No, the allies did not “impose” MMP on Germany

An entry on the Whoa! Canada blog claims that the mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system Germany uses was an imposition of the allied occupational authorities.

For those who don’t know, at the end of Second World War the victorious Allies governments imposed Mixed Member Proportional Representation on West Germany.

They did this specifically to prevent the rise of another Hitler.

Further on, it makes a specific claim about the then British Prime Minister, in a bold subheading of a section that actually does not even try to elaborate on its claim:

Winston Churchill knew Proportional Representation was a defence against fascism.

This is all very fanciful. The allied occupation authorities did not “impose” MMP on Germany, and the British in particular favored reverting to Germany’s pre-Weimar majoritarian system, as did the Americans. MMP was a product of compromise among the various German parties and the American, British, and French occupation governments.

The (unsourced) claim that Churchill saw PR as a bulwark against fascism is especially creative. At the time, PR was widely (if inaccurately) seen as responsible for the rise of the Nazis. If anything in the German system was adopted to be a bulwark against fascism, it was the 5% threshold–the very most non-proportional feature of the system to this day.


For a good overview of the adoption of MMP in Germany, see Susan E. Scarrow, “Germany: The Mixed-Member System as a Political Compromise,” in Matthew S. Shugart and Martin P. Wattengerg, eds., Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds? Oxford University Press, 2001.

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.

PEI 2016: Referendum favors MMP

The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) held a referendum (“plebiscite”) on electoral reform. The voting, which could be done online or by phone, took place from 27 October to 7 November, Results have now been announced, and the majority preference is mixed-member proportional (MMP).

Interestingly, it was a vote among multiple options, conducted by alternative vote (instant runoff). The initial plurality choice was the status quo, first past the post (FPTP). But this was the first choice of only 31.2%. The runner up in first preferences was MMP, with 29%.

Through elimination of lower-ranking choices and transfer of preferences, MMP came out with a majority on the fourth round of counting, 55% to 45% over FPTP (leaving out exhausted ballots, which were just under 5%).

Other options were “FPTP with leaders” (status quo, except that party leaders who did not win a riding would get a seat if the party cleared 10%), “Preferential Voting” (i.e., alternative vote), and something new called “Dual-Member Proportional“.

Perhaps it is not at all surprising that the transfer patterns reveal a “change as little as possible if we must change” coalition and a “more change” coalition. FPTP took a bigger lead on the count following elimination of FPTP+, by far more timid of the reform proposals. After the elimination of AV, which would be the next most-similar proposal to the status quo, MMP actually got more of these voters (43.9% to 36.7% for FPTP). Given that DMPR got 19.5%, the pro-AV voters had a clear majority for some sort of PR over keeping majoritarianism. On the final count, MMP got 82.6% of the eliminated votes for DMPR. This adds up to quite a clear consensus for a move away from the majoritarian model. (Note that STV was not an option.)

PEI had a referendum on an official proposal for MMP in 2005, which went down to a big defeat. Since that time, the province has continued to have some of the odd results (e.g. 2007) that are inherent to FPTP, especially given such a small assembly. In the most recent provincial election (2015) there was another large manufactured majority, although the Green Party managed to win a seat despite just 11% of the provincewide vote.

The timing of the vote is interesting, given that the federal parliamentary committee studying electoral reform is due to report in just a few weeks.

The PEI referendum result is non-binding.

Thailand’s new constitution and electoral system

Thailand will be holding a referendum on adopting a new constitution on August 7. A translation of this document is available here. The nation is currently ruled by a military junta, which took power from the elected government in May 2014. If the constitution is adopted, elections will be held in mid-2017 to choose a new civilian government (though that date has been pushed back a fair few times).

The document provides for a bicameral Thai parliament, as has been the norm for the nation’s numerous democratic constitutions. There is a Senate and a House of Representatives. One of the most substantial changes is that the Senate, which was half-elected and half-appointed by the King (I am unclear whether this was to take place on the advice of the government) under the 2007 constitution, and entirely elected under the 1997 one, will now be wholly appointed. This represents a return to pre-1997 practice.

While the Senate only has a delaying role on most legislation, passage at a joint sitting is required for certain ‘organic’ laws, like those on elections, the operation of the Constitutional Court, and the specific method for choosing Senators. This will become especially important in the first term of government, as the first Senate is to be appointed on the advice of the members of the junta.

The House of Representatives is the larger and more powerful of the two houses. As was hinted at by the drafters of the new document, it is to be elected using mixed-member proportional representation, though with closed lists and a remarkably small list tier (150 list/350 constituency).

When this proposal was first put about, I did some simulations of what the House would have looked like following the 2011 election had MMP been used. These estimates are based off a smaller list tier (the size of the one used under MMM in 2011). Any increase in the size of the House is due to overhang.

"Projections
The key loser would be the populist Pheu Thai party, strongly opposed by the coup leaders and the winner would be the Democrat Party, which is considered to have the tacit support of the coup leaders. This would not necessarily be an unfair advantage (given it would give the Democrats a somewhat closer share of seats to their nationwide support), but it would be an advantage nonetheless.

MMP is specifically entrenched in the document. Amendment procedures have also changed; while past documents have allowed a majority of members of the House to make amendments, the new document will require 20% support from opposition parties to make amendments. Needing a super-majority isn’t unusual internationally, but not many constitutions contain quite so many specific electoral provisions as Thailand’s.

What impact increased proportionality will have on Thailand’s democracy is not entirely clear. On one hand, it could require governments to form broader coalitions, which might reduce confrontation in Thai politics and thus less resort to extra-constitutional means. On the other, it could lead to a fragmented House and weak, revolving-door civilian governments, like those that existed before 1997.

It is also worth noting that the elections scheduled for mid-2017, if they take place then, will be held under a law written and approved by the current military-appointed legislature.

Regardless of this constitution, Thailand has clearly got serious problems with military intervention. Previous Constitutions of a similar nature to this one ended in failure. It is unclear whether this one will be any better, though I see it as unlikely.

What if Canada adopts MMP?

Among the electoral system types to be considered by Canada’s upcoming reform-proposal process is the mixed-member proportional system (MMP). What might we expect Canada’s effective number of seat-winning parties (Ns) to be under MMP?

As noted in the previous post on comparing the Alternative Vote to FPTP, Canada has had almost exactly the Ns, on average, that we should expect it to have, given its assembly size (around 2.6). Thus I will start from the premise here that Canada would continue to have about what we expect if it had MMP staring in 2019 (or whenever). That is, recent elections the country are neither surprisingly under- or over-fragmented, so there is no reason to think the country would over-shoot the expectation under a new system. (It might be more realistic that it would under-shoot, but that depends on how much we believe there is pent-up demand for new parties or for growth of existing smaller ones. I will leave that aside here.)

The answer to this “what if” depends on the precise MMP model. What Li and Shugart (2016) have shown is that a minor addition to the Seat Product Model (of Taagepera, 2007) captures two-tier compensatory systems well. MMP is a type of two-tier compensatory system, so let’s apply that model to a hypothetical Canadian MMP. The formula is:

Ns=2.5t(MSB)1/6.

In this formula, MSB is the “basic-tier seat product”, defined as the mean magnitude of the basic tier, times the total number of seats in that tier. For a typical MMP system, we retain M=1 in the basic tier, so the basic-tier seat product is simply the number of seats elected in that tier. The t in the formula stands for “tier ratio”, which is the share of the total assembly that is elected in the compensatory tier. This is an exponent on a constant term that is empirically determined to be 2.5. (Determined from the broader set of cases on which this is tested.*)

If a country’s electoral system is “simple”, meaning there is just a single tier, as with FPTP, then the above formula reduces to Taagepera’s (2007) seat product model:

Ns=(MS)1/6.

(In a system with no upper tier, t=0, and MSB=MS.)

For purposes of estimating, I am going to assume the assembly size will remain the same, currently S=338. I will further assume that it would be politically difficult to reduce the number of districts (ridings) in the basic tier of an MMP system too much below the current number (which is, of course, 338). I will adopt two thirds of the current number as my estimate of “not too much”. In such a scenario, we get a basic tier of 225 seats, giving us t=.33:

Ns=2.5.33(225)1/6=1.35(2.47)=3.33.

I did not plan my scenario to get to three-and-a-third, but it has a nice ring to it. And seems pretty reasonable. For comparison purposes, this is not much different form what Canada had in 2006 (3.22) or Germany, an actual MMP system, had in 1998 (3.31).

Based on another formula in Taagepera (2007), which is empirically very accurate, we can also derive an expectation for the seat share of the largest party (s1):

s1 = Ns-.75.

For our hypothetical MMP system in Canada, this implies the largest party with just over 40% of the seats.

We can tinker with the scenarios. For instance, suppose the assembly size were increased to 400, with half the seats in the basic tier. Then we get:

Ns=2.5.5(200)1/6=1.58(2.42)=3.82.

As would be expected intuitively, the fragmentation of the House goes up due to the larger compensation tier, and in spite of the basic-tier seat product being correspondingly lower. This scenario would have an expected s1=.366.

Note that I have ignored thresholds here. My ongoing research with Taagepera suggests that thresholds matter, but unless the threshold is very high (more than 5%) or the seat product, MS, is extremely high, the value of the threshold has much less impact than the parameters discussed here.

In conclusion, under common Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) designs, Canada could expect its House to have an effective number of parties ranging from 3.33 to 3.8, compared to a recent average of around 2.6 under FPTP. Its largest party could be expected to have around 36% to 40% of the seats, on average, compared to majorities or nearly so in recent elections.


* Note that this parameter’s empirical derivation raises the risk that it could be an artifact of the particular sample we have, and thus not reliable for determining an expectation value, as I am doing here. Fortunately, unless it is off by a wide amount, it does not make a large difference. For instance, 2.33 =1.26, whereas 3.33 =1.44. This variance in our prediction is much less than “normal” fluctuation from election to election in many countries.

On District-Ordered Lists: in reaction to Éric Grenier’s proposal

A month or two back, Éric Grenier from ThreeHundredEight.com, who is often cited on this blog when the discussion turns towards current electoral prospects in Canada, proposed an electoral reform to introduce PR in that country. The proposal suggests a retention of current electoral districts as a list-ordering mechanism: while seats would be allocated proportionally to parties within each province, voters would still cast a vote for one candidate in their district, and each party’s seats would be awarded to the party’s candidates achieving the highest shares of the vote in their districts.

To my knowledge, two countries use a very similar system: Slovenia and Romania. The Slovenian system is practically identical, with the difference that seats are allocated to candidates on the basis of the number of votes they receive in their district, rather than the percentage. The Romanian system is different in that it guarantees a seat to any candidate with more than 50% of a district’s vote, and guarantees that each district has (at least) one representative (with potentially more in the case of an overhang). Another substantially similar case is the German state of Baden-Württemburg, where half the seats are filled by the plurality winners of each district and the other half by the party’s ‘best loser’ candidates by district vote share. In the absence of another moniker (as far as I’m aware) I shall collectively call all these systems (including Grenier’s proposal) ‘District-Ordered List systems’. Of these, only systems where each district winner is guaranteed a seat (as in Baden-Württemburg’s ‘best loser’ scheme) may be considered to be a type of MMP.

Though I recognise that District-Ordered List systems may have some merit, they suffer from some serious disadvantages, especially with comparison to 2-vote MMP.

As the Jenkins Commission put it some years ago, “turning losers into winners” may be seen as problematic. This is even more the case in those systems which do not guarantee district plurality winners a seat, as the representative elected from a district may only have taken a small share of the vote while the first-, second-, third-, and even fourth- placed candidates return empty-handed. In Slovenia (and under the Grenier proposal), some districts, particularly deeply-divided ones, can be left with none of its candidates elected and no local representation at all, while other districts may see more than one candidate elected. Romania doesn’t have that problem as its system ensures that every district has its own MP, but those MPs are more likely to be second- or third-placed within their own district. Baden-Württemburg’s best-loser MMP eliminates most of these problems by ensuring each district’s first-placed candidate gets a seat.

Another limitation of District-Ordered List systems is that they (as proposed or currently used) feature a single vote, meaning voting for district representative is completely tied up with the party vote (unlike the most commonly used variant of MMP, which features two votes: a district vote and a list vote). While ordering lists by district is an attempt to bring individual accountability to the list component[1], having a single vote means that voters cannot assess district candidates independently from the parties. For example, if a voter identifies with a party but dislikes that party’s candidate in his district, he may be faced with a dilemma. That dilemma does not exist under 2-vote MMP, where a district vote for party A’s candidate should not, in principle, affect party B (or any party’s) final seat count, which is determined separately according to the number of list votes attained by each party. This should make individual, district-level accountability stronger under regular 2-vote MMP.

Another issue has been raised previously by Matthew Shugart, this blog’s chief planter:

“By rewarding a candidate for driving up his or her vote even in a district where the candidate has little realistic chance of winning, best-loser allocation exacerbates some of the worst features of FPTP. Whereas under [2-vote] MMP rules, the two big parties have a strong incentive to seek to position themselves near the center of the nationwide electorate to maximize their party vote, under the best-loser rule, they would be back to the old days of targeting districts and seeking to appeal to voters located in relatively closely contested districts. They would want to do so because, even if they are not likely to win such electorates, those are the electorates where their highest quality candidates have the best shot at entering parliament despite losing the district race.”

I don’t know to what degree this has been the case in the aforementioned countries using district-ordered lists[2], but the charge certainly makes sense, although I think it is a little overstated: under First-Past-the-Post, parties target marginal seats as a seat-maximizing strategy. Under any system with district-ordered lists, each party’s seat total is generally determined proportionally and independently of the number of districts won[3]. This means the general effect should be lesser than under FPTP, though it may still be just as strong when it comes to nomination strategies. Either way, Matthew’s argument underlines the point I try to make above: though 1-vote district-ordered list systems are supposed to introduce a certain individual accountability to the list, the fact that voters have but one vote means that to a large extent, voting patterns are party- rather than candidate-based. Safe and marginal seats can therefore be expected to exist by virtue of partisan rather than candidate support. To summarize, this not only means personal, district-level accountability will not be any stronger than under first-past-the-post, but may also impact parties’ nomination strategies at least as much as FPTP.

To some degree, one could address these issues with the best-loser MMP model by slightly modifying it to have two votes: one for district representative and the other determining each party’s overall share of seats, but with list seats going to the ‘best losers’ in the district tier. Voters could split their vote, thus generating district results that more closely reflect voters’ appreciation for the candidates rather than for the parties they are affiliated with (all the while having their list vote count fully for the calculation of the seat total of their preferred party). There would be less of a risk in nominating ‘quality’ candidates in less-than-safe districts, as the relative safety of a district would less be a function of partisan preferences and more of appreciation for the nominated candidates. Of course, this may work only to the degree that people understand and use their two votes in this way. If they would still overwhelmingly vote for their preferred party’s candidate, either because they do not understand that it does not impact their party’s total or for instance because they only value candidates based on their partisan affiliation, the improvement felt would be negligible.

Either way, this also raises a broader question: is pitting individual candidates against other individual candidates of other parties an effective way of holding candidates individually accountable, as under FPTP, MMP or any district-ordered list PR? Personally, I suspect systems where candidates face competition from other candidates of the same party, such as open-list systems or STV, may have more to offer on this score[4].



[1] For example, the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly described best-loser MMP as having “greater accountability [than regular 2-vote MMP] as voters would have a more direct vote for those who are chosen to represent them.”

[2] The evidence Matthew cites comes from Japan, which allows parties to order their lists based on success in districts, but does not make it mandatory.

[3] The exception is overhang, which under some systems may increase a party’s seat total beyond its proportional share, and which may or may not be a realistic prospect, depending on the electoral situation.

[4] Whichever is the case, I can think of only one system that offers a direct compromise between the two principles: open-list MMP.