A vice president is not an outsider, Panama edition

In Sunday’s election in Panama, the incumbent Vice President was elected President. The BBC headline reads, “Outsider Juan Carlos Varela wins Panama election”. But wait, he is the Vice President. That most certainly does not meet any sensible definition of an “outsider”.

Yes, as the BBC notes, Varela had become the leader of the opposition after a falling out with current President Ricardo Martinelli. Presidents and other officeholders of their parties falling out once the president has been elected is pretty ordinary in presidential democracies. So are elections of outsiders. But you really can’t get more insider than a vice president, regardless of his relation with the chief.

Oh, I could (co-)write a book about such things.

UPDATE: In a comment, I take a look at what little data I have to shed a (little) light on the matter.

Young and inexperienced–how common?

New Italian PM Matteo Renzi has never served in the national legislature or cabinet (till now), and is only 39. These are unusual characteristics. Usually parliamentary parties prefer to “vet” their executive talent for a while through having them serve in the legislature and/or cabinet before being elevated to the top job (much more so than in presidential systems, where the candidate for the top job has to be able to win a plurality or majority as an individual–see Samuels and Shugart, 2010, 2014).

How common is it for the head of government of a parliamentary democracy to be as young and inexperienced as Renzi? Some insight comes from the Executives Biographical data of Samuels and Shugart. Here I offer some lists selected with intent to compare Renzi to other PMs. Caveat: in addition to being post-WWII only, the dataset ends with 2005. I won’t be updating it any time soon, but of course I would welcome readers’ additions via comments to this entry.

The first list (Dropbox link) is of all the parliamentary PMs in the dataset who had never served in the legislature before, along with how many years they had served in the cabinet prior to becoming PM (yrscab) and their age when starting their stint as PM (agestart). The list contains only 24 names–these are all the PMs in parliamentary systems who had no prior legislative service. That’s out of 411 total. So lack of legislative experience is quite rare. Exactly one of them was younger than Renzi is now (Vasile Petru Tarlev of Moldova, 38 when he took the job in 2001). Several on this list can be explained through newness of the democratic regime itself (e.g. Mandela) or immediate post-war years. You will note the multiple appearances of a few countries* on the list, including… Italy.

A second list has all parliamentary prime ministers who assumed the position before the age of 40. It is also a short list, and it is heavily dominated by young democracies, mainly in Central-Eastern Europe. It looks like our youth champion is Pandeli Majko of Albania, 31 when he assumed the job in 1998, followed by Mart Laar of Estonia, 32 when he became PM in 1992; Laar began a second stint seven years later, when he was still about the age of Renzi now. We also see from the list that, despite their youth, some of these PMs had considerable experience already in the legislature (e.g. Felix Gaillard of France, 10 years**) and a few had cabinet service (e.g. Stanislav Gross of the Czech Republic and Aigars Kalvitis, 4 years each).

One more list of background relevant to Renzi: how common is it for a PM to have been a mayor, but not a legislator or cabinet minister before elevation to the top job? Renzi might be only the third (see caveat above), following Jirí Paroubek of the Czech Republic (2005) and Jawaharlal Nehru of India (1947, the year of Indian independence). Upon assuming office, Paroubek was 53 and Nehru 58.***

So Renzi’s combination of youth and inexperience, aside from having been mayor of a major city (Florence), is indeed unusual.

Previous related post: Age of PMs and presidents upon assuming the position, in new and old democracies.

* There are five Netherlands PMs on this list, which is a bit surprising. Service in the senate, perhaps? And that makes me wonder if we counted service in the Italian senate, which we should have, given it has confidence powers over the cabinet, unlike most other second chambers.

** Ilir Meta of Albania, 15 years service as MP, is, I am sorry to say, a mistake in the data! He was born in 1969, elected to parliament in 1992, and became PM in 1999 (not 2001, as the list indicates), according to an online bio.

*** Nehru was a mayor? That is what the dataset says. According to Wikipedia, he was elected chairman of the Allahabad Municipal Board in 1923. (Yes, students, I can use Wikipedia. This is a blog post.)

Age of PMs and presidents upon assuming the position, in new and old democracies

Would we expect the executive format (presidential, parliamentary, etc.) to affect the age at which an executive leader assumes office?

I might expect either no effect (too many other variables might swamp the format) or a positive effect of PMs. We know that prime ministers tend to have more “insider” experience (e.g. as cabinet minister, legislator, etc.) than presidents have. It takes time to get experience, so prime ministers might tend to be older.

However, exploring the data a little bit, what we actually see is the reverse. PMs tend to be younger. The effect is stronger in “third wave” democracies than in a set of both older and newer democracies. ((The president-vs.-PM effect gets slightly stronger when executives of semi-presidential systems are included, but what is shown here are the data from pure-format systems.)) The effects are statistically significant, though somewhat less so when the older democracies are included.

Why? An “older statesman” effect, whereby voters are more likely to elect older candidates? A compensation effect by parties whereby, aware of an electoral advantage in nominating relatively less “insider” politicians, they select older candidates whose “type” might be better revealed compared to those who are both outsider and young?

That prime ministers tend to be younger in parliamentary systems of the third wave than in older democracies might mean that political careers overall start younger when the democracy is younger. We already found (Samuels and Shugart, 2013; see prior link) that there is no observable difference in length of prior legislative experience of third-wave parliamentary PMs compared to those in older parliamentary democracies. But there is a difference in average age of PMs across eras. ((If we compare only older democracies, PMs do tend to be older than presidents. But the effect is not close to significant.))

So, to summarize, it seems that parties in parliamentary democracies in the third wave are promoting politicians to the top job who are younger than their counterparts in older democracies (but not less experienced as legislators). In presidential systems, on the other hand, in both new and old democracies there is a tendency for successful presidential candidates to be somewhat, and significant statistically, older.

There is, by the way, no time trend. That is, neither type of executive tends to start office older (or younger) as the democratic regime itself becomes older.

Data summaries (average age at start of tenure); all tests exclude executives who started their tenure before the date the regime became democratic (though the effects work even if these few politicians are included).

Third-wave, pure-format, democracies
Pres: 56.3 (n=84)
PMs: 51.1 (n=109)

Third-wave and older pure-format democracies together
Pres: 56.0 (n=148)
PMs: 54.7 (n=399)

Parliamentary PMs in older and newer democracies
Not third wave: 55.97 (n=290)
Third wave: 51.1 (n=109)

Based on the Samuels and Shugart biographical data.

Three recent publications: Party Capacity in New Democracies; Patterns of Intraparty Competition; Localism and Coordination in the Japanese House of Councillors

The following items have been published in the past several weeks. Please note that the links are to publisher’s websites, and are not open-access.

Abstracts are viewable at the links without a subscription, but I will also put them in (long) footnotes here.

David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, “Party ‘capacity’ in new democracies: How executive format affects the recruitment of presidents and prime ministers“, Democratization (2013). ((Abstract: Scholars and practitioners express concern that parties in “third wave” democracies are poorly developed, compared to parties in older democracies. We suggest that parties vary in their organizational “capacity”, focusing on parties’ ability to select trustworthy executive agents. Capacity is higher where parties can vet potential executive talent by observing future leaders over time in the legislature – an increasingly available option as democracy matures. The key distinction in parties’ use of this option lies in the delegation structure between a party and the executive. Parliamentary systems offer a clear line of delegation, which parties control. In presidential systems, parties must recruit executive candidates who can win a popular election, requiring characteristics that may not be well correlated with those that make them good party agents. As parliamentary democracy matures, we find a steady increase in prime ministers’ average length of prior legislative service. For presidents, there is significantly weaker growth in prior legislative service. We also theorize about and investigate patterns in semi-presidential democracies. Our findings suggest that the institutional format of the executive is more important for party capacity in new democracies than the era in which a democracy was born.))

Matthew E. Bergman, Matthew S. Shugart, and Kevin A. Watt, “<a href="Matthew E. Bergman, Matthew S. Shugart, and Kevin A. Watt, "Patterns of Intraparty Competition in Open-List and SNTV Systems," Electoral Studies (2013). ((Two electoral systems that use “nontransferable preference votes” are commonly used: single nontransferable vote (SNTV) and open-list proportional representation (OLPR). Both systems promote intraparty competition by vote-seeking candidates, but differ on the extent to which the incentives of individual candidates and collective seat-maximizing parties are aligned, or not. We develop “logical models” of expected vote shares of parties’ first and last winners, and test (and confirm) these models using “symmetric regression” on an original data set drawn from over 2000 party-district observations in nine countries. The analysis helps bring us closer to an understanding of the relatively neglected “intraparty dimension” of representation, and allows us to offer some modest suggestions for improving systems of nontransferable preference votes.))

Kuniaki Nemoto and Matthew S. Shugart, “Localism and Coordination under Three Different Electoral Systems: The National District of the Japanese House of Councillors,” Electoral Studies (2013). ((Democratic representation involves tradeoffs between collective actors – political parties seeking to maximize seats – and individual actors – candidates seeking to use their personal vote-earning attributes (PVEAs) to maximize their own chance of election and reelection. We analyze these tradeoffs across three different electoral systems used at different times for the large-magnitude nationwide tier of Japan’s House of Councillors. These electoral systems – closed and open-list proportional systems and the single non-transferable vote – differ in the extent to which they entail candidates seeking individual preference votes and in whether collective vote shares affect overall party performance. We use local resources as a proxy for PVEA and seek to determine the extent to which parties nominate “locals” and how much the presence of such locals affects party performance at the level of Japan’s prefectures.))

PM Boris?

London mayor Boris Johnson will attend his Conservative Party’s upcoming conference “to reveal the secret of how to get re-elected against Labour in a time of austerity in what will be seen as fresh evidence of his ambition to succeed David Cameron”, reports the Guardian.

This comes in the wake of a YouGov poll that shows Johnson as Britain’s “most respected” politician.

Is Boris going to replace David Cameron as PM? I would not bet on it, for two reasons that I can draw out of my research on career trajectories of prime ministers, in comparison with presidents.

First, Johnson’s formula for being (re)elected against a Labour Party that is otherwise well positioned–whether in London politics, or in current national polling–is based on direct election of an individual. That is, “presidentialization“. To expect the same effect if Johnson were the PM candidate (and, presumably, sitting PM) at the next election is to fail to understand how direct election, as with the London mayor or a president, is fundamentally different from selection by and dependence on a party organization, as in a parliamentary democracy.

Second, he would be swimming against a pretty strong current of institutional effects here. Let’s look at the broad patterns of executive recruitment in democracies, comparatively. Out of 390 prime ministers in parliamentary systems in the post-WWII era, how many have been former mayors? If you guessed about 10%, you are a bit high. The answer is 34, or 8.7%. Parliamentary parties just do not look to mayors very often for their chief-executive talent.

Twelve of these PMs are from the French Fourth Republic (including Antoine Henrie Queuille, who counts as a newly appointed PM three times). Five more come from Norway (including another three-time appointee, Einar Gerhardsen). In fact, these two countries, France and Norway, account for half the ex-mayor PMs, and two politicians count for almost 18% of them. There is just one British PM in the list, Clement Atlee.

It is worth noting that mayors are far more likely to become president, where there is such an elected executive post, than to become PM in a parliamentary system. About the same number of presidents in the dataset have been former mayors, 37, but this is out of 236 total presidents. This rate among presidents, 15.7%) is significantly greater than the rate among PMs (p=.04). ((It makes no difference to the significance of the finding whether we include presidents in semi-presidential systems, as in the numbers cited here, or look only at pure presidential systems. In the latter, 15.8% are former mayors. How about premiers in semi-presidential systems? Of these 12.81% are former mayors. That rate is statistically different from pure-parliamentary PMs (p=.05), but not from that for semi-presidential presidents. In other words, it is PMs in parliamentary democracies that stand apart from either type of executive in regimes with elected presidents.))

Of course, this pattern is not surprising: mayors in some major cities (including London now) possess a talent that parties in presidential systems desire: proven ability to win a direct election, which often means appealing beyond (and in some carefully chosen ways, against) one’s party. Such skills are not nearly as in demand among parliamentary partisans. What is striking is that the pattern regarding ex-mayors shows up without our having considered whether the politician in question was a directly elected mayor or not. ((It would require additional data collection to determine which of the mayors in the data were elected by the city electorate and which were selected by a city council or appointed by the center, or some other mechanism. I suspect most of those in the data–though certainly not Atlee–were indeed popularly elected.))

None of this means Boris Johnson is not on his way to residing at No. 10. But it does mean he would be a rare case.

Data note. The data reported here come from the data for Chapter 3 of David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Democracy in northwest Africa: Mali and Senegal

Trouble is brewing in two (erstwhile) democratic states among the former French Soudan.

Mali experienced a military coup last week, apparently ending a 20-year experience of democracy–and just about a month before new presidential elections were due. There was no sign of the incumbent attempting to stay on for a third term (which would violate the current constitution). Meanwhile, today Senegal has its presidential runoff, and the incumbent is seeking a third term under dubious constitutionality.

These events are distressing because both countries had emerged recently as apparently functioning democracies. The Malian situation may be “collateral damage” from the NATO war in Libya. Touareg rebels, some of whom were among Qaddafi’s mercenaries, have been making gains in the country’s remote east. Evidently, at least part of the military was unsatisfied with the president’s handling of the internal war. Still, they might have waited to see what a newly elected president’s policy would be.

As for Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade had overseen a constitutional change limiting the president to two terms. He is not the first president ever to make the claim that such a change does not apply to him, because his first term was before the constitution was changed. Most of the others have not gotten away with a third term, but this runoff is said to be close. He just might pull it off on election day, but at what cost to the country’s democracy?

Various news reports have suggested that Wade enters the runoff in a weak position, having won just under 35% of the vote in the first round. Supposedly the other candidates are all endorsing his remaining opponent, former Prime Minister Macky Sall. I would not be so sure. Sall was more than 8 points behind in the first round, and if Wade vs. Opposition were the dominant cleavage, one might have expected the anti-Wade forces to have coordinated on fewer than thirteen (!) candidates, the top two of which managed to combine for less than 40% in the first round. Of course, given a two-round majority system, one need not expect a single opposition candidate, but such a high degree of fragmentation does not bode well–even assuming the election is completely fair. (See first-round results at Psephos.)

Anticipating fragmentation of his opposition, last year Wade attempted to lower the threshold for a first-round victory to 25%.

Mali has a premier-presidential system; Senegal is president-parliamentary. If Mali’s democracy is not quickly restored, then it will no longer be true–as stated by Samuels and Shugart (2010, p.260)–that no premier-presidential system has ever broken down once meeting the thresholds for democracy that the authors established for inclusion of cases in our study.


Among my cherished cartographic possessions is a National Geographic map of Africa from around 1960 that shows these two countries as one, in the Mali Federation. The federation did not last, and the unit initially called Soudan split and became the independent state of Mali.

This map also showed a Union of Central African Republics (French Congo, Chad, and in between them, Ubangi-Shari, later the Central African Republic (singular)). This “union” was even shorter lived.

Popularity vs. collegiality

As I type this item, we are a few hours from the caucus meeting of the Australian Labor Party, where a decision will be made on the party leader. Current leader and PM, Julia Gillard, is being challenged by former PM (and until a few days ago, Foreign Minister), Kevin Rudd. Today’s caucus vote is a good case study in parliamentary vs. presidential democracy.

In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, David Samuels and I make the point that Prime Ministers in parliamentary democracies are agents of their parties, whereas parties in presidential systems must select executive candidates who can succeed as agents of the electorate. We show that this fundamental institutional distinction has consequences for the types of leaders who are chosen under each system. We suggest this is because the qualities that make a potential executive leader a “good agent” of the party might be only loosely correlated with the qualities that make a potential leader sufficiently popular to win a separate election. Australia today is apparently going to give us an excellent case study in exactly why these leadership-selection distinctions matter.

It now appears, based on various news accounts, that Gillard has outmaneuvered Rudd and will survive the challenge, notwithstanding evidence that Rudd is favored by the voters.

If public opinion polls are to be believed, Rudd is vastly more popular than Gillard. For example a Newspoll survey, reported in The Age, has Rudd preferred over Gillard, 53% to 28%. Polls also suggest that he would run a closer contest, or even beat, opposition leader Tony Abbot, while Gillard would lose badly.

However, Australia does not select its executives by popular vote. The only voters who matter under the rules the Labor Party uses are the members of its parliamentary caucus. The Sydney Morning Herald estimates that the 69 of the 103 caucus members back Gillard and only 29 Rudd.

That’s 67% Gillard in the caucus (and it may end up much higher), 53% Rudd in the public.

Rudd’s wife says the challenger’s campaign is “people-led“. Right; that’s the problem! Rudd and his backers are encouraging voters to contact their Labor MPs on Rudd’s behalf. I doubt many MPs will be swayed. This is their decision.

If the challenger is more popular with the public than the incumbent, one might expect that it would be the marginal seat-holders who would most tend to be in favor of the challenger. After all, they are the Labor MPs who are most vulnerable, and therefore would gain most from whatever additional votes a changed leader might bring to their party. Yet marginal members are actually more likely to favor the incumbent party leader and PM, Gillard, over Rudd. According to a count by the Sydney Morning Herald, only 5 of Labor’s 20 most marginal MPs favor Rudd. They are prepared to sacrifice their seats for the current leader. As the Herald concludes:

Another MP said marginal seat holders tended to support the leader because they got the most attention “Name me a leader who doesn’t listen to marginal seats and I’ll show you a leader who won’t win,” the MP said.

Evidently she listens to the selectorate that matters most to a PM’s career, an area in which Rudd has an ongoing failing.

If Rudd really is more popular, by such a wide margin as polls suggest, one might expect MPs and Senators to be persuaded. Of the many tasks a party leader has to perform, one of the most important is to be able to lead the party to electoral success. Quite likely, however, the caucus members simply do not believe the leader makes this much difference. There is little objective reason to think it would matter as much as the polling says, for when an election actually comes, voters in a parliamentary system will select their legislators based overwhelmingly on the party record, and not on images of the leader. Besides, before the election there is a government and a party to manage, and for Labor caucus members, they have been there, done that with Rudd.

From the point of view of the caucus, it can’t be a good thing to contemplate entering a second consecutive election with a PM who came to power due to an inter-electoral leadership “spill”. Divided parties rarely prosper–it is almost a political-science truism. Better to get this behind them–if they can–and get on with governing and repairing a record on which to run come the next election.