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.


Sukkot 5778

I love decorating and covering the sukkah with plants grown on site.

After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Fest of Booths [Sukkot] for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival… for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

Chag sameach!


Baseball’s wild cards strike again

The 2017 Major League Baseball season offers a strong indictment of the current format of two wild card teams. I rarely see or hear criticism of the new format; the consensus of the writers and talking heads seems to be that adding the second wild card has been a masterstroke, simultaneously making division races more meaningful and creating exciting races for each league’s last slot.

This year’s final standings come up short on those aspects, and more importantly, on another that has concerned me ever since the format was adopted.

This season, we do have some very deserving division winners. Two AL teams (Astros and Indians) have over 100 wins, as does one NL team (Dodgers). Another NL team has 97. However, if the selling point of the format is that it makes races exciting, this season did not deliver so much. Most of the second half of the season, it was fairly clear who was going to get nine of the ten postseason slots. In the AL, the second wild card was more up for grabs, as a bunch of mediocre teams (including my favorite team) vied for the slot. In the NL, most of the season, the two eventual wild card winners were close to one another, but far ahead of the pack. Only a late winning streak by the Diamondbacks and a slide by the Rockies let the Brewers back in and made the race for the second wild card somewhat interesting at the end.

Now look at the wild cards. The gap between the two winners in the AL (Yankees over Twins) is six games. In the NL it is also six (Diamondbacks ahead of Rockies). In both leagues, then, we will have single-elimination games pitting teams whose regular-season finishes were not even close.

It is fundamentally unfair in baseball to give a team so decisively surpassed during the regular season one shot at dethroning the team that bested it during the 162-game schedule. If it happens in a best-of-5, or preferably a best-of-7, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes; a series is a fundamentally fairer way of giving a lesser team a shot and is what has made the postseason compelling ever since divisional play was introduced in 1969.

The wild card is also a splendid idea. It prevents one of the league’s top teams from missing the postseason entirely despite having a better record than one or more division winners. But as soon as that postseason starts, one unlucky game can end the superior team’s season at the hands of the inferior team. This year, one of the wild card teams has the same record as one of the division winners. Yet the Cubs would not be eliminated until they lose three games (and it would be to a team with a better regular season record), while the Diamondbacks would be eliminated if they lose only one (to an inferior team). This is fundamentally bad institutional design.

The design of institutions is something we care a lot about here. There must be a solution to the problems I have identified in the current MLB playoff structure. I still prefer my previous proposal of “two divisions, two wild cards” (2D2W) wth or without the “asymmetric series” that I also proposed. However, when I made the 2D2W proposal, I was arguing for keeping the number of teams advancing to the postseason at four rather than the new format’s five. Even if MLB recognized the improvement my plan offers over the status quo, it is highly unlikely the number of teams making the postseason would ever be decreased.

So, we need to work with five teams advancing, while satisfying my criteria of not having a single-elimination game that might pit teams with substantially different records against one another, and also preserving the current principle of some reward for winning a division rather than a wild card. (Ideally, also enhancing the odds of the team with the best record getting to at least the LCS, or at least not reducing those odds.) I have tried to game out (so to speak) postseason formats that would balance these goals. I have failed. Maybe someone can come up with a plan.

As I said in my 2015 version of this complaint, whatever the outcome, October ball is almost here, and even dumb institutional design can’t ruin that!

The US Supreme Court gerrymandering case

I do not have time to dissect the arguments before the US Supreme Court in the case concerning the permissibility of the partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. It clearly is a case of great importance to issues we care about at this blog. So, feel free to discuss here.

I highly recommend two pieces by Michael Latner:

Sociological Gobbledygook or Scientific Standard? Why Judging Gerrymandering is Hard (4 OCt.)

Can Science (and The Supreme Court) End Partisan Gerrymandering and Save the Republic? Three Scenarios (2 Oct.)



MMP weekend: Germany and New Zealand 2017

We are entering days of convergences. Over the next two days, the Jewish and Islamic new years and the first day of Autumn coincide. Then, on the weekend, we have the convergence of elections in the two countries that offer our best examples of mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation electoral systems: Germany and New Zealand. (Lest I be accused of hemispherism, let me hasten to note that in one of those countries, the election will be the day after the start of spring.)

In the case of Germany, which votes Sunday, there really has been no doubt for some time that the CDU/CSU alliance would place first, but it will be down from its 2013 result. There is also little doubt that the two parties that missed the 5% party-vote threshold in 2013 will clear it this time: the center-right FDP and the far-right AfD. The SPD, which briefly flirted with the lead in the polls some months after changing its leadership, looks like it may struggle to break 25% of the vote. The real question is what the coalition will be, after the election results are known.

I would expect the SPD to want a period of opposition to recollect itself after what looks sure to be another disappointing result for the party. Thus it may not be willing to renew the current CDU/CSU+SPD big coalition (what we should stop calling a grand coalition; my more direct translation of the German term is more apt). If the FDP has enough seats to combine with the CDU/CSU, we might see a return to the center-right combo that governed from 2009 to 2013, as well as in many past terms. There is just enough error in the projections from polling to allow for the possibility that this could be a viable combine. (Mouse over the numbers in the table at that link for the range of vote and seat projections for each party.)

However, the most likely result seems to me to be Jamaica! I will admit to rooting for this: CDU/CSU + FDP + Green. (The name refers to the parties’ colors.)

In New Zealand, the contest for Saturday’s election is much more uncertain. For months it seemed National, which heads the current multi-party governing arrangement, was cruising to another win. Then Labour changed its leader and surged (similar to the German pattern). By a few weeks ago, the two largest parties were running neck and neck, while the Greens stumbled badly and looked at risk of failing to clear the 5% party-vote threshold. This scenario was posing a potential difficult challenge for center-left voters: Do you vote Labour to bolster its formateur status (as the largest party, although there is no formal right of first attempt to the largest in New Zealand)? Or do you vote Green to ensure there is a viable partner for Labour other than Winston Peters and his New Zealand First (NZF) party? Given that the electoral system is MMP, you can do both: vote for Labour in your district (electorate) and vote Green on the list. However, while that might be a voter’s way of making a statement of preferred coalition, only the party vote affects the overall balance of seats in parliament. (Some exceptions to that statement, as I will get to below, but none likely relevant to the Labour-Green situation discussed here.)

In recent days, some polling suggests that National might be pulling ahead again. The result could be very close, and it could be a situation in which NZF is pivotal (although that may be less likely than it seemed some weeks ago). That is, assuming NZF makes it. The party has been tending downward and is hovering near 5%, as are the Greens . Here is where the electorate (district/nominal) vote comes in. The threshold provision for a party to participate in nationwide proportional allocation is 5% of party-list votes or one electorate. (Additional MPs elected beyond the electorate candidate are what I have termed “piggyback MPs“, not to be confused with that other MMP creature, the “shadow MP“.) The Greens do not have an electorate where they are viable, but NZF does.

Peters, the NZF leader, currently holds an electorate seat, Northland, having won it in a by-election in 2015. He is the party’s candidate again for the seat. If he retains it, his party would qualify for additional list seats, even if it fell below the 5% party-vote threshold.

The other electorate contests that matter include the one in Epsom, although it is not really a contest. The seat is safe for the one Act MP, David Seymour, who is quite certain to return. It is probably not likely that the Act party vote will be sufficient to earn the party a second seat, although I saw one projection a week or so ago that suggested it was possible. Act has been a governing partner with National since 2008.

Then there is Waiariki, one of the Maori set-aside seats. (Voters who claim Maori descent can choose to vote in their special Maori electorate or in the general electorate seat in which the reside.) Te Ururoa Flavell is fighting to hold the seat, which is the only way his party will retain a presence in parliament. That is quite a change for the party, which has been a National governing partner since 2008. In the past it has won as many as five electorate seats (in 2008) and in 2014 it had sufficient party votes to win a list seat for the first time, in addition to its win in Waiariki electorate. This time, it may end up with just one seat–or zero.

One electorate we know will not matter this time is Ohariu. United Future leader Peter Dunne resigned in August, after a 33-year career as an MP. This effectively kills the party, which has been a support partner to every government, whether led by Labour or National, since 2002. Only in 2002 did the party clear the party-vote threshold, and since 2008, Dunne has been its only member.

In an interesting twist on the Ohariu story, the Greens had initially decided not to contest the seat, in order to give the Labour candidate a chance to defeat Dunne and thereby knock a National partner out of the government-formation equation. When Dunne resigned, the Greens announced a candidate for the seat. With Dunne not running, there is no scenario in which this electorate will matter for the parliamentary balance, so there was no reason for the Greens not to have “local face” on the party (even though many of its voters will split their vote and give their electorate vote to the Labour candidate anyway). Running a candidate is thus another example of what I have called green contamination.

Two MMP elections in one weekend. Now that will be something to watch!


Reader survey

Are you ever curious about who reads F&V, how often, and what the readers like? I am. At the suggestion of JD Mussel and Henry Schlechta (whose names many readers will recognize due to their frequent posts here), there is now a Readership Survey on line. It is anonymous and will not take much time to complete. So please consider completing it.

(This post is a “sticky” and will remain up front for a while; please scroll for new content.)

Parties and personal-vote earning attributes in OLPR

In the forthcoming Votes from Seats, Rein Taagepera and I build on the earlier argument of Bergman, Shugart, and Watt (Electoral Studies, 2013) about incentives of political parties to “manage” the competition among their candidates under various intra-party allocation rules. The short version of the story is that parties under open-list PR should be willing to tolerate “laissez faire” competition, because no excess in the number of candidates nor imbalance in the candidates’ votes can affect the party’s ability to convert its collective vote total into a proportional share of the seats (within the limits of the district magnitude and inter-party allocation formula).

The claim about laissez faire competition under OLPR rests on the assumption that parties are only interested in seat-maximization, and not in the precise set of candidates who win. It also rests on the assumption that “party” and “list” are the same thing.

The second assumption is already relaxed in Votes from Seats, where we devote almost an entire chapter to the topic of how alliance lists work, focusing on the cases of Brazil, Chile, and Finland. In these systems (and some others) many lists contain candidates of two or more parties. In that case, the parties on the list are in direct competition with one another for a share of the seats won by the list as a whole. Thus parties would need to manage their vote–i.e., concern themselves with the distribution of votes across their candidates.

The first assumption–regarding parties’ indifference about their personnel–is not something we actually believe is true in practice. Science involves making simplifications, and we show in the book that using this simplifying assumption is quite powerful in predicting, via deductive logic, the average patterns in the preference vote shares of candidates (i.e., candidate votes divided by total list votes in a district). So, for the purposes of the book (and the earlier article), the strict assumption of indifference worked to get us a step farther down the road to understanding how electoral systems shape candidate vote shares.

In earlier drafts of the book, we worked on attempts to analyze how parties might affect the election of specific candidates, even though they lack ranking control, through nominations. We took these sections out because we were unable to come up with a deductive model of the process–a key methodological criterion around which the book is based. In the remainder of this entry, I will post and discuss two graphs that we took out of the book but that demonstrate the (still underdeveloped) idea of parties’ engaging in forms of intraparty management–even under OLPR.

The immediate reason for returning to think about this now was the recent American Political Science Association annual meeting, at which I presented a paper with Åsa von Schoultz that incorporates both the logical models of preference-vote distribution and the personal vote-earning attributes (PVEAs) of the candidates themselves. On the same panel was a fascinating paper by José Antonio Cheibub and Gisela Sin, which (among other things) analyzed the discontinuity in ratios of one candidate’s votes to the next candidate’s when they are sorted in descending order by preference votes. They find that, in Brazil, there is a tendency for these ratios to be greater at “last winner to first loser” and at “first loser to second loser” than among winners higher up or losers lower down.

A pattern like that found by Cheibub and Sin would not be found if there were not some “coordination” going on. Such coordination could be done by voters or by interest groups or others with a desire to see certain candidates elected over others. Or it could be done by parties. If by parties, it would be a form of intra-party management. For instance, parties could achieve a desired concentration of votes on the eventually elected candidates by ensuring a mix of candidates appealing to different groups of voters, or through allocating campaign resources, or some mix of these and other tactics.

One way to manage the vote would be through exploiting the party’s knowledge of the relative appeals of specific candidates or types of candidates. If the party had perfect information, it could renominate just the right number of incumbents and nominate the right number of local council members, or other politicians with popular appeal and whom the party sees as promising future legislative personnel. In other words, through nominating candidates with given PVEAs it could structure the balance of different traits and constituencies represented within its delegation.

The following data plots from Brazil and Finland point towards how such PVEA management might work.


The plots show the share of candidates at any given relative rank (list position/seats won) who have a given PVEA: incumbent assembly (national) member or local council. The local regression (lowess) curves plot the pattern, and in the case of Brazil, I also plot a lowess for the state assembly members running on the deputies list (but not the data points, because of the clutter). The incumbent MP curves for the two countries are nearly identical, with relatively few MPs losing and more near the top preference vote totals.

The local candidates’ curves also have a similar shape—rising near the bottom of the electable ranks on the list and then still rising among the top losers, before plummeting. The obvious difference is that there are a lot more locals in Finland than in Brazil. The curve for Brazilian state legislators running for federal deputy looks like a much-flattened version of the incumbent deputies’ curve.

These plots may be showing that parties are indeed managing the distribution of votes across candidates. They are doing so by whom they nominate. They probably have pretty good information about the vote-earning potential of various candidates, and they can “clear a path” for the candidates they consider sufficiently valuable by not putting too many similarly strong candidates on the list against them. Obviously, what I have shown here does not prove that point, but it is suggestive of how parties might “coordinate” on the intraparty dimension, through managing the types of candidates they select.

A possible objection is that parties could not possibly know the votes that a candidate could bring to the list. After all, these lists–especially in high magnitude districts–are so competitive! Another graph suggests it might not be so hard for parties after all, at least when nominating candidates who have run before for some office.


Do parties have good information about the votes a candidate will obtain? Evidently so. This graph compares 2002 votes of Brazilian candidates to 1998 votes, whether their 1998 campaign was as a deputy candidate or a state legislative candidate. The diagonal is the equality line; a regression is not much different from it. In other words, a candidate’s votes in the prior election are a pretty strong predictor of the candidate’s votes in the current election (at least in Brazil, 1998-2002). This is generally true for those who won their contest the previous election and those who had small vote totals. And it applies to state legislative candidates even though they are running in different-magnitude districts. (The legislators of a given state are elected in a single statewide district, just as the national deputies are elected in state districts, but the magnitudes are greater for the state legislature.)

Parties amaze sometimes at how good they are with this stuff!

Certainly, when I see things like this I realize that all the old ideas about chaotic competition in OLPR or parties lacking control just do not stand up.

So, yes, parties can tolerate laissez faire competition among the candidates on their list–provided they are interested only in maximizing the list’s seat total. And assuming that this is all they care about allows us to understand average patterns of vote distribution. A key goal is to introduce other variables–notably PVEAs–to understand how individual candidates deviate from these logically predicted (and empirically confirmed) averages. That was the point of the von Schoultz-Shugart APSA paper, focused on Finland. The next step is to try to understand PVEAs and prior vote totals as a window on how parties manage the vote, even under OLPR.