Chilean electoral reform

The electoral reform in Chile has been approved. As is to be expected in such processes, the final version is a bit different than what had been proposed back in 2013 when we first discussed the Chilean electoral reform.

The size of the Chamber of Deputies will be increased from 120 to 155, and the chamber will be redistricted to have 28 districts (currently there are 60). This means a mean magnitude of 5.5; the range will be 3-8. This is a very substantial change from the current system, in which all districts elect just two.

The Senate is also being increased in size from 38 elected members to 50. The fifteen regions will constitute electoral districts, leading to an average district magnitude of 3.3 (range of 2-5).

The D’Hondt method is retained, as are the open lists.

There will be a gender quota concerning nominations: neither men nor women can constitute more than 60% of the candidates on a list.

The first link above offers detail (in Spanish) about the debates and votes on specific provision, as well as which communes will be in which chamber district, and the district magnitudes for both chambers.

Visualizing the impact of two-seat districts

In response to my post about the two-seat districts in Burkina Faso, David Altman (a leading scholar on Chilean and comparative politics) contacted me to say I was not quite right in my contention that the Chilean experience showed that two-seat districts systematically advantage the second party or bloc. Fair enough. I made my point utterly without nuance–as if the second list was always advantaged more than the first–and I elided the distinction between national and district-level effects.

David showed me a graph he had generated in which it is clear that, on average, there is little difference between the vote-seat gap for the main center-left alliance and that of the right-wing alliance; in fact, the gap tended to be slightly higher for the center-left. It is the right that has been consistently second in nationwide votes, so the data seemed to challenge my “systematic” claim.

In the Burkina Faso post, I went over a number of examples from the district level in that country where there was a large advantage in terms of the translation of votes into seats for the second party. I do not think David and I disagree about the district-level effects. But what about the national?

For reasons Taagepera and Laakso* first emphasized in 1980, the best way to visualize how electoral systems treat parties (or alliances) is not by using the difference between seat and vote shares for each party, but by the advantage ratio, A:

    A=(percent seats)/(percent votes).

This is the approach I will use here. The first graph simply plots the distribution of A values in the Chilean elections from 1989 to 2013 (Chamber of Deputies only), using a kernel density plot. It also marks the arithmetic means with vertical dashed lines.

Chile Adv ratios kdens

Of course, with only seven elections, we should be cautious in interpreting how “systematic” the effect is. Yet the trend is clear: the right-wing alliance (referred to in the graph as “Alianza” and shown in blue) has a notable tendency to have higher advantage ratios than has the center-left (“Concertación”).** Yet in every election the Alianza has been second in nationwide votes, albeit by widely varying margins.

The second graph shows the advantage ratio against the nationwide gap in votes between the two parties (Concertación vote share minus Alianza vote share), with each election labelled.

Chile A vs vote gap

Note that as the gap grows, there is a tendency of the Alianza’s advantage ratio to increase. There is actually a small such tendency for the Concertación, too, although it is much closer to a flat line. More importantly, we would normally expect that as the top two parties/alliances grow farther apart in votes, the first one would gain more in seat share. Yet what the Chilean pattern shows us is that the second one gains more, relative to its vote share, as the gap grows. This is not something we would expect under any other district magnitude (except maybe M=4) under any proportional (or semi-proportional) allocation rule. It is this “relative to its vote share” point that I meant to convey. Two-seat districts are a good way to get the second force more over-representation than that of the first force.

If we turn to individual elections, we see that Alianza data point is higher than that for the Concertación in 1989, 1993, and 2005, all years in which the Alianza was more than ten percentage points behind the Concertación, plus in 2009 when the two alliances were almost even in votes. On the other hand, the large vote gap for the Concertación in two elections, 1997 and 2013, resulted in a higher advantage ratio for the Concertación. In 2013 I assume that has to do with the center-left having expanded its electoral reach by incorporating new parties and rebranding its list as Nueva Mayoría. I am not sure what the explanation is in 1997; the gap was large that year, but as the data plot shows, not unusually so.

I find it interesting that the worst year for the Concertación, by this standard, was 2005, which I had noted at the time as being unusual in having a bloc of parties compete against each other in the first round of the presidential elections while remaining united on legislative lists–the Alianza’s two main component parties had separate presidential candidates. The result in the legislative races was their best advantage ratio since the first democratic election of 1989.

It looks to me like two-seat districts in Chile have indeed generated a systematic greater advantage to the second alliance over the first, even if the effect is tempered by other features of specific elections.

* Rein Taagepera and Markku Laakso, “Proportionality Profiles of West European Electoral Systems,” European Journal of Political Research 8 (1980):423-46; see also Rein Taagepera and Matthew S. Shugart, Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems (Yale University Press, 1989), in particular chapter 7.

** The right has run under different names in different elections. I am using “Alianza”; the center-left changed names from Concertación to Nueva Mayoría in 2013.


The data, by year (pardon the plain text formatting):

year Conc_votes Alianz_votes A_Conc A_Alian
1989 .515 .342 1.116505 1.169591
1993 .554 .367 1.052948 1.135331
1997 .505 .363 1.138614 1.078972
2001 .479 .443 1.078636 1.072235
2005 .518 .387 1.045689 1.162791
2009 .444 .435 1.06982 1.111111
2013 .477 .362 1.17051 1.127993
Mean .4988571 .3855714 1.096103 1.122575

Chile’s election, 2013

Chileans went to the polls today in a general election (president and congress).

As of this time of posting, the count has just begun. I will update this space when there is more known. In the meantime, the profile of the three leading presidential candidates reads like a novel–and not only because the author is Ariel Dorfman.

Electoral reform advances in Chile

Both houses of the Chilean legislature have passed legislation to increase the size of both chambers and scrap the current electoral system.

The assembly size changes are modest. Chile currently has one of the smallest first chambers, relative to population, of any democratic country (see graph). The planned change from 120 to 134 will redress this only slightly. The Senate will go from its current 38 members to 44.

The current electoral system for both houses tends to be referred to by the rather uninformative name, “binomial” system. It is open-list PR in two-seat districts, using the D’Hondt formula. D’Hondt is probably the most common PR formula, but of course it isn’t very proportional when your district magnitude is two. It does, however, tend to over-represent the second largest list, usually the conservatives, and this was its intention. (Aside: I met someone in the US government in about 1988 who had served as an advisor to the Chilean government, and he said the goal of the system then being designed was, in his words, “to screw the left”. Interesting that it is a conservative government that is finally moving ahead with changes.)

The article does not make clear what the new system will be. Presumably PR with higher and variable magnitude. Or maybe the same M=2 districts but with the additional seats being for a national compensation tier. If anyone has details on either the planned new system or the politics behind it, please comment.

The new system will not be in place until the 2017 elections.

(H/t to Chris, in an earlier thread on the topic; yes, they’ve been talking about this for a while.)

Electoral reform in Chile?

Proposals to change the electoral system in Chile are again on the table, writes Mariano Montes (in Spanish). With the first post-dictatorship presidency from the center-right (who is currently very popular), the previous veto by the right may be overcome. The center-left Concertacion has never liked the current electoral system, which was originally designed to over under-represent them at the expense of the right.

The proposals would be to increase the size of each chamber, and simultaneously permit presidential reelection. These moves would require a constitutional amendment. With larger chambers, the district magnitudes would be increased, resulting in a more proportional system.

The current system actually is a proportional formula, continuing the pre-dictatorship system of open-list PR with D’Hondt allocation. What has made it mostly unrepresentative of political forces other than those grouped into the two big pre-electoral coalitions is that all districts currently have a magnitude of two. Rather awkwardly and imprecisely, this system has come to be known as the “binomial” system.

I am always somewhat amused by criticisms of the system that refer to its making possible districts in which one winning candidate has fewer votes than another who loses. Of course, this is precisely the sense in which it is not a “nominal” (or nomial?) system. Were it a nominal system, by definition, the two candidates with the most votes would be the winners in each district. Nominal systems are those in which votes are cast for candidates by name, rather than being first pooled by party or coalition affiliation. Nominal systems are top-M systems (where M is the district magnitude).

Chile’s system, by contrast, is a list system. That means the first criterion is the votes cast collectively for the candidates on each list. Then the open nature of the lists kicks in, where candidate vote totals matter. Rather than being a top-M system, at this stage it is a top-s system, where s is the number of seats each list has won. Obviously, when M=2, s can take only the values of 0, 1, or 2.

Given that it is D’Hondt, the list with the most votes will win two seats only if it doubles the vote total of the runner-up list. This is how all D’Hondt systems work, and D’Hondt is the most common of proportional allocation methods for list systems (open or closed). The difference is that most list-proportional systems that use D’Hondt have M>2 for most of their districts, and so the process continues beyond determining whether the largest list has more or less than twice the votes of the next list. But in any open-list system, it is always possible (in fact, typical) that some candidates who win seats are not in the top M. They merely must be in the top s of their own party’s or electoral coalition’s list.

It would make a lot of sense if Chile would revert to the pre-dictatorship system of larger districts, and thus greater proportionality. The current system over-represents the two largest list, but over-represents the one that is second in votes to a greater degree than the one with the most votes (because the second one often has many fewer votes in a district, but not only half as many). It also makes sense to expand the size of the chambers; Chile’s Chamber of Deputies is very under-sized, relative to its population (see the graph at a planting from more than five years ago on reapportionment in the USA).

Maybe Chile will finally have a more proportional electoral system. But, please, let’s not call the resulting system with its higher magnitudes a multinomial system!

Thanks to Greg Weeks for the tip.

Presidential elections in Chile and Ukraine

This Sunday, 17 January, voters in Chile and Ukraine will vote in presidential elections. In Ukraine the vote will be the first round of a near-certain two-round contest, while in Chile it is a top-two runoff.

This will be Ukraine’s first presidential election since the Orange Revolution of late 2004, and the man whose name was chanted for days and nights by the crowds in the central square of Kyiv, Viktor Yushchenko, is expected to place no higher than third and thus be eliminated. I wonder how often an incumbent president fails to place in the top two–not very often, I presume. The runoff would thus pit Yuliya Tymoshenko against Viktor Yanukovych–the same two who have taken turns in the prime minister’s chair since the Orange Revolution. Given the voting patterns that have characterized Ukraine’s legislative elections during Yushchenko’s term, one hardly needs to consult the polls to predict that Yanukovych will “win” the first round (leading to predictable hand-wringing about Ukraine returning to Russia’s orbit), but Tymoshenko will win the decisive second round.

In Chile, most of the polls and punditry say that this is the year that the right, behind the candidacy of Sebastian Pinera, wins executive power through an election for the first time since 1958. I would not write off the Concertacaion (center-left) candidate, Eduardo Frei, just yet, however. A poll this week puts Pinera up only 50.9-49.1. Needless to say, that’s too close to call. Pinera led 44.1 to 29.6, with 20.1 for independent-left candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami Gumucio (ME-O), in the first round. So the big factor is how many ME-O voters get over their unhappiness with ex-president Frei of the Christian Democratic Party being the center-left candidate and return to the Concertacion fold for the runoff. In the legislative elections held concurrent with the first round, the two main blocs were very close (44.4 for the Concertacion and 43.4 for the Coalicion por el Cambio for the Chamber of Deputies). Obviously, many ME-O voters kept to the old habit of voting Concertacion for the legislative race. Will they do so in the presidential runoff? (First round discussion at F&V.)

Chile: election 2009

Chile’s presidential election (first round) is Sunday. The contest is particularly interesting, because there is an “outsider” candidate, Marco Enriquez-Ominami (ME-O),* who is splitting the center-left vote ahead of the first round. As the BBC describes him:

A hyperactive 36-year-old filmmaker with only a few years of political experience under his belt and no party affiliation, no-one gave him a chance when he announced his candidacy.

Chile’s politics since the end of the military regime have been dominated by two big multi-party alliances, and so far the center-left Concertacion has won every election.

ME-O is not likely to be the ultimate winner (or even to advance to a runoff), but he has shaken up the contest.

He says the ruling centre-left coalition, the Concertacion, has run out of steam after 20 years in power, and Chile needs a new constitution and a new electoral system. Both date from the years of military rule under Pinochet.

Mr Enriquez-Ominami has also challenged the established candidates on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, issues which – in a country regarded as among the most conservative and Catholic in Latin America – are seldom discussed during election campaigns.

The mainstream candidates are, for the Concertacion, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei (a former president seeking a comeback following two consecutive presidencies from the Socialist Party) and, from the conservative opposition alliance, Sebastian Pinera (running for the second time).

A previous comment by Eduardo Olivares provides much useful background. As Eduardo notes, this is an interesting parallel with the 2005 election, when it was the center-right that split and had two candidates in the first round.

It will be very interesting to see what impact the presence of two presidential candidates competing for the center-left vote has on the concurrent legislative elections. In 2005, on the right, we saw the very unusual situation of two parties presenting separate presidential candidates while allied for the legislature. This time, of course, the third candidate is an independent rather than an affiliate of one of the allied parties; I assume he does not have his own legislative lists, but I hope someone can confirm that. (With Chile’s 2-seat districts and D’Hondt open-list PR, one of the main political tendencies being split for legislative races would be catastrophic, because it potentially would allow the other bloc of parties to double the votes of the runner-up in many districts and thus win both seats. Given the runoff, on the other hand, there is little cost to splitting in the presidential race. Perhaps as a result we have a new trend in Chilean elections.)

In 2005, the combined coattails of two candidates from the right was not helpful in the legislative races: The two candidates combined for 48.6% of the first-round presidential vote, but their common Deputies ticket did not even reach 40%. How will the coattails effect work for the center-left candidates in 2009?

The presidential runoff, if necessary–as it surely will be–is scheduled for 17 January.

* Not an “outsider” in the sense that Samuels and Shugart (2010) understand that term (where it means a candidate who has not served in the national party for which he or she is running), as ME-O is a legislator. However, he is running from outside of the Concertacion coalition that encompasses most of Chile’s left (as well as the Christian Democrats).

Note: I expect to be off line Sunday and through at least the first half of the week, so I shall rely on visiting propagators to keep the orchard tended for that time.