Poland 2020: Presidential runoff

The second round of Poland’s presidential election is Sunday, 12 July. I really did not expect a close runoff. As I showed in a graph in 2017, both things that have to happen are relatively rare: (1) First round leader with >40% not getting 50% in runoff, and (2) First rounder runner-up with ~30% getting >50% in runoff.

In the first round on 28 June, incumbent Andrzej Duda earned 43.5% and the runner-up Rafal Trzaskowski earned 30.5%. (The third place candidate had 13.9%.) Yet several polls in the past week have shown the race for the second round too close to call.

It is worth noting, given my interest in electoral cycles, that whereas Duda benefitted from a honeymoon election in 2015 that helped his party (Law and Justice, PiS) get into strong enough position to win a parliamentary majority, Trzaskowski would have no such advantage. The PiS already narrowly held its majority in 2019 and another assembly election is not due until October, 2023. And while there is a procedure by which the president can call early assembly elections, the power is not unilateral and the parliamentary majority should be able to avert such recourse by the president (see Articles 145 and 155 of the Polish Constitution).

(The 2015 presidential and assembly elections demonstrate so many interesting effects of electoral rules that the sequence features prominently in the introductory chapter to Votes from Seats.)

12 thoughts on “Poland 2020: Presidential runoff

  1. It seems like the two round system is a waste of time since the most voted candidate in the 1st round will usually win in the 2nd round unless the first round vote is very close and perhaps below 40%. It would be nice to see more countries use the single transferable vote for Presidential elections like Ireland.

    • Rob, a number of countries do use variations like Argentina’s. There the second round is only held if the leading candidate doesn’t win 45% or 40% with a 10-point lead. Duda would’ve been able to avoid the runoff on the second condition.

      • Cue here our host MSS’s proposal for the Double Complement system, where a runoff is waived if every other candidate as more than twice as far below 50% as the front-runner is. So, a 45%-40% result on the first ballot is counted as an outright win, but a 48%-47% (or any other result where the second-placed candidate is above 46%) needs a runoff. Of course, one corollary is that a candidate over 50% the first time also needs no runoff, since their “shortfall” = 0.

    • Independent of whether other specific rules than majority-runoff might be better, having a second round is valuable precisely in cases where the first-round leader is relatively extreme but the opposition is divided. Exactly the situation Poland faces. Giving a majority a chance to select someone other than a Duda-type candidate is probably a very good feature.

      • Agreed. If you want a broadly supported winner, there is nothing special about 40% or 45% or any number less than 50% really.

        Let voters rank their ballots if you want to save the time of holding a separate runoff.

    • What are the rare cases? How common is it for a 2nd round system where the 2nd place candidate wins in the first round goes on to win in the 2nd round?

      It would be interesting to see a Presidential election using preferential voting where the candidate in third place in the first round wins after the final distribution of votes. It seems like 2nd round systems where this is plausible.

      • Rob, please see the linked earlier thread. It may not have a complete list, but it plots them all (up to that time) and mentions some of them.

      • What are the rare cases in a multi-round system? I know, internal leadership races are not the same as general elections. However, it may be noteworthy (in fact, unique in Canadian history) that, in the 1996 Ontario Liberal leadership convention, in a seven-person race Dalton McGuinty stood fourth on the first ballot, with only 17.2% of the vote, yet won on the final count and went on to win the next election and serve ten years as Premier. The key was fifth-place John Gerretsen and sixth-place Anne-Marie Castrilli supporting McGuinty on the third ballot.

      • Wilf, interesting. Of course, a two-round system can’t see someone come from 4th place! The example you cite is multi-round sequential elimination, correct?

        Per the Wiki link, the top two had only 30% and 22%, so it was a field ripe for disruption and for extending to many rounds.

  2. Poland is another example of a bug (maybe a feature?) with the two-round system which crops up a bit in Latin America. 43.5% was more than enough for Law and Justice to get a majority at the 2019 legislative election, and they of course needed even less than that in 2015. Despite this, basically the same vote share was not even close to sufficient to elect Duda president. Pre-election consolidation in the presidential race is unnecessary, even when it may be necessary in the legislative election.

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