Austria, 2017

Anyone care to comment on today’s general election in Austria? I really do not know enough about the country’s current politics to have anything of substance to say.

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30 thoughts on “Austria, 2017

  1. Charles Richardson (an “Economist”-style deregulationist liberal who blogs at The World Is Not Enough) has these comments:

    Before – https://blogs.crikey.com.au/worldisnotenough/2017/10/13/election-preview-austria-2/

    After – https://blogs.crikey.com.au/worldisnotenough/2017/10/16/another-bad-night-centre-left/

    Speaking of Australian commentators, the ABC has decided to totally mung up Antony Green’s otherwise excellent blog http://www.abc.net.au/news/elections/blog/. I have no idea why they decided to throw out this excellent resource of national – indeed, international – value, unless the 500th “dear anthony, plz can you Explain who the senate quota works, thanks, robbofromwagga” comment pushed either him or the national broadcaster over the edge at last.

  2. Well, the main elements of the result are unsurprising and have been predicted by the polls since the start of the campaign. However, it is notable/surprising that the Greens fell below the threshold and lost all their seats (less than a year after their former leader was elected president), while the Socialists have lost a mere 0.1% after more than a decade of grand coalition. It seems almost certain many previously Green voters voted Socialist instead for some reason (as well as voting for Pilz, a list of independents formed recently by a split from the Greens).

  3. blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/10/16/austrias-election-four-things-to-know-about-the-result/
    A blog post on LSE I co-authored. A more brief version can be found on the Monkey Cage blog

    • ““All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped” – a demand more radical than the “Muslim Ban” of the Trump administration.” How? Sure, Trump did not actually attempt applying the travel ban to all Muslim countries, but I don’t see how prohibition of mere *entry* is less extreme than a prohibition of migration, that is to say coming to a country to live there.

      • I think he means in its geographic extent – the Trump ban extends to certain Muslim countries – generally those with an antagonistic relationships with the US and/or were in the mist of civil war. The answer suggest that the respondents would like a migration ban to extend to *all* ‘mainly’ Muslim countries.

      • I acknowledged that exception in my comment. But let’s compare like with like: Trumps campaign promise was to prohibit *any Muslims* from *entering* the US. There is no way for that to be less extreme than a promise to prohibit people from Muslim countries from *settling* in the country.

  4. What about the Greens missing that threshold must be painful, but that specials could make them surmount it. Social Democrat didn’t suffer a collapse, but red Vienna must have save them. Is the Austrian electoral system typical of most European countries using PR, what is the district magnitude from lowest to high?

    • Austria uses a three-tiered system of party-list proportional representation, so there are 43 districts at the first tier (average DM about 4.25) and nine districts (each one being equivalent to a federal state). However, these seats are only allocated to parties that receive a full Hare quota (one seat per quota) in each district, so many seats don’t end up being allocated at these lower tiers.

      In any case, the third tier involves adding up the vote shares of all parties that secure 4% nationwide and allocating all National Council seats, then subtracting seats won at the lower tier from each party’s total. So, barring the unlikely event that a party wins more seats in the lower tier than the upper tier entitles them to, the effective district magnitude is 183 (though, as Matthew will tell you and as he demonstrates so well in ‘Votes from Seats’, the tiers do have a different impact on party systems and voting patterns, relative to a pure national list).

      • Austria is one of those cases where the standard journalese really does apply: “complex system of proportional representation”.

        If we add in the intra-party dimension, it applies even more.

      • My favorite factoid about Austria’s “complex” electoral system is that there exists a local district with M=1: East Tyrol. That means a party has to win 100% of the votes in the district to win that seat outright… But since East Tyrol comprises the entirety of an exclave of Tyrol completely detached from the rest of the state this anomaly is probably not going to be fixed.

      • East Tyrol suggests that, if one is going to use “the quota” as the threshold for winning seats, it is better to use Droop or even Imperiali than Hare.
        Using Imperiali as the threshold means 33.3% for one seat, which fits elegantly with the quorum (for many referenda [eg, Ireland] and legislative bodies [eg, the Australian House and Senate, ALP leadership spills]) of one-third of all eligible voting members. If course, with any quota lower than Droop it would need to be additionally specified that a plurality of votes is also needed.

      • Tom, I am fairly certain the Australian houses of parliament currently have different quora from the one-third specified in the constitution ‘until Parliament otherwise provides’, though I may be wrong. One-third is certainly a nice quorum, though. I didn’t know Ireland had a referendum turnout threshold. I certainly hope they don’t. For those worried about referendum turnout, an approval threshold as in Denmark (40% of eligible voters) is far better.

      • JD

        The House of Representatives (Quorum) Act 1989 reduced the house quorum to 1/5. The Senate (Quorum) Act 1991 reduced the quorum to 1/4.

        While I agree with you that substates should be able to secede (and leaving aside the other issues with the alleged Catalan referendum) the Danish referendum quorum would enable secession by a quite small minority of the electorate.

        Referendum quorums are a wicked problem. The Venice commission argues against any turnout requirement because it makes abstention the same as voting no when that may not be the intention of abstaining voters. That position has its own problems because it means a party arguing for a referendum boycott is effectively asking its electors to vote yes.

      • Alan, I said absolutely nothing about secession. I was merely comparing having a turnout quorum vs. an approval quorum in referenda in general. If you asked me about secession referenda specifically I might indeed agree that requiring an absolute majority of all eligible voters is appropriate, though 40% is clearly better than no threshold. Boycotts are problematic in general, especially when their aim is to delegitimise any kind of vote, especially where there isn’t actually a legal threshold under which the result would legally be nullified.

      • JD is right. Parliament has indeed “otherwise provided” and replaced the one-third default quorum set by Aust Const ss 22 and 39 with one-sixth (30 out of 150) for the House https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/~/link.aspx?_id=6690F0DE4F6F45E0A7471C5A907C612D&_z=z#chapter-01_part-02_22 and one-quarter (19 out of 76) for the Senate: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/About_the_Senate
        Ireland’s one-third turnout and voting quorum only applies to a referendum called to block a Bill pushed by the Dáil (Article 47.2.1): http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/cons/en/html It does not apply to constitutional amendments sponsored by the Dáil.
        One-third seems to neatly fit de Gaulle’s acerbic comment on the low-turnout and narrow-plurality referendum that approved the Constitution of the Fourth French Republic: that one-third liked it, one-third hated it, and one-third just didn’t care.

      • Ireland’s one-third turnout and voting quorum only applies to a referendum called to block a Bill pushed by the Dáil (Article 47.2.1): http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/cons/en/html It does not apply to constitutional amendments sponsored by the Dáil.
        One-third seems to neatly fit de Gaulle’s acerbic comment on the low-turnout and narrow-plurality referendum that approved the Constitution of the Fourth French Republic: that one-third liked it, one-third hated it, and one-third just didn’t care.

  5. Is complexity a good thing for an electoral system? Is MMP easier to understand than an open List system especially Austria’s complex three tier open party list PR system or Switzerland’s Free List System with panachage?

  6. Should the goal of an electoral system be “easy to understand” or to “accurately reflect the will of the people”?

    The simplest, easiest to understand form of election is FPTP. But the failings of that system in accurately representing the people are well-established.

    I, for one, think Austria’s multi-tier system of guaranteeing both local representation and national proportionality is something that should be more widespread, not less.

    • JD has written on this point before , and as usual I found myself agreeing that it’s not the *technical* complexity of the system that matters, but whether the voting process and results are transparent and easy to understand. In Austria, while voters may not know exactly which quota is used or what the district magnitude is, it’s fairly easy to understand that there is a). nationwide PR, so parties get about their share of votes in seats and b). some local representation, so certain MPs represent your area. I think the same applies to the Scandanavian compensatory systems.

      Complexity becomes more of a problem if it’s hard to vote (Australian Senate 1949-1984) or the results the system produces are perplexing (Australian Senate 1984-2013). This is my issue with Condorcet systems-you can argue all you like about their technical excellence, but if Vince with 8% is able to beat Jeremy with 40% and Theresa with 42% because Jeremy and Theresa’s voters both gave their second preference to Vince, that result is not easy to understand for voters in any country where first preferences carry great weight in allocating seats (so virtually every country).

      • Plus Condorcetistas start off by arguing “It’s utterly unacceptable that AV can elect Albert even though Zeta beats Albert pairwise 52-48%!” and then, faced with the problem of circular ties, fall back upon “highest minimum pairwise benchmark” which can mean, in turn, that… Condorcet, too, can elect Albert even though Zeta beats Albert pairwise 52-48%. A Smith filter can reduce this risk but not eliminate it completely.
        But otherwise, what Henry said.
        The example of the US Electoral College, the US party convention delegate selection processes, and the hereditary element of the UK House of Lords shows even hairy-chested stalwarts of “Democracy demands a simple system that always selects the candidate with the most popular votes!” can coexist in practice with arcane, even byzantine rules for selecting legislators and/or chief executives as long as such rules advantage their own side of politics.
        There’s complexity of process for the designers/ administrators, versus complexity of usage and result for the users. Windows 10 is a hell of a lot more convoluted than UNIVAC was sixty years ago. But writing in WYSIWYG is much simpler than composing on punchcards. Likewise, for me the burden of marking six squares on a ballot-paper instead of one is greatly outweighed by the competing burden of checking opinion polls daily to make a judgment call whether “Polls Show Tories Cannot Win In Womblehampton-St Kinmourgharghan West! Vote Lib Dem To Keep Labour Out!” is reliable advice.

      • A minor point (but what is Fruits and Votes for if not these?), but I personally think that the Austrian system isn’t great at ensuring local representation, particularly given the increasingly fragmented party system. A cursory glance of the Interior Ministry website reveals that relatively few seats are allocated in the base districts. If voters are genuinely concerned about local representation, this would be one somewhat harder to explain complexity around the remainder-transfer family of systems-it also means that seats are shifted from the local lists (which I think are easier to move up and are displayed on the ballot) to the Lander and national ones (which are less open and require voters to write in names).

      • So the Austrians don’t “devolve” the compensatory regional and national seats back to constituency-level lists, the way the Swedish and Dutch (and, in a sense, the German) (and maybe still the Greek?) systems do? more like South Africa where there is (or at any rate, in 1996 was) one list within each Province and then a separate nationwide list for the top-up seats?
        If I were pushed to advocate a list system, I would go for the first option over the second. Firstly, Henry’s point about greater visibility of local lists. Secondly, to reward districts with higher turnout. (Subject to some guaranteed minimum – say, 85% of seats pre-allocated to districts based on population or eligible voters, 15% floating top-up seats allocated by actual votes – so that, eg, the Sunnis don’t end up permanently screwed for the next four years if they boycott the poll, and also to cap any advantage from voter suppression).

      • Tom, in the Netherlands there is de facto no local representation whatsoever. Parties have been presenting identical or virtually identical lists in the different “districts” for at least two decades now.

      • Thanks JD for that update. My source was, I think, a book published in 1955 (!) which boasted of the flexibility of the system – a small party looking to win only three or four seats nationwide could run the same list in every province, so all its voters have the party leader as one of “their” local MPs, whereas the larger parties expecting to win 30 or 40 seats could run different lists. Interesting that the trend has been to run nationally-uniform – especially given the spreading contemporaneous population of MMP and parallel-system PR to many countries (Venezuela, NZ, Scotland, Japan) – a trend that arguably embodies the opposite goal, ie, make nation wide party lists more regionally and/or locally specific.

  7. My rule on when a system is too complex is simple: If I can’t model how its features should affect outcomes, it is too complex.

    More seriously (not that I was not being serious), I agree that complexity, per se, is not a problem. However, the complexity should have a clear purpose, such as to enhance one desirable feature without giving up too much of some other, where a simpler system would involve too stark a tradeoff. I believe MMP and STV, among others, both introduce complexity that is justified by the goals of those who adopt or advocate such systems.

    The Austrian system, by my assessment, fails to have justifiable complexity. One reason is the one JD gave above: While it is a three-tier system, it does not provide effective local representation. The point of two tiers, let alone three, is obscure to me if the result is not a good balance of both nationwide proportionality and local representation.

    Moreover, and returning to my “simple rule on too much complexity”, the Austrian system is difficult to model on the inter-party dimension. Taking its features as best I can understand them, and using the models of Votes from Seats, it “should have” an unrealistically high effective number of parties. Not only higher than it actually has ever had, but higher than I suspect is the correct “expectation”. But is is so complex that it is hard to know what we (analysts) should expect of it.

      • List PR with three tiers? I’m not sure how the personal (“preference”) votes work exactly, but I think it’s flexible list, meaning the party’s list order is overriden only if a candidate meets a certain threshold of votes.

      • Yes, it is a compensatory multi-tier PR system with flexible lists. Classifying it is easy. Understanding how its complexity translates into an “expected” number of parties, or other outputs, is the hard part.

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