (Union PRO). This consolidates the provincial leadership of the socialist Hermes Binner, who was a relevant presidential candidate in 2011 and may still be a key figure in 2015.

At the same time, electoral figures revealed that the ruling party (FpV) still retains the majority of the national electorate, even after 10 years in power The FpV received 33,15% of the national vote, winning in 13 of the 24 districts, and coming in second in seven other districts. Consequently, although its support is considerably less than the 54% it received in the presidential election of 2011, it still retains the absolute majority in both chambers: 132 out of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 36 out of 72 in the Senate.

Another import dimension of the election was the surprising success of the political left. The Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores (FIT) received more than 5% of the national vote, thus obtaining three national deputies. With this result, the left returns to Congress after an eight-year hiatus.

Aside from Massa and Macri (the chief of government of the City of Buenos Aires), who were both victorious in their respective districts and have since expressed their intention to run for the presidency in 2015, it is still hard to predict who will be the FpV’s presidential candidate. The overwhelming electoral victories of the FpV in the provinces of Chaco and Entre Ríos render their governors viable contenders for the presidency in 2015. Likewise, the governor of Buenos Aires, who ran the campaign in the province, appears as another possible option, despite the negative electoral results in the district.

Notwithstanding all this, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner still has two years left in her term and maintains a governing majority in congress. It remains to be seen whether the president will listen to the polls and act accordingly. We do not know what the strategy will be after the electoral defeat – whether her party will make some changes or simply implement “the model” with renewed vigor. If Cristina listens, she may be able to recapture some lost votes and even broaden the base of support of the FpV (as she did in 2009 after another major electoral defeat). This will also depend however on the candidate she nominates as her successor.

A highly relevant event that politically defined the aftermath of the election was the Supreme Court’s declaration of the constitutionality of the media law that Congress passed in 2009 and that has been the subject of a long-running legal battle. This can be read as a triumph of the national government just two days after an electoral setback in many relevant districts. Needless to say, such an important development has already taken the focus out of the electoral results, thus overshadowing (at least for a while) both the recent victories and the defeats.  This however, is the subject of another post.

[1] The Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) and Proyecto Sur are all part of this alliance. They made up three lists of pre-candidates that competed in the primaries in the City.

33 thoughts on “Argentina post-election report, 2013; plus staggered elections elsewhere (e.g. North Dakota)

  1. Are there many countries who, like Argentina, elect their LOWER house by halves? Many UPPER houses have staggered elections (exhibit A: US Senate), and some lower houses had it in the past (in Belgium until WWI and in Luxembourg until the 1950s), but which have it still?

  2. Comment 2. Bancki: MSS has said that as far as he knows, this is the only lower house currently elected in parts, and I can say the same thing. As you say, in the past this was more common (I’ll add the Netherlands to your list – maybe it was a Benelux thing).

  3. As far as I know, Argentina is the last such case. I can’t even name a case of first-chamber staggered elections in a US (or other) state, though there might be some.

    (I drafted this before I read JD’s comment #2, where he said what I said that I know!)

  4. I wonder if changing to full renewal of the Chamber is even a matter of debate in Argentina. They did draft an entirely constitution in the 1990s, yet kept this feature, so probably not.

    Further Argentina terms-of-office trivia: under the previous constitution, presidents were elected for six years, the Chamber as it is now, four years with half every two years. So every president would have two “midterm” elections during his or her term. I don’t think there have ever been any other such cases.

  5. As MSS sais, we amended our constitution in 1994. By then the presidential term was reduced to 4 years, and the Chamber was kept the way it was. An interesting question is whether changing to full renewal is even a matter of debate nowadays. Well…it is not (at least as far as I’m concerned). What’s more, I don’t think it was even a matter of debate during the constitutional reform of 1994.
    In fact, the renewal by halves is a pretty common feature at the subnational level. The majority of the provincial Chambers of Deputies follow the same pattern as the national. The exceptions are the following provinces: Chubut (full renewal every four years), Entre Ríos (idem), La Pampa (idem), Neuquén (idem) Río Negro (idem), San Juan (idem), Santa Cruz (idem), Santa Fe (idem), Santiago del Estero (idem) and Tierra del Fuego (idem). This is, 10 out of 24 districts have a full renewal rule.

    • Thank you, Natalia. I realize I should have said I could not think of a state/province outside of Argentina that had staggered elections. Partial renewal clearly is an Argentine thing, however!

  6. “I can’t even name a case of first-chamber staggered elections in a US (or other) state”

    Does North Dakota qualify?

  7. North Dakota Constitution
    Section 3. The legislative assembly shall establish by law a procedure whereby one-half of the members of the senate and one-half of the members of the house of representatives, as nearly as is practicable, are elected biennially.

    Section 4. Senators and representatives must be elected for terms of four years.

    I did not realise there was such a strong Peronist influence in North Dakota.

  8. Well, according to Wikipedia, it does. Apparently it elects (about) half the House at each election, with each district electing two representatives, one each two years, while the Senate uses the other rotation system where half of the districts each elect one senator each two years.

  9. Interesting. It is a low-population state, but still, I am surprised I did not know that. Here is a good example of why I am really happy I’ve been able to keep the blog!

  10. When you publish Shugart on North Dakota could you digress a little and discuss why in Alaska the senate impeaches, by a 2/3 vote, and the house tries impeachments?

  11. Acoording to Wikipedia (which page?) … but it seems to have changed : not one of the two seats in every district, but both House seats of half the districts : even numbered districts in 2012, uneven in 2014. (Act session 2011 chapter 582)

  12. I understand there is some dispute over whether Nebraska abolished its lower or its upper house in 1934 (the members of the chamber that survived,style themselves “Senators”, and they do not of course support the executive Westminster-style) but either way, only 24 or 25 of its 49 seats are filled at any one election.

  13. It looks like North Dakota already used the two-member elections, staggering the districts, in 2010.

    Not surprisingly, most of the time, the two elected are from the same party (2012, too), but there are a few districts that return split delegations. Also a few cases where one party has only one candidate.

    (I never imagined a thread on Argentina would turn into one on North Dakota!)

  14. It’s not too late to re[-]name this thread “Polities With Separately Elected Chief Executives With German Surnames.”
    (Of the surnames of Governors of South Dakota, let us not speak here.)

  15. Indeed, JD. In fact, recently I read a really fascinating paper for a journal (under blind review) that looked at the impact of staggered elections for the House of Councillors in Japan.

  16. I’de expect to see lots of North Dakota style proposals from the Republicans in the US. The combination of staggered terms and binomial districts operates to ensure that a ruling party can lose an election yet retain a legislative majority for an additional 2 years.

    For the record I note staggered terms are very common in US municipal legislative bodies.

  17. Attentive readers might notice an extension of the title. Just going with the way things were growing…

    Yes, staggered elections are quite likely the norm in municipal elections, including all manner of special districts (for water boards, tax assessors, etc.) as well as local councils. And I would not be at all surprised if Republicans started pushing for this, and for MNTV (“block vote”), in more state legislatures and elsewhere. After all, if some of them are willing to advocate a return to appointed US Senators, selection of presidential electors by congressional districts, and to confirm to the Supreme Court someone who says it was Baker v. Carr that motivated his decision to pursue a legal career, then staggered, M=2 plurality, elections must seem fairly innocuous.

  18. “The combination of staggered terms and binomial districts operates to ensure that a ruling party can lose an election yet retain a legislative majority for an additional 2 years” please explain?

  19. Assume an assembly of 6 representatives from 3 districts. The ruling party holds all 6 seats. They lose an election, and every contested seat goes to the opposition. After such a spectacular rejection by the electorate they still hold 3 of the 6 seats. If the opposition wins only 2 of the contested seats the ruling party has a majority of 4, even though their support at the election is only a third of the popular vote. It is entrenchment, pure and simple.

  20. On the other hand, it makes midterm elections less likely to produce gridlock, and enables a partial renewal of the legislature while keeping the term of office at 4 years instead of the more common (in the US) and in my opinion excessively short 2.

  21. I always understood staggered elections not (only) as a conservative device STALLING the impact of voters changing their minds, but (also) as a means to DAMPEN electoral outcomes typical for majoritarian electoral systems such as a complete wipeout caused by a small decrease in votes (e.g. to preserve some turnover of experience when the council is elected at large).
    That’s why staggered elections were dropped after introducing PR in the Benelux.
    But then, why does Argenitia still keeps staggered elections for the lower house elected by PR? As a conservative device? Because it fits the calendar (every two years important national elections)?

  22. Surely, staggered elections with half the assembly being elected every two years ‘dampen’ the voice of public (electoral) opinion less than having the whole assembly elected every four years? Surely it makes the assembly more ‘up to date’ during its last two years?

    • A legislative chamber elected to staggered terms by definition is always less up-to-date in its reflection of voter preferences than one renewed fully at each election. Of course, JD’s comparison is, at least implicitly, to a chamber elected concurrently with an elected executive’s term. And in that case, it is partially up-to-date for the second half of the executive’s term, trading that supposed advantage off for always being half “out of date” when a new executive takes office.

      Didn’t Luxembourg keep staggered elections well into its PR era? For parliamentary systems using PR, the staggering of elections might actually be less consequential, in that minor adjustments in coalitions following elections may be the norm even with full renewal.

    • Surely, given the passion for skulduggery in US politics, it means the ruling party gets an extra 2 years to alter institutional arrangements in its favour? Surely, if the 2 years includes a census and redistricting exercise, the ruling party gets to indulge in continuismo by writing favourable boundaries?

  23. Not sure exactly what you would mean with ‘ruling party’ in a presidential system, azzawp. It certainly has advantages and disadvantages. Personally I’d prefer a simple four-year concurrent term for both governor/president and assembly, but if midterm elections are insisted on I would probably prefer making them staggered, as 2-year terms are too short, and replacing the whole assembly in the middle of the president’s term increases the likelihood of gridlock and shutdowns.

    But whatever the term and electoral arrangements, redistricting must not be in the hands of politicians – this is far more important than any of the issues mentioned above.

  24. In North Dakota the Republicans hold the governorship, all elective executive offices, and better than 2/3 majorities in both houses of the legislature. I am not at all sure it is difficult to identify the ruling party under these circumstances.

    I doubt there is any frequent contributor here who thinks that politicians should draw their own districts, but that is what happens in the state and that is why the need for the opposition to win two successive legislative elections before they an exercise legislative power is, to say the least, an invidious defect.

  25. Pingback: The future of Kirchnerism in Argentina

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