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.


Divided government in Ecuador?

Ecuador held elections to the Presidency and National Assembly (the unicameral legislature) on 19 February. Conveniently-named leftist Lenin Moreno received 39.4% of the vote for the Presidency, comfortably ahead of centre-right rival Guillermo Lasso, who received 28.1%. However, victory in the first round of presidential elections in Ecuador requires a candidate to be ten points ahead of their nearest rival, and to receive 40% of the vote: obviously, Moreno did not meet the latter condition. A runoff will therefore be held on April 2.

The second round looks to be a relatively close contest, on account of third-placing centre-right candidate Cynthia Viteri (who won 16.3%) endorsing Mr Lasso and fourth-placing candidate Paco Moncayo (who won 6.7%) declaring his opposition to Mr Moreno. One poll shows Mr Lasso with a four-point lead.

However, there is no second round for the Assembly, which, as far as I can tell, is elected through party-list proportional representation with an average district magnitude of 4.2. Members are mostly elected using provinces as districts, though some large provinces are divided into multiple districts.

The Assembly elections resulted in an absolute majority for Mr Moreno’s party, the PAIS Alliance, securing 73 seats to 32 for Mr Lasso’s party (Creating Opportunities, or CREO) and 15 for Ms Viteri’s (the Social Christian Party, or PSC) out of a total of 137. In terms of votes, the PAIS Alliance won slightly less than they managed for the Presidency (39.1%), while the opposition was more divided (CREO 20.0%, PSC 15.9%).*


If Mr Lasso wins the runoff, the story will largely resemble that of Peru, and to a lesser extent Argentina; candidate wins narrow victory in second round after trailing in the first, but is in a weak position in the assembly, with the first round ‘winner’ having a majority.

Mr Lasso will be in a substantially different position to the Peruvian president, Mr Kuczynski, whose ministers are subject to the confidence of the assembly: rejection of the cabinet three times allows him to dissolve the assembly. The Ecuadorian constitution requires a two-thirds vote to impeach Ministers (Art. 131); CREO on its own would be unable to defeat such a motion.

One option that Mr Lasso has available to him is dissolution of the assembly. Article 148 provides for dissolution by the President if “in his/her opinion, it has taken up duties that do not pertain to it under the Constitution, upon prior favorable ruling by the Constitutional Court; or if it repeatedly without justification obstructs implementation of the National Development Plan or because a severe political crisis and domestic unrest.”

The National Development Plan is written by the National Planning Council, apparently headed by the President. It thus seems plausible that the President could write such a plan for his agenda, and then argue for dissolution on the basis of the opposition failing to pass bills on that agenda.

Regardless of whether Mr Moreno or Mr Lasso wins, the two results (Ecuador and Peru) would seem to call into question the logic of combining an electoral system for the assembly that can very easily give a majority to a party with less than 40% of the vote against a divided opposition with an electoral system for the presidency that could deny that party the presidency.

*The vote totals here are those for the twelve ‘national’ members of the Assembly, elected by all voters. ‘Provincial’ members, those chosen by party-list within provinces, are elected on a separate ballot. The National Election Council does not furnish overall totals for the provincial ballot, and a cursory examination shows no substantial difference between provincial and national votes.

Colombia electoral reform video

If you understand Spanish, you should watch John Sudarsky’s video criticizing the current electoral system of Colombia (which is open-list* PR, including in the 100-seat nationwide district of the Senate), and advocating MMP.**

I offer for your viewing pleasure, not necessarily as an endorsement.


* Mostly. Parties have the option to present a closed list, and there are always some members of each house elected this way. But most come from open lists.

** The video and website only call it “mixed”, but it seems pretty clear from the examples given that it is intended to be MMP.

California primaries: Myth of the ‘independents’

By JD Mussel

Paul Mitchell of Capitol Weekly’s CA120 column tells the rather farcical story of the more than 100,000 Californian voters who thought they were registering to vote as independents and ended up voting in the American Independent Party’s presidential primary.

The American Independent Party is the far-right outfit originally established by Alabama segregationist George Wallace for his 1968 presidential run (which was aimed at sending the election to the House of Representatives). They ended up choosing Trump as their nominee this year, though he didn’t even appear on the ballot for the primary. I didn’t know California allowed electoral fusion before I noticed this dual nomination on the sample ballot I got in the mail last week[1].

[1] Yes, I have moved! I have now joined MSS at the University of California, Davis where I started my graduate studies last month.

Colombia’s peace referendum

Colombians are voting today on whether to ratify the peace accord with the FARC rebels. I have not had time to read the agreements, and I am sure they are not light reading. For those who read Spanish, the Peace Commission website has the text. (Thanks to Steven Taylor, at Outside the Beltway, for the link; his post has an image of the ballot for today’s vote.)

The Economist summarized the provisions, which include some guaranteed seats for the FARC and some special electoral districts. However, I need to read the actual agreements to (try to) make sense of these provisions for representation.

While there are many post-conflict elections, I can’t think of any other referenda on the actual accords themselves. Please let me know in the comments if there have been previous examples.

Brazil: President ousted by Senate

As expected, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been ousted by a vote of the Senate following her impeachment trial.

Not much time for blogging right now (as has been the case for a while–obviously), but a few quick observations follow.

I said at the time that she needed to lose her reelection bid; it was quite close. While some folks are looking at this and saying it shows why Brazil should have adopted a parliamentary system, I actually think presidentialism serves Brazil pretty well. I admit it is harder (again) to make that case this year.

Another way of stating my point is that the PT was quite good for Brazil for 12 years. The PT needed presidentialism to make it into power. And, no, I know I am not supposed to evaluate a regime type based on who wins (although I liked presidentialism here better as soon as Obama won!). But I really think parliamentartism in Brazil would be an ugly mess; the PT is one of the few major parties that is at all programmatic. And it probably would have been consigned to permanent opposition under a parliamentary regime, with shifting coalitions based on particularism and cronyism and not much on policy responsibility.

In any case, actual parliamentarism was never really on the table in the period following military rule, as far as I know. Back in the 1980s when the current constitution was drafted, what was called the “parliamentary” option actually was semi-presidential. And that might not be such a bad option for Brazil, but given the nature of the party system, it would still likely lean pretty strongly presidential, more-or-less regardless of the formal powers.

Of all the news stories I pulled up in searching on this, I noticed that most of them said that the Brazilian Senate had “impeached” the president today. As I understand that term, no, she was impeached already by the Chamber. The term means to bring charges, after all. Today she was convicted and removed.

And, no, it is not a “coup”. This follows the constitutional procedures. Whether the charges are “valid” or not is a separate question; the constitutional bodies with the responsibility in such cases said they were.

Some have said it is a bad precedent. The main precedent is it’s really bad to fail to retain even one third of the legislators’ backing, even if you have a “fixed” term.



Peru’s narrow presidential win–and unusual divided government

In Peru, narrow loser Keiko Fujimori has now conceded defeat to Pedro Pablo Kaczynski (PPK) in the presidential run-off. The final result is 50.12% to 49.9%. This is right up there with some of the slimmest margins in the annals of presidential elections. It does not quite beat Taiwan, 2004, however (50.11-49.89).*

Of particular interest is that this election results in divided government, defined as a single-party majority in the assembly opposed to the president. That majority is itself unusual, as it was based on just 37.8% of the vote. Fujimori’s party, Fuerza Popular (FP), won 73 seats out of 130 (56.5%), for an advantage ratio of 1.49. That is staggeringly high for a “proportional” system. Peru uses D’Hondt divisors. The mean district magnitude is around 5. Ordinarily, even D’Hondt (known to favor the largest party) would not produce such a disproportional outcome, particularly given that the country has several large-magnitude districts. However, the second largest party nationwide had only 17.1% (Peruanos Por el Kambio**), implying that in many districts, FP must have been far ahead and therefore poised to maximize advantage out of the D’Hondt divisors. (I did not take the time to scrutinize the district results myself.)

The assembly election was concurrent with the first round, and the FP actually ran just a little behind its candidate, who won 39.9%. PPK (the candidate) won 21.1% in the first round, thereby running well ahead of PPK (the party). Even so, he required a big runoff comeback to eventually win. In fact, Peru 2016 would be just a bit to the right of Austria’s recent (also very close) election in the graph I posted on runoff comebacks.

I do not know of another case of divided government resulting from a presidential runoff election where the assembly had been elected concurrent to the presidential first round.

This was a very unusual election season in Peru. Governing may be a challenge, and divided government may yield some upcoming reminders that the Peruvian system actually is semi-presidential.


* By comparison, the recent election in Austria was practically a landslide.

** The spelling is a play on Pedro Pablo Kaczynski’s initials.