Catalonia 2017

I suppose it would not be an exaggeration to say that tomorrow’s election will be the most watched election ever for the regional parliament of Catalonia.

I certainly do not know anything about Catalonian politics, but indications are that the vote will be close between parties favoring secession and those favoring remaining in Spain (while perhaps advocating a new set of center-region arrangements).

The electoral system is quite proportional. At least according to the Wikipedia page on the 2015 election, the assembly size is 135. There are four districts, which makes for a mean district magnitude of 33.75. With a seat product of 135 * 33.75 = 4556.25, we should expect an effective number of seat-winning parties around 4.07. However, in 2015, the actual value was a good deal lower than that, at 3.60 (or 88% of expectation). This was due to a large leading party, which in that election was Together for Yes, with 62 seats (45.9%). Based on the seat product, we’d expect a largest party of around 35% of seats.

Naturally, with such a high seat product, the differences between percentages of seats and votes should not be large. Together for Yes had 41.3% of the votes (ignoring blank votes); overall deviation from proportionality is 3.78% (Gallagher index). While not especially high, that is a little more disproportional votes-to-seats translation than I would expect. There is a legal threshold of 3%, applied in each district. But with the smallest district having a magnitude of 15, this would not have much effect. Besides, the wasted vote percentage (non-blank votes for parties winning no seats) was only 1.1%.

So where does the disproportionality come from? Some of it is from the use of D’Hondt allocation, but with such a high seat product, even D’Hondt should not swing six seats to the largest party (the difference between a purely proportional result, to the nearest integer, and the actual result, for the largest party).

The small but potentially significant disproportionality of party votes and sats must be due to malapportionment. The largest district has 85 (!) seats. This is, of course, Barcelona. That makes it one of the very largest districts in use anywhere. Obviously smaller than the single districts in Israel (120), the Netherlands, and Slovakia (both 150), and formerly in the Russian Federation and Ukraine (both 450), but one of the largest in any recent time in a districted PR system. (I recall Indonesia used to have an 85-seat district; Brazil has one with 70*.) However, it is plausible that Barcelona’s 85/135 seats is under-representative of the capital district’s share of the population. The source I am using does not have vote totals, let alone populations, by district. Maybe someone reading this has that information.

It is actually pretty striking to see such disproportionality in a system in which the range of magnitudes is 15 to 85! Not that it is highly disproportional, but relative to what we might expect from such high magnitudes and seat product, it is on the distorted side. And, in a close election with a crisis over the territory’s status, the electoral system may prove decisive.


* Some Brazilian states have larger, statewide districts for their assemblies. (It may well be that no district has ever comprised a larger percentage of an assembly’s total seats, except where it is 100%.)


15 thoughts on “Catalonia 2017

  1. I gave a presentation about the Catalan party system to a Masters class in April 2015… a lot of the information in it is already woefully out of date! I have been following regional (or, to use the Spanish political term, “autonomic”) elections there since 2003 – although I admit that at the first one I didn’t totally understand what was going on. The electoral landscape has shifted dramatically in the intervening 14 years, at any rate.

    The joint ‘Together for Yes’ list from September 2015 was a one-off. This time it has split back into two constituent parts so, according to polls, there won’t be a single party that is way ahead of all the rest. The most likely largest party will be either the ERC [Republican Left of Catalonia, separatist] or Ciutadans [Party of the Citizenry, unionist and allegedly centrist]. In both cases a win for those groups would be historic.

    The malapportionment is deliberate and has far more of a distortive effect on the results than on the use of d’Hondt. It was originally designed to protect rural and less populous areas from the overwhelming influence of the Barcelona area on the region’s politics, but now it has had the unintended consequence of boosting the secessionist parties to the detriment of constitutionalists.

    Barcelona province currently has 74.8% of registered electors, but only 63% of seats in the Catalan Parliament. Tarragona has 10.2% but holds 13.3% of seats, whilst Girona/Gérona contains 9.3% of voters for 12.6% of seats and the district covering Lleida/Lérida and the Aran Valley gets 11.1% of the seats with only 5.7% of the total enrolment!

    There are sometimes estimates given beforehand in the media of what this means in raw vote terms, but that will of course depend on turnout (which is likely to be high despite various inconveniences: a working day, electoral fatigue, temperature, proximity to Christmas).

    • Why would Catalonia have a malproportion assembly? Why not have an 2nd chamber to represent rural interests? Does any Spanish autonomous region have a second chamber?

      • No, and I don’t think such an arrangement was ever seriously considered. The only subnational legislatures that spring to mind in Europe with a bicameral set-up are the Isle of Man and (until 1999) Bavaria.

        Had the authorities in Madrid suspected 40 years ago that such a malapportionment would one day favour separatists, then I think they would’ve refused to allow the over-representation of the districts outside Barcelona.

        Ciutadans have managed to win the most seats in spite of this system, but once again the pro-independence parties look to have won a majority in Parliament with less than half of the popular vote.

  2. As I detailed just over two years ago in both a posting over at my blog and the comments section of the Catalonia election, 2015 posting on this blog (specifically the comment I posted on September 29, 2015), both malapportionment and the use of the D’Hondt rule have played a role in the disproportionate allocation of seats in elections to the Catalan Parliament.

    • I’m surprised that Mariano Rajoy didn’t changed the electoral system to make it more proportionate and eliminate the rural over representation. Interesting that the largest party is unable to form government.

      • The largest party presumably can form a government. But it won’t represent the choice of the largest voting bloc (given there are multiple parties in each bloc).

        (This comment of mine was mistaken given that the single largest party is in the pro-union bloc which has fewer seats overall, but rather than delete and pretend I never said it, I will just strike it through.)

      • I assume the central government does not have the authority to ram through a new electoral law for Catalonia. I believe it is a Spanish, rather than regional, law. But it would (I assume) require regular legislative process, taking much longer than it took to dissolve the government and call a new election. Maybe it was not strategically smart by the center, but it clearly saw urgency to call a new election. Which, incidentally, seems to have done nothing to resolve the situation.

  3. Pingback: Catalonia 2017 result | Fruits and Votes

    • I don’t think they are. According to the Catalan Interior Ministry, Barcelona elected 85 members in 1980 and in each election since-it seems unlikely that there has been so little population change that this would happen if there was any sort of redistribution.

    • In some regions the size of the legislature and the number of deputies elected from each district can seemingly be amended by an ordinary law in order to reflect shifting populations trends… or for partisan tactical purposes, to an extent. In other regions, such as Catalonia, the number of members of the regional legislature – and where applicable the number to be elected from each district – appear to be fixed in the Statute of Autonomy itself and thus could only be amended by a supermajority plus the consent of both houses of the Cortes Generales.

      The Spanish Constitution stipulates, however, that the provinces (on the mainland, at least) must double up as electoral districts, meaning the boundaries of the districts themselves are basically never reviewed.

  4. Pingback: A busy 2017 #1 Referenda | Marcus Ampe's Space

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