Spain coalition agreement and possible electoral reform

The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (UP) have publicized an agreement on a program of coalition government. It is an ambitious “Progressive Coalition.” It is a minority coalition: out of the 350 seats, the PSOE won 120 and the UP 26, so together they have 41.7% of the seats, 30 seats short of a majority. Other agreements with regional parties for parliamentary support may be forthcoming; in fact an accord with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV, with 7 seats) has already been published.

The PSOE-UP agreement has one provision of special interest to F&V: Section 5.7 concerns electoral reform, and states the parties will work to find “a consensus that would permit reforming the electoral formula to improve the proportionality of the system.”

Electoral reform is, of course, generally difficult. That the current system is relatively disproportional for an electoral system we would clearly classify as “proportional representation” (PR) is well established. The modest level of proportionality is due to the use of many districts, resulting in a mean magnitude around 7, and the D’Hondt formula. There is also substantial malapportionment. Consider the following advantage ratios (%seats/%votes) for several key parties; a value greater than one indicates the party is over-represented. These are from the most recent (“2019b“) election.

PP 1.22

PSOE 1.22

UP 0.78

C’s 0.42

Vox 0.98

ERC 1.03

JxCat 1.04

EAJ/PNV 1.10

The last three are among the larger regional parties. It is noteworthy that they are not significantly over-represented, despite the regionalized nature of the PR system.   On the other hand, both “large” parties are quite over-represented, while the new government’s junior partner is quite severely under-represented (not as bad as Ciudadanos, however). Some very small regional parties are significantly over-represented. For instance, Sum Navarre has an advantage ratio of 1.43. (It helps to win all of your votes in one rather low-magnitude (5) district in which you had the local plurality of votes.)

I have no information on what reforms the parties may have in mind. However, some combination of the following might be possible:

1. Readjusting magnitudes (long overdue!);

2. Small compensation tier;

3. Shift to (Modified?) Ste.-Laguë.

An interesting feature of the agreement with the PNV is its sixth provision, which states that the new government will make good on policy deals previously struck with the Partido Popular (PP), when it was in government. A PP minority government was replaced by a PSOE minority in a constructive vote of no confidence in June, 2018, which the PNV supported. This new agreement follows the second general election since that parliamentary vote.

Thanks to Bonnie Field (on Twitter) for the links to the two accords.

UPDATE:  There is now a further agreement, this one with the Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC). It is an agreement to abstain. I am not sure how common inter-party agreements over abstention on government formation are, but here we have one.

Field has a good rundown of where things standas of 3 January, the day before the parliamentary debates being.

17 thoughts on “Spain coalition agreement and possible electoral reform

  1. You say “The modest level of proportionality is due to the use of many districts, resulting in a mean magnitude around 7” and I have generally regarded that DM as too low; I find a range of 7 to 15, mean around 12, about right for Canada.

    However, I was surprised to find, when preparing a summery of PR in France, that their 1919 election (the first to use PR) had an average of 7 seats per district; in the 1924 election departments with more than 6 deputies were split; the 1946 districts had an average of 5.3 MPs; and for the 1985 election they had an average of 5.7 MPs per district.

    • Well, about 5-8 is about reasonable for a “modest” level of proportionality like Spain’s. But if you don’t like your proportionality to be so modest, you probably want higher M (or equivalent in case a of two-tier system).

  2. UP has 35 seats together with its Catalan and Galician counterparts, listed separately in the election results published by the Spanish Interior Ministry. However, the party’s listed advantage ratio appears to reflect the inclusion of the latter for both seats and votes. At any rate, PSOE+UP stand twenty-one seats short of an overall majority.

    • I would think it might piss off the regional parties to have seats not tied to a specific region.

      • Yes, although compensatory (“leveling”) seats need not be nationwide. I have never looked at how it would work if the Autonomous Communities served as either compensation regions or as the electoral districts themselves. But given that most of them consist of multiple districts, it certainly would help.

  3. Doesn’t Sainte-Laguë suffer from a deficit that splitting your party in half can award you more seats? Droop always seemed more sensible to me for that reason. I think Sainte-Laguë and Hare without some sort of modification or threshold are pretty rare for that reason, no?

    • I suspect that wouldn’t be such a problem if you had some compensation seats and some restriction on how local lists count towards the national compensation total: as Japanese politicians found until the 1990s, dividing your vote evenly amongst candidates is a costly endeavour, and if it would result in difficulty in translating votes into national-level seats, I doubt parties would bother (they don’t in Sweden, which I think uses modified Sainte-Lague in districts with a compensation tier).

      • I agree with Henry.

        I would also add that Droop quota and largest remainders is almost the same as D’Hondt, in practice.

      • Henry – Sweden has a 4% threshold. Like I said, I think Sainte-Laguë and Hare without some sort of modification or threshold are pretty rare. Sweden has a modification and a threshold.

        Hong Kong’s LegCo is the only example I know of of pure Hare with no threshold or modification, and there the parties do divide themselves up, to the point that elections have been essentially SNTV at times. It’s a deliberate choice to prevent consolidation of the pro-democracy camp.

        See here:

        I definitely agree that Sainte-Laguë and Hare are fairer, but my concern is that in a low magnitude district you get a result like this:

        Cantabria (5 seats):

        PP 25.9% of the vote 1.295 quotas
        PSOE 23.2% of the vote 1.16 quotas
        PRC 21% of the vote 1.05 quotas
        Vox 14.9% of the vote 0.745 quotas
        UP 8.7% of the vote 0.435 quotas

        PP, PSOE and PRC each has the option of splitting itself up to double its seat total. If everyone acts with perfect strategy, you just end up reverting back to D’Hondt.

        To me, the logic behind the Droop quota is much more sound from the standpoint of strategic nominating. Under all PR systems (including D’Hondt, Sainte-Laguë and Hare), you are guaranteed at least 1 seat for each Droop quota you earn. It seems logical to me that once you have secured a seat, then and only then should additional votes count towards winning you another.

        Am I expressing myself well there?

        In any event, I did the calculations for what the Spanish results would be under Droop and Hare. Droop results were as follows:

        PSOE 110 (-10)
        PP 87 (-2)
        Vox 56 (+4)
        UP 39 (+4)
        CS 13 (+3)
        BNG 2 (+1)

        All others unchanged.

        Ratios for the big 5 are:

        PSOE 1.12
        PP 1.20 (Is malapportionment affecting this number?)
        Vox 1.06
        UP 0.86
        Cs 0.55

        I would call that reasonable progress, wouldn’t you?

        Hare results as follows:

        PSOE 101 (-19)
        PP 80 (-9)
        Vox 56 (+4)
        UP 49 (+14)
        Cs 18 (+8)
        ERC-Sob 12 (-1)
        Más País 5 (+2)
        BNG 2 (+1)

        No other changes

        Ratios for the big 5 are:

        PSOE 1.03
        PP 1.10
        Vox 1.06
        UP 1.09
        Cs 0.76

        Note the 3% constituency threshold does come into play in Barcelona.

        I have not done Sainte-Laguë as it is a much bigger pain in the butt to do by hand. I think Hare is a close enough approximation of it for the effort involved. Can only do so much spreadsheet fun after work and before thesis time!

        I did this by hand so there may be errors. There are also 2 ties in there when I go to 3 digits, which I just arbitrarily gave to the larger party. Haven’t checked the full vote totals.

      • El Salvador uses Hare quota and largest remainders. I believe there are other cases in Latin America that do so as well. By the way, El Salvador has no problem of parties splitting to take advantage of the remainders. At least not that I am aware of. I can’t say why; maybe because party loyalties themselves were so rigid, at least until recently (they certainly do not seem to be anymore). Colombia, of course, had this issue on a massive scale. It was de-facto SNTV (like Hong King), and that is the main reason it moved to D’Hondt after 2003. I have written a lot about this, both in academic work and in plantings here.

        Notwithstanding the above points, I think it is generally true that D’Hondt or Ste.-Laguë are more likely to be used along with either a compensatory tier or with legal thresholds (or both). So complexity of rules piled on to prevent complexity of results from a simple allocation formula!

  4. Unless a future electoral reform were to involve amending Section 68 of Spain’s 1978 constitution, it would have to comply with its existing provisions, which state that:

    The Congress shall consist of a minimum of three hundred and a maximum of four hundred Members, elected by universal, free, equal, direct and secret suffrage, under the terms to be laid down by the law.
    The electoral constituency is the province. The cities of Ceuta and Melilla shall be represented by one Member each. The total number of Members shall be distributed in accordance with the law, each constituency being allotted a minimum initial representation and the remainder being distributed in proportion to the population.
    The election in each constituency shall be conducted on the basis of proportional representation.

    A compensation tier would involve establishing either a nationwide constituency or a set of regional constituencies not contemplated in the constitutional text, even if seats distributed on that tier were subsequently allocated among provincial lists. As such, it’s quite likely it would be struck down in court as unconstitutional.

    However, Spain’s electoral law – the grandiosely named Ley Orgánica del Régimen Electoral General, literally General Electoral Regime Organic Law, but officially translated to English as Representation of the People Institutional Act (yes, quite British) – could be amended to replace D’Hondt with Sainte-Laguë. However, as detailed on a Twitter thread (available here), the notional distribution of Congress seats under the Sainte-Laguë rule in the election last November 10 would have given the right-wing parties a 156-to-152 seat lead over the left-wing parties. More importantly, in that hypothetical scenario Pedro Sánchez would lose the upcoming investiture vote, 169-to-162.

    Nevertheless, as I noted further along in the same thread, had the Sainte-Laguë been in place last November 10 and had Congress been expanded to its maximum of 400 seats, the left-wing parties would have retained their overall seat lead over their right-wing rivals (180 to 174), and Pedro Sánchez could still prevail in an investiture vote, albeit by the smallest of margins: 190 to 189.

    Finally, in a 400-seat Congress elected by the Sainte-Laguë rule, PSOE and PP would have won nearly the same number of seats as they did in the actual election last November 10, but their combined share of seats would drop from 59.7% (209 of 350) to 52.5% (210 of 400), the latter figure being far more in line with the 48.8% won by the two parties in the election last year.

      • As I’ve noted in the past, the existing minimum of two seats per province doesn’t make much difference: if it were eliminated any gains in proportionality stemming from the larger provinces having more seats would be offset to a considerable degree by the reduced proportionality in the smaller provinces having fewer seats, particularly in half a dozen which would become single-member constituencies.

      • In fact, the notional distribution of 350 Congress of Deputies seats in the general election last November 10, under the D’Hondt rule but without the initial two-seat minimum per province – which would require a constitutional amendment – would have been as follows (with figures in parentheses showing change relative to the actual outcome):

        PSOE – 118 (-2)
        PP – 82 (-7)
        VOX – 52 (0)
        PODEMOS-IU – 38 (+3)
        ERC-SOBIRANISTES – 16 (+3)
        C’s – 12 (+2)
        JxCAT-JUNTS – 9 (+1)
        EAJ-PNV – 7 (+1)
        MÁS PAÍS-EQUO – 4 (+1)
        EH Bildu – 3 (-2)
        CUP-PR – 2 (0)
        CCa-PNC-NC – 2 (0)
        NA+ – 2 (0)
        BNG – 1 (0)
        PRC – 1 (0)
        ¡TERUEL EXISTE! – 1 (0)

        With an initial minimum of one seat per province – which would not require a constitutional amendment – the notional seat distribution would have been as follows:

        PSOE – 122 (+2)
        PP – 83 (-6)
        VOX – 50 (-2)
        PODEMOS-IU – 39 (+4)
        ERC-SOBIRANISTES – 14 (+1)
        C’s – 11 (+1)
        JxCAT-JUNTS – 9 (+1)
        EAJ-PNV – 6 (0)
        EH Bildu – 4 (-1)
        MÁS PAÍS-EQUO – 3 (0)
        CUP-PR – 2 (0)
        CCa-PNC-NC – 2 (0)
        NA+ – 2 (0)
        BNG – 1 (0)
        PRC – 1 (0)
        ¡TERUEL EXISTE! – 1 (0)

        In either case, the party composition of the Congress of Deputies would have changed very little with respect to the actual outcome.
        However, with a minimum of one seat per province, seven provinces would become two-seat constituencies, in addition to Soria. In those eight provinces Vox would go from 3 of 23 seats last November 10 to zero of sixteen, while PSOE and PP would lose two mandates each (out of ten and nine, respectively) and TE would retain its single seat. The overall vote distribution in the eight provinces was 31.8% PSOE, 31.3% PP, 16.1% Vox, 8.1% UP, 6.5% C’s, 2.8% TE and 2.4% Others.

        With no initial seat minimum, six provinces would become single-member constituencies. In the election last November 10 their aggregate seat distribution was 7 PP, 6 PSOE, 3 Vox and 1 TE, but under FPTP the outcome would be 4 PP, 1 PSOE and 1 TE. PP won 32.6% of the vote in those provinces, to 30.2% for PSOE, 15.8% for Vox, 7.3% for UP, 6.5% for C’s, 4% for TE and 2.6% for other parties.

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