Could proportional representation stop the popular Merkel?

One might think that the BBC would know the difference between the institutions of proportional representation (PR) and a parliamentary executive format. But one might be wrong.

On the Business Daily show on BBC World Service today, the host framed a program segment about Germany’s upcoming election around the following claim: Chancellor Angela Merkel (Christian Democrat) is vastly more popular than her main challenger, Peer Steinbrück of the Social Democrats. However, because of the electoral system she might not return as Chancellor.

For the record, if the most popular politician in the election does not emerge as head of the government after the election, it is because of the parliamentary system: Germany does not elect its leader directly. Its leader must have the consent of parliament (first chamber) to enter and remain in office. Just like Britain, one might note.

Later in the program, during an interview with two German election analysts, the host repeated a variant of this great threat to the popular Merkel emanating from the country’s electoral system, calling the system “unpredictable”.

If we redefined “electoral system” to mean “voters’ choices”, the host’s remark might have made some sense. He noted that many voters see less and less difference between the two big parties and are increasingly likely to vote for small parties, like the Greens. Indeed, even the popular Merkel is not going to lead her party to much more than 40% of the vote, assuming polls (which have been quite stable throughout the year) are accurate.

With only around 40% of the vote, the PR system will mean the Christian Democrats are short of a majority of seats–well short. The parliamentary system will mean she needs at least one partner. (One might point out to the BBC host: just like Britain; a minority government would also be possible but much less likely in Germany.) However, we can be fairly certain that the coalition will reflect how people actually voted. This is the value of PR. In fact, the highly predictable aspect of it. If 40% of voters have voted for Merkel’s party, and there is no conceivable alternative block of parties that has obtained a collective majority of votes, the government will be led by Merkel, in coalition with one of various smaller parties.

Despite the host’s best efforts to signal a looming crisis due to the German electoral system, both German guests calmly pointed out that Merkel was sure to return as Chancellor, most likely in the same coalition she has now–with the Free Democrats–or perhaps in coalition with Steinbrück’s Social Democrats. One of the guests said that the chance of the latter was increasing.

There actually is a good chance that the Christian and Free Democrats will be short of 50%. But that will be even less a crisis than when the same happened in 2005 (and that was not a crisis). In fact, given the new shape of German politics, with one party clearly dominant, it is time to stop calling the possible coalition of Christian and Social Democrats a “grand coalition”. But that is a theme for another planting.

Proportional representation and the “empowered” backbencher?

Proportional representation would encourage more people to vote, properly reflect the wishes of all the electorate, encourage more women and minorities to run for office and, most importantly, restore power to MPs and electors. Then the backbenchers would no longer be restive, but empowered.

From a letter in the Calgary Herald by Mark Hambridge, president, Fair Vote Calgary.

Now, I am all for PR, in general, and agree with most of that, until the last point. But this kind of over-claiming really is not helpful. Is there any evidence that backbenchers in PR systems (with parliamentary executives) are more “empowered”–which I assume means more able to dissent from the government when their party is a member thereof? I do not think so.

It is likely that leaders use the threat of “my backbenchers won’t go for it” in intra-coalition negotiations with leaders of partner parties. But that is not the same thing as “empowered” backbenchers. Or at least I don’t think this is what the letter-writer has in mind.

What is “proportional” about robbing a majority winner of his majority?

Sent to The Los Angeles Times today, in response to an article that inaccurately refers to Republican proposals for several state’s allocation of electoral votes as “proportional systems”:

The LA Times refers today (Jan. 27) to Republican proposals in several states to replace statewide winner-take-all allocation of presidential electors with “a proportional system”.

These proposals are NOT proportional; they are still winner-take-all, but in each congressional district. As noted elsewhere in the article, had a district plan been in effect in 2012 Mitt Romney might have won 9 of Virginia’s 13 electors.

This means Barack Obama, who won 51.2% of the statewide vote, would have had barely 30% of the electors! This does not meet any standard of proportionality.

Even the House of Representatives, which is obviously allocated based on congressional districts, is not proportional: Democrats won the most House votes in 2012, but Republicans won a majority of seats.

Proportional representation is used by most of the world’s democracies. It produces allocations of political power that mirror how people actually vote. By contrast, the Republicans are proposing a house of mirrors to distort the vote for partisan advantage.

Israel 2013: What happened

A very good overview of the outcome of the Israeli election is provided by The Times of Israel.

I agree completely with two big take-home points here:

(1) All the hand wringing (my term, not the author’s) about divisions on the center-left was misplaced. The separate parties hoovered up more votes than a unified effort at creating an alternative bloc could have;

(2) The more costly divisions were on the right, due to two parties that fell below the threshold: Otzma L’Yisrael and Am Shalem.

I would add that, thanks to proportional representation and parliamentary government, Israelis will get what they appear to have collectively chosen: a continuation of Netanyahu, but balanced by a larger and more assertive centrist wing of the government.

It is stunning that the second largest party turned out to be Yesh Atid. So who are these men and women? Quite an interesting bunch!

It is also noteworthy how badly the Labor Party failed to reestablish itself under Shelly Yachimovich’s leadership. She and the party tried to position themselves as some sort of blend of centrist on security and social democratic on economics. The party was supposedly set to become a viable governing alternative–if not in this election, than after a rebuilding phase as the main opposition. The party will indeed be the main opposition, assuming Yesh Atid’s likely entry into the cabinet, but 15 seats is a very weak position.

Meretz doubled its seat total, probably as a result of otherwise Labor voters disgusted that the “new” Labor seemed to want to pretend the settlements and two-state issues would just go away. At one point, Yachimovich said something like “everyone knows my position” on these issues. That’s not likely good enough for someone calling herself a candidate for PM. I can’t imagine it will be long before there is another leadership change in Labor.

Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu

With a just a few days till the Israeli election, it is time to analyze the impact of the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu on the campaign. The presentation of a joint list was announced in late October. There is no question that this will be the list with the most seats–by far–and thus Binyamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. But can we assess how well the two parties’ merger decision has worked out thus far?

First, to what extent have the two parties campaigned as a unit?


Quite a bit. The photo above is from my TV screen during a news broadcast by DW-TV (carried on Link TV) regarding the Israeli campaign’s final week. It shows pamphlets lying on a table at a mall, one of which shows the two leaders, Netanyahu of Likud and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, side by side. Lieberman was the Foreign Minister until he had to step down in mid-December due to legal proceedings. (The legal charges have been pending for some time; there was no great surprise here.) Even the pamphlet that shows only the Prime Minister has both parties’ names at the bottom.

Likud info booth

Here is another that shows an information booth, with a sign above it that has both parties’ names. The parties clearly retain their distinct identity, despite their having presented a joint list; they clearly have a joint campaign as well.

Second, how did they construct their merged list? Likud held a primary, which resulted in a dramatic shift in the list’s overall complexion towards the hard-line, pro-settler elements on the right. (More on this later.)

The Yisrael Beiteinu list is ranked by its leadership–meaning mainly Lieberman himself. Subsequently, the two parties combined their lists. Continue reading

Bayit Yehudi ad banned for implying cooperation with Likud

This campaign advertisement by Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) has been ruled a violation of Israel’s campaign laws.

Bayit Yehudi

The ad, showing Likud leader and PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet, says “Strong together, choosing Bennet”. Bayit Yehudi is mainly a Judean/Samarian (West Bank) settlers’ party, and is competing for votes on the Israeli right with Likud. The two are almost certain to go into coalition together after the election.

However, the ad was banned on the grounds that it gives the impression the two parties are cooperating in the campaign and committed to working together after the election. As there is no such mutual declaration, the ad was deemed misleading. (My account and the ad image are based on an IBA news segment from Friday, 18 July.)

Note the interesting contrast with the campaign in today’s election in the German state of Lower Saxony.

Relations between Bennet and Netanyahu are known to be strained. When asked about that recently, Bennet suggested that their tensions are nothing that 15 seats could not overcome.

Bennet has been the sensation of this campaign, with his party originally thought to be likely to win 7-9 seats but polling in the 15-18 range in recent weeks. Some polls have shown it second, after the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance. More likely it will finish third, behind Labor.

The election is Tuesday.


The ad is photographed by me from a news broadcast of Israel Broadcast Authority, carried in the USA by World Harvest Television.

Campaigning around the threshold

The question of party and voter strategy in PR systems with legal thresholds has received less attention from analysts of electoral systems than it deserves. ((See also my entry on the Lower Saxony election for the impact of a threshold on strategy.)) The impact on a party’s fortunes of individual candidates who are too low on a closed list to be elected also receives too little attention.

Here are two examples, which I offer as small correctives to these deficiencies, from the current Israeli campaign. Both are based on interviews I heard on IBA News (broadcast on World Harvest TV).

Kadima, which was the largest party in the 2009 election, but went into opposition rather than make a deal with the ultra-orthodox parties, is fighting for its life in this campaign. In 2012, the party dumped its leader, Tzipi Livni, who then announced her retirement from politics. However, once this election was called, Livni unretired and set up her own party, called Tnua (Movement). My examples come from each of these parties.

Continue reading

Israel: The potential impact of electoral reform

In a comment in the previous thread on potential political reform in Israel, Ed raised the point that the country’s party-system fragmentation is at least as much a product of Israel’s social diversity as it is of the electoral system. It is a sensible argument, inasmuch as the party system has grown steadily more fragmented over time, while the most important features of the Knesset electoral system have been unchanged. (The 1996-2001 period of direct election, also discussed in the comments to the previous thread, was quite likely a contributor to fragmentation in the 1990s, but fragmentation has not declined since the return to a pure parliamentary system.)

In the past two decades, Israeli society has become more plural than ever, as immigrants from the former Soviet Union have created a new cleavage that has seen the rise of a significant new party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home ((Yes, Israel Is Our Home; I regularly see news stories that translate the party’s name as “Israel Our Home”, which of course makes no sense in English. There is no linking verb in the Hebrew expression.)) ), led by current Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. And while there is no single party that represents the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewish population (those whose disaporic roots are in other Middle Eastern countries), the Shas party, which draws a significant share of this community’s votes, has been growing since the early 1990s. So these developments seem to support the social-origins argument for Israeli party-system fragmentation over the electoral-system argument.

On the other hand, no clear social cleavage precipitated the creation of the Kadima Party, the launch of which by then-PM Ariel Sharon prior to the 2006 election was an even bigger contributor to the recent fragmentation than the growth of either Yisrael Beiteinu or Shas. And no new cleavage is clearly behind the stated intention of TV newsman Yair Lapid to form his own new party. ((He is likely simply to compete for the same basic voting bloc that helped the rise of the new leader of the Labor Party and that which votes for Kadima.))

Lkely none of these parties would have been as viable in the short run without such an extreme proportional system. Yet thanks to the seamlessness with which electoral support guarantees Knesset seats, Yisrael Beiteinu has grown from 2.6% of the vote in 1999 to 11.7% in 2009 and Kadima won 22% in its first election. ((See the Israeli Knesset pages for past election results.)) Polls immediately suggested Lapid’s party could earn 15-20 seats, which would place it among the three largest parties in the country.

An extreme proportional system does not guarantee a proliferation of parties, but it makes proliferation feasible, whether due to new social groups mobilizing behind new parties or to existing public figures creating new electoral vehicles for themselves and their associates.

In fact, we can use a purely institutional theory to account for the degree of fragmentation facilitated by the electoral system. We can then attribute any deviation from the predicted value of fragmentation to other social or political factors. For example, in Predicting Party Sizes (Oxford University Press, 2007), Rein Taagepera derives the following equation:


Where N is the “effective” number of seat-winning parties, which is by now the standard measure of party-system fragmentation in the political science literature, M is the average district magnitude, and S is the assembly size. The product of the latter two indicators is what Taaepera defines as the Seat Product.

The equation is derived deductively. (That is, it is not a “post-dictive” regression equation, but rather is built as a “logical model” from sparse assumptions about how district magnitude and assembly size “should” affect the outcome variable of interest.)

The graph of this equation against the data (on p. 153 of the book) from two dozen long-term democracies shows a very strong fit to this model. However, it is important to note that the value of N that is plotted for any given country is its average value over several decades of elections, and not the snapshot of any one election, or a recent sequence of elections. Because Israel elects the Knesset from a single 120-seat district, M=S=120, and MS=14,400. Raising this to the exponent, 1/6, yields 4.93. The data point for Israel is almost precisely on line representing the equation reproduced above. Slightly below it, in fact. ((Only Papua New Guinea has an effective number of parties far higher than predicted from its Seat Product, while Botswana, the U.K., and Spain are among the countries clearly on the low side (though not by large differences).))

So the Seat Product equation tells us that Israel, known for decades as a diverse polity with numerous parties, has experienced just about the precise degree of party-system fragmentation that we should expect it to have, given its Seat Product. The implication of this finding is that changing the Seat Product, for instance by reducing the district magnitude, could be expected to reduce party-system fragmentation.

As noted above, Israeli fragmentation has been growing recently. In fact, the last three elections–those since the abolition of the brief phase of direct prime-ministerial elections–have had an average N=6.93. That is above the predicted value (which is close to the actual longer-term average, as noted) of 4.93. The recent elections exceed the Seat Product by just over 40%. This suggests that recent factors driving the formation of new parties are accounting for the extra “two parties” that the party system now “effectively” supports. ((The “effective” number tells us how many hypothetical equal-sized parties would fragment the party system as much as the actual unequal-sized parties do. Thus it is incorrect to say, as some do even in the published literature–that it is a measure of how many “effective parties” there are. It is the number, not the parties it counts, that is “effective”.))

What impact might electoral reform have? And here I mean serious electoral reform, but one that remains firmly within the proportional family. Not a small rise in the threshold, but also not a move to (or towards) a majoritarian system. Let’s suppose Israel adopted a system of districts, as a means to cut its Seat Product.

If the average magnitude of the districts were to be 30, which would still mean the average district in Israel would be around the size of the largest district used by some of Europe’s other fragmented party systems ((E.g. Finland and Switzerland.)), the resulting Seat Product would be 3,600. Plug that into the equation and you would have an estimate of 3.91–effectively one party less than Israel’s long-term average. However, if the current three-election average is 40% higher than the Seat Product prediction, we might realistically expect it to remain so even with a change to M=30. If so, then it might be at N=5.48–still a substantial reduction from where it is now. ((This assumes no supra-district allocation; if there were such a compensatory procedure in place even after districting, it would really not be any different from the status quo, as allocation would be “as if” there were still one 120-seat district.))

What if Israel went to an average magnitude of 10, which would result from carving the country into twelve electoral districts? Then we have a Seat Product of 1,440. This yields a prediction of N=3.36, and if Israel’s actual system remained 40% over, it might be around N=4.70.

Could the social divisions of Israel be so great that they would resist even a 90% reduction of the Seat Product, through the adoption of twelve districts? Perhaps, but if the effective number of seat-winning parties remained at its recent 6.93, that would be 106% over the predicted value. Only one country in Taagepera’s graph is anywhere near such an excess relative to prediction: Papua New Guinea. And I submit that PNG is a good deal more fragmented than Israel. ((Plus, PNG’s fragmentation is localized, and hence capable of finding expression through the single-seat districts that PNG uses, and that make its Seat Product equivalent to its assembly size of 109.))

Clearly social and political factors outside of the electoral system are responsible for the recent rise in Israeli party-system fragmentation. Yet the fact that the longer-term average for Israel–which it should be stressed already placed it among the more fragmented systems!–almost perfectly matches what Taagepera’s Seat Product predicts suggests that electoral reform could make an impact. Perhaps Israel has finally outgrown its 120-seat district, and it is time for a more modest proportional system. ((By the way, the same argument could be made for the Netherlands, where N over the long term is likewise almost precisely where its high Seat Product says it “should be”, but where there has been a marked upward trend in N recently.))


“Governing system” reform in Israel?

Israel’s Minister of Transportation, Yisrael Katz, says, “We will replace the governing system before the upcoming elections”, according to Ynet.

Having spent some months in Israel in 2010, partly to work on political reform proposals, I have some idea how tough a nut this is. So I don’t necessarily expect anything big to happen in the 21 months or less leading up to the next general election.

Areas of reform would supposedly include raising the threshold for a party to enter the Knesset, limiting the number of ministers and deputies, increasing the number of votes required to for a vote of a no confidence, and adopting regional elections.

Some of these are good ideas, some bad. For example, raising the number of votes needed for the Knesset to dismiss a government would, by definition, mean replacing the parliamentary system of government. If more than 61 votes (out of 120) are required, then a government could lose the confidence of a majority–the situation that would lead to a change of government or early elections under parliamentarism–yet remain in office.

If government originates from the parliamentary majority, but is not dependent upon it for its survival, then the regime is what I call assembly-independent, not parliamentary. This is one of the “mixed” systems, in that it does not have either “fusion” of both origin and survival (parliamentarism), not “separation” of both (presidentialism), but rather mixes and matches. So I have to say that it would be quite good for political science if Israel would do this, as the country has already had the opposite combination–separation of origin but fusion of survival–during the phase of directly elected prime ministers from 1996 to 2001. I could imagine writing some interesting papers! But I doubt such a system is a good idea for Israel. It seems it would reduce, rather than increase, accountability.

Raising the threshold, which is currently 2%, seems like a good idea. However, as always, even a good idea has its downside. It just so happens that some of the parties that regularly reside right around the current threshold are the parties that attract mainly Arab votes. For instance, Balad has hovered between 1.9% and 2.5% since 1999, the United Arab List 2.1% and 3.4%, and Hadash 2.6% and 3.3%. A threshold that threatens these parties (individually, and it is not a certainty that they would merge) is problematic, to say the least. If one wanted to force one of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, United Torah Judaism, to direct its votes to someone else’s list, the threshold would need to be as high as 5% (UTJ has had 3.7-4.7% during this time, with some upward tendency). So raising the threshold is not so simple, after all. Besides, even with a 5% threshold, the problem that Israel has as many as five parties capable of getting 10% but not any of them would necessarily get much over 30% in any given election, would remain.

The Israeli system needs reform, but what sort of reforms is not a straightforward question.

Tunisia preliminary results

See the Tunisian Election Live Results Table for regularly updated district-level results.

There are still many districts not reported, and some missing data in those districts that are reported. However, the pattern is clear. Out of a total of 217 seats, 145 have been allocated as of my check. The Ennahda has 60 of these, which is 41%. The next largest parties, Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Aridha Chaabia (Popular Petition) have 21 and 20, respectively. Then Ettakatol with 13 and PDP with 6. No other party currently has more than 4. Thirteen parties are currently on one seat apiece.

The picture is thus one of a single dominant, but likely not majority, party, and a fragmented rest of the field.

At the district level, the expected pattern for the simple (Hare) quota and largest remainders (SQLR) system can be observed. This system is well known among electoral-systems specialists for its tendency to benefit small parties. Seats are much “cheaper” in terms of votes required to win, via remainders than via quotas.

The way SQLR works is that a quota is defined as 1/M of the votes, where M is the magnitude of the district (the number of seats available). In the first state of seat allocation, a party wins seats according to how many of these full quotas it has. Whatever number of seats are not yet allocated after seats by quota are determined are then allocated via largest remainders. In this stage of allocation, the parties’ remainders are ordered from largest to smallest, and a seat–at most one per party–is assigned to each in descending order until all are filled. ((It is this incorrect to call systems like this a “largest remainder” system, as is often said, because that term describes only the stage of allocation that takes place after quota seats are assigned. There are several different quotas (for instance, 1/(M+1) instead of 1/M), and the definition of quota that is used will have a significant effect on the remainders that parties have left over once quotas are assigned.))

A party’s seats in each district are thus the sum of its quotas earned, plus a remainder seat, if any. Under SQLR a large party will use up most of its votes on quotas, and then be eligible for at most one remainder seat. Smaller parties, on the other hand, often will have their full vote totals in the district as their remainder, and hence the last seats allocated in a district often require a much smaller number of votes to win than did the first (quota) seats that were assigned.

The process, and its impact on the cost of a seat, can be demonstrated by reference to a couple of the declared district results.

In the district of Gabes, M=7, Ennahda won 4 seats, and three other parties have one each. All three seats allocated to parties other than Ennahda were remainder seats. Total votes were 138,375. Ennahda had 73,416, or 53.5%. So it is only slightly over-represented, with 57.5% of the district’s seats. Its cost per seat is 18,354 (73,416/4). Each of the three other parties that won a seat has fewer votes than this, and the smallest of them paid only 7,351 votes (5.3% of the total) for its one seat, or 40% of what Ennahda paid for each of its four seats, three of which it won via quotas, and one by remainder.

A second, very striking, case shows how SQLR can sometimes under-represent the largest party. In Jendouba, M=8, Ennahda won 2 seats, and six other parties won a single seat apiece. Ennahda’s votes were 33,136 out of 118,376, or 28%. Yet it won only 25% of the district’s seats. The quota is 118.376/8=14,797. Thus both of Ennahda’s seats were won via quota, and it paid 16,568 votes for each of these. The other parties that won a seat each had vote totals ranging from 12,433 to 3,599. So the smallest party won a seat at a cost that was a mere 21.7% of Ennahda’s per-seat cost. Ennahda missed winning a third seat by 57 votes, as its remainder was 33,136-(2*14,797)=3,542. One party winning a seat on 3% of the votes cast, while another wins 2 seats on 28% is an odd result, but one that is inherent to the formula used, SQLR.

Tunisia Live does not seem to have a running total of national-level votes, so it not possible to tell the vote percentage upon which the preliminary 41% of seats for Ennahda is based. As the two district results discussed here show, SQLR can either over-represent or under-represent the largest party, depending on whether the precise vote totals allow the largest party to win one of the remainder seats or not, and of course on the district magnitude.

It is possible that Ennahda has won a bit more than 41% of the votes. It is also possible that it has less than 40%. Even the latter would imply a lesser degree of over-representation than most “proportional representation” systems would provide the largest party.

With one party so dominating the rest of the field, and smaller parties earning seats much more cheaply than the dominant party, we might anticipate that SQLR will not be the electoral system that this Constituent Assembly adopts for the next election.

Tunisia’s election


Tunisians voted today in elections for a constituent assembly. Turnout is reported to have been around 70%.

According to an election guide prepared by the Project on Middle East Democracy [PDF], the electoral system has the following key features:

An assembly of 217 seats

33 districts, 27 domestic and 6 for Tunisians abroad.

Maximum district magnitude of 10.

Closed lists.

Gender quota requiring every other candidate on a list to be a woman.

Simple quota and largest remainders allocation rule, with no legal threshold.

The six districts for overseas Tunisians will elect a combined 18 seats (magnitudes vary from 1 to 5).

These provisions would mean an average district magnitude of 7.8 7.4, not including the seats for overseas Tunisians.

The simple (Hare) quota with largest remainders tends to favor small parties (for a given magnitude), especially given the large number of parties running lists. Thus, despite a laudable gender-balance provision, many party-district contingents will be of just one (male) legislator–a good case of the inter-party dimension affecting the intra-party dimension.

To be clear, this not a “mixed proportional system” as one blog covering the election states. It is a pure list system, with all seats (again, leaving aside those for expatriates) being allocated via PR. ((Many–in fact, most–PR systems use multiple districts; very few allocate all seats in one nationwide district. I point this out because the cited blog appeared to be referring to the presence of districts when calling the system “mixed”. This is simply not correct terminology.))

The big question, of course, is how well the Islamist party, en-Nahda, will do.

I am not sure when we can expect results. Al Jazeera is running a live blog on the election.

Of course, around here we are delighted that this vote was made possible by the actions of a fruit vendor, even if we take no delight in self-immolation, per se.

Filling vacancies in OLPR

A proposal in Hong Kong would change the method of filling inter-election vacancies, reports David at Ahwa Talk. The electoral system for the Legislative Council is open-list PR, and currently by-elections are used to fill vacancies.

Most (all?) jurisdictions with OLPR systems simply take the next highest-ranking unelected candidate from the list of the departing member.

However, the Hong Kong proposal would take “The first candidate who has not yet been elected in the list with the largest number of remainder votes in the preceding general election.”

Average district magnitude is around five or six. David comments:

Maybe [proponents of this reform] assume that the individual candidate who captured that seat was a big reason for the party’s success… According to Carey and Shugart, low district magnitude in open list PR decreases the incentive for a candidate to cultivate a personal vote. In contrast, it is in high magnitude, open list PR where candidate preference matters more. This is because in a larger list, candidates have a stronger incentive to distinguish themselves from their fellow list members. Ultimately, we don’t really know why any individual is voting the way they are, but I think the Hong Kong government’s assumption requires more explanation.

I agree with David’s take on what the underlying assumption must be: that candidate reputation trumps party in Hong Kong. Indeed, the proposed method decreases the prominence of parties in that it departs from the normal working of OLPR by which is the list-PR component that first divides up the available seats, and only afterward that the “open” part comes into play in determining who gets those seats.

A potential benefit of the proposal, however, is that it should reduce the incentive of parties to rotate some of their legislators between elections. Doing so is common in OLPR systems–elsewhere (I do not know about Hong Kong)–and undermines the connection of elected legislators to the electorate. Under the Hong Kong proposal, a party would often forfeit the seat if it sought to swap out a member.

As for the Carey-Shugart (1995, Electoral Studies) we only claim that low-M OLPR places less premium on cultivating a personal reputation than does higher-M OLPR. The story is seen from the competing candidates’ point of view. From the voters’ point of view, however, smaller magnitudes and shorter lists undoubtedly increase the visibility of those who are elected, who win with greater shares of their party’s votes. I actually think this method for filling vacancies makes more sense for smaller district magnitudes than it would for larger. Whether it makes more sense than the usual party-centric way is an open question, and one that might not have a clear answer.

UK opinion on proportionality

I highly recommend a post by Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Stephen Crone of Democratic Audit, writing at the LSE blog, on trends in British opinion regarding proportionality.

A short summary would be that public support for the principles of proportionality or “fairness” vs. “effective government” has been quite stable over the past three decades. However, results of polls that specifically reference a possible shift to a PR system have been more volatile. There was a sharp, but temporary, uptick in support for a PR system according to polling in 2009, yet in 2010 there was a sharp increase in opposition to PR.

In other words, while underlying democratic values may not have changed, the public has become more polarized about the issue of adopting of a proportional representation system.

Did Kenya adopt MMP?

A student’s project prompted me to google “Kenya MMP.”

The first “hit” was for the Maasai Music Project, which sounds interesting, but not quite what I was looking for.

The second suggests that MMP was at least seriously considered, if not ultimately adopted, as part of the recent constitutional amendment process.

Maybe a reader knows how this process turned out…

Electoral reform and the mirror image of inter-party and intra-party competition

Recently published:

Monica Pachon and Matthew S. Shugart, Electoral reform and the mirror image of inter-party and intra-party competition: The adoption of party lists in Colombia. Electoral Studies 29, 4 (December), pp. 648-660.


The Colombian case offers a rare opportunity to observe effects of electoral reform where districting remains constant. Only the formula changed, from extremely ‘personalized’ (seats allocated solely on candidate votes) to ‘listized’: seats are allocated to party lists, which may be either open or closed. Electoral reform has effects on both the inter-party dimension (the number of parties competing) and the intra-party dimension (the extent of competition within parties). Consistent with theoretical expectations, the inter-party dimension features an increased number of parties in the low-magnitude districts and a decrease in the high-magnitude districts. On the intra-party dimension, the impact “mirrors” the inter-party: less competition in smaller districts, yet more in larger districts.

If you have access via an academic library, you can read or download the article from Science Direct.