Elections in September, 2021–campaigns matter

It won’t be quite like September, 2005, back when the virtual orchard was just a sapling, but somewhat like that September sixteen years ago featured several interesting elections, this month also looks great for election watchers.

In September, 2005, we had elections in three major examples of mixed-member systems: Japan, New Zealand, and Germany. (As I look back, I see I wrote several times about Afghanistan’s election that month; I am guessing there will no longer be a need for new Afghanistan elections plantings. I also see lost of posts about a hurricane disaster in New Orleans. Some things do recur, though fortunately in this case not on as horrific a scale, though bad enough.)

In September, 2021, we have the California recall. I don’t have anything at the moment to say about that beyond what I’ve already said. We have Germany, again, with its general election on 26 Sept. And we have Canada, on 20 Sept. There are also various other elections this month, but these are the two I will focus on here.

The German election for this September has been known about for a long time, as it is occurring on schedule (unlike the one in 2005). The Canadian one, on the other hand, is a snap election as one would not have been due till 2023. Both of these elections are going to become case studies in how campaigns really can matter.

For months it has seemed certain that in Germany, the ruling Christian Democratic/Christian Social “Union” bloc (CDU/CSU) would again come out on top, with the Greens in second place and a likely new coalition partner. Then a funny thing happened: the Social Democratic Party (SPD), for years seemingly finished as a major party, started to surge and seemingly now has pulled ahead of the CDU/CSU. The range of coalition possibilities is suddenly rather large, with some novel possibilities in the cards.

The election is also notable compared to past German elections in that the incumbent Chancellor (prime minister), Angela Merkel (CDU) is not a candidate to remain head of government. In fact, it seems likely that the campaign has caused voters to reckon with the with the less than inspiring leadership of the party’s chosen successor to Merkel (Armin Laschet), to feel less than sure they are ready to make the Greens potentially the largest or even second largest party, and to have turned to the SPD and its new leader, Olaf Scholz as the potential safe pair of hands to lead the government. These three parties seem certain to be the big three, but with the largest still below 25% in polls, it will probably take three parties to forge a majority coalition (taking the Union as one for purposes of government-formation, even though it is actually two parties). Unless all three govern together, or the current no-so-grand coalition clears a majority fo seats and continues in power, only with the SPD on top, it is going to take some combination involving the Free Democrats (FDP) to have a majority coalition. The post-election bargaining will be interesting (FDP with either Greens or SPD is not “natural”), and thus the election will really matter for which combines are possible and how much bargaining power each party has.

In Canada, the Liberal Party of incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looked safe to be not only the largest party, but also to win a majority of parliamentary seats. In fact, given that the election timing was the government’s choice, that is precisely why it is happening–to convert a minority Liberal government into a majority Liberal government. Then Trudeau called the election and a funny thing happened: his party started sinking in the polls and the Conservatives appear to have caught up. In votes, that is.

As in 2019, the Conservatives could lead in votes and still come second in seats. The Conservatives probably need to win the votes by more than a couple percentage points to have a reasonably good chance at a plurality of seats, due to their inefficient vote distribution across the country. A majority Conservative government probably requires that party to keep adding support at a rapid pace, and that may be happening. Yet if that continues, some voters would probably dessert the New Democratic Party (NDP), currently running at around 20%, in favor of the Liberals. Given the FPTP electoral system, of course, such NDP desertion for the Liberals would not be guaranteed to help the latter at the aggregate seat-winning level, although it probably would do so. (Canada’s Green Party, meanwhile, is in a shambles, largely because its black, female, Jewish leader was not sufficiently anti-Israel for others in the party.) One thing seems safe to say at this point: A Liberal majority has become rather unlikely.

That’s the funny thing about campaigns. Sometimes they actually matter.

10 thoughts on “Elections in September, 2021–campaigns matter

  1. Pingback: The MLB playoff system, first (?) rant of 2021 | Fruits and Votes

  2. There is also an election in Morocco, about whose voting system various news outlets have been making incomprehensible statements, so I did some Googling, and, wow, what a system! Morocco uses a PR list system, but it will calculate the quota on the basis of the number of enrolled voters not the number of actual voters, so party with a huge percentage of the vote in a district with a small turnout can end up with exactly the same number of seats as a party with a tiny vote:
    https://www.freiheit.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/elections-morocco-containing-political-islamism-mathematics.
    Note that there are no preferences to lift that tiny primary vote to a proper quota as once was the case with the Australian Senate.

      • Is 1200 enshrined in law? Or is my math bad? Because as I see it, if one party wins all 299 direct mandates on 5% of the vote and 19 other parties also get 5% each, balancing seats would bring the Bundestag up to around 5,980 seats.

      • The theoretical upper limit to the Bundestag size is easy to calculate. A party can win one second vote and all 299 direct mandates. Then the Bundestag ought to expand such that 1/299 vote translates to one seat, ie. to the order of about 10 billion seats. That is assuming there are some regulations that exclude a party that wins zero second vote but some direct mandates from the seat calculation to prevent an infinite number of seats resulted from dividing by zero.

  3. I should probably add that my remarks above about the FDP being part of any likely winning coalition assume that the SPD and Greens would not turn to the Linke (Left party) if that combine would clear a majority. I think it remains unlikely that the Linke will be in government, but with things in as much flux as they are, that probably can’t be completely ruled out. More likely, the SPD will use the threat of teaming up with the Linke to try to exact better terms with the FDP, and then they will see how public opinion responds to that trial balloon. They need to be careful doing that, though, because playing that card too early or too heavily would just make the Union-FDP tie-up more likely, assuming the Greens can go along with it (which I think they’ve spent years effectively saying they could).

  4. Readers might be interested in the PS symposium on forecasting the German election (open access till end of October). In particular, I want to quote the following passage from the article in this symposium by Gschwend, et al:

    Our forecast addresses current debates on election-system reform that aim to solve the issue of an increase in the size of the Bundestag. The coalition CDU/CSU—SPD government proposed such a reform with alterations for the 2021 German federal elections and more extensive adjustments for subsequent elections. However, our prediction shows that this reform will not successfully prevent the increase in the size of the parliament: according to the coalition’s reform, the next Bundestag is expected to be smaller by only nine (6, 35) seats compared to when the former electoral law is applied. Considering this in addition to the likely chance of the upcoming Bundestag being larger than the current one, the effectiveness of the proposed reform, in fact, is questionable.

    Currently, we predict the Bundestag to have 814 seats with a 5/6 credible interval (726, 905), securing its reputation as one of the largest democratic legislative bodies (it will even outnumber the European Parliament’s 705 members).

    [emphasis added]

  5. Pingback: Are soft NDP voters switching to save Liberals? | Fruits and Votes

  6. On the other hand, campaigns did not appear to change much in Norway, where the left-of-center parties won with the margin predicted by polls for months. And the obligatory expression that Norway’s system is my favorite, especially since it did not keep the Greens and Christians Democrats completely out because they fell just short of the 4% threshold.

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