Bilateral bargaining in multiparty coalitions

This is just a follow up to the previous planting. As I noted there, the incoming Israeli PM’s party (Likud) will sign separate coalition agreements with each of five partner parties (three of whom ran on a joint list in the election but maintain their separate “faction” status in the Knesset).

I believe this is typical of multiparty coalitions in parliamentary democracies: that when there are multiple partners, each one signs its own bilateral deal with the incoming cabinet head. I know it is the way it has been done in Israel for as long as I have been paying attention. It is also how it has been done in recent bargaining in New Zealand. I actually do not know if other counties with coalitions uniformly do this, or if there are cases where coalition agreements are joint among all the parties entering government. (There are some cases with no public agreements; that seems to be rare nowadays.)

Maybe someone knows of a case.*

The bilateral deals raise the specter for a party that a deal with another partner contradicts something in their own deal. Presumably the government-leading party seeks to avoid contradictions that will only cause headaches later. But some contradictions can’t be avoided, presumably, and some may even be strategic. This is precisely why parties also care about who gets junior ministers and committee chairs–the stacking vs. checking I talked about in the earlier entry. The agreements often contain a clause that they cover only the areas explicitly mentioned in the text, and do not preclude the PM’s party from striking agreements with other parties (presumably on different policy topics, but each party cares about more issues than those it gets in its own agreement). This is also why most coalitions create additional mechanisms, like coalition coordinating committees or inner cabinets, to work out inevitable disagreements.

The alternative agreement strategy would be to do a grand multilateral bargain. But that would be extremely complex and unwieldy to hammer out! But I wonder if there are countries, or specific governments, where that approach is taken.

A humorous (to me, anyway) aside is there was a report during the past weeks that Benjamin Netanyahu proposed having a single agreement with all parties. This was quickly shot down by his proto-partners, and presumably for good reason, from their perspective. He also went so far as to ask them to simply agree to form a right-wing government and delegate to him the personnel decisions for awarding each partner with posts. Naturally, that went over like a lead balloon. Nice try, though.

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* I since have been told that in Belgium and the Netherlands, they do multilateral coalition bargaining and agreements.

Stacking vs. checking: Otzma Yehudit in the emerging Israeli coalition

In a recent publication (details below), Reut Itzkovitch-Malka and I investigate when parties “check” partners in coalition governments and when they “stack” via the committee overseeing a ministry. Here’s a clear case of stacking in the incoming Israeli coalition: Otzma Yehudit reportedly will get both the ministry it most wanted as well as the chair of the parliamentary committee overseeing that ministry as part of the new Israeli government.

Broadly put, when coalitions are bargained, the parties forming the government have a choice of “stacking” whereby they agree to give one party full control over certain policy portfolios, or “checking” whereby two parties are given organizational bases from which to check one another in a given portfolio. There is considerable literature in political science on questions such as these, mostly focused on the degree of authority delegated to cabinet ministers. For instance, Laver and Shepsle (1996) famously developed a model to predict which cabinet deals would form, based on the policy preferences of the parties to the deal, and with the theoretical claim that the holder of a portfolio was a “policy dictator” in that policy domain. Within the cabinet coalitions literature, this has been challenged by the observation that often junior ministers are appointed from a different coalition party than the one that gets the (senior) minister in order for one party to “keep tabs” on the other (see Thies 2001). These views of the process are in direct tension with one another. The first assumes that what makes a coalition “work” is that all parties understand they get to do whatever they want in their portfolios and thus the bargain is credible (everyone knows this up front, so they won’t intervene in each others’ domains over the life of the coalition). The second assumes that what makes it work is the parties can have agents monitoring other parties to be sure they stick to compromises reached at formation of the coalition (the junior observes some “ministerial drift” and reports back to his or her own party).

In recent years, more attention has been turned to how parties might use parliamentary committees and their chair positions as part of the overall coalition bargain (e.g., Martin and Vanbgerg 2004, 2011). The notion of stacking vs. checking can also be applied here. For instance, the coalition agreement could see the party that gets a given ministerial portfolio also get the chair of the parliamentary committee that is charged with overseeing the ministry. That would be stacking. Alternatively, the committee chair could be from a coalition partner, creating an opportunity for checking within the coalition. (A third possibility is that the chair is from an opposition party. Most parliaments in coalition-based systems parcel out the chairs proportionally to all parties, so some committees will be allocated in a way that facilitates “monitoring” by the opposition.) All of these combination assume chairs have some authority. That is generally true–they have agenda power within the committee. Even though a majority of the committee typically can override decisions of the chair, everyone’s time and attention is limited, and thus chairs should be in a privileged position in terms of hearings to schedule, witnesses to call, etc. And, at least among coalition partners, they may prefer to resolve things quietly rather than let conflicts erupt in the open. The ability of the chairs to acquire information on behalf of their parties serves to keep partners in line, or so the argument goes for checking. For stacking, it’s the opposite: the chair may be able to bury information that would raise the ire of a coalition partner or the opposition.

The deal first reported last week between Likud, the party of incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Otzma Yehudit, led by Itamar Ben Gvir, offers a clear-cut case of stacking. Ben Gvir will be named Minister of National Security, in charge of the national police and various other functions. It is a newly expanded ministry and portfolio, and thus a plum position for the far-right party leader. In addition, a member of his party is expected to be named chair of the Knesset Public Security Committee. Thus Otzma Yehudit gets both the policing ministry and the parliamentary committee chair responsible for domestic security policy and related matters.

The stacking, and evident cession of considerable autonomy to Otzma, in the area of public security grants Ben Gvir one of the aims he most regularly called for during the campaign leading up the recent election. He said repeatedly that he would demand the policing portfolio. And he got it. While this might not quite make him a literal “policy dictator” it surely limits the risk that he gets stymied by Likud or other partners.

In addition some reports had said he, or a member of the party, could obtain the agriculture ministry. I never would have imagined a far-right ultra-nationalist (and, frankly, racist) party being the defender of Israeli famers, but I’ve been informed that this is also related to his public-security interests. Theft of animals and equipment has become a serious issue in parts of rural Israel, and the politics around the problem is often tinged with racism. I wonder if his emphasis on this issue during the campaign actually earned him votes in the farm sector. The agreement does not grant Otzma the agriculture ministry, but it does transfer from that ministry to the new super-ministry Ben Gvir will head certain agencies responsible for the sector.

Ben Gvir is notorious for a history of racist comments and convictions for incitement against Arabs, along with admiration for the late Meir Kahane. In this election, his Otzma faction was part of a joint list with Religious Zionism. Together the RZ alliance list won 14 seats out of 120. Six of those elected from the list were Otzma candidates. The parties had declared their alliance a “technical bloc” and, as planned, formally split shortly after the election. Thus the two parties (plus a third, Noam, with just one of the electoral alliance’s seats) have been bargaining separately with Likud. This has made Shas (the Sephardi Haredi party), with 11 seats, technically the second largest party in the emerging coalition. It also means there will likely be five separate coalition agreements between Likud and a partner (Otzma, RZ, Noam, Shas, and the other Haredi party, UTJ) . It will be interesting to see which of the major ministries each partner gets will be “checked” by a coalition partner and in which portfolios the party will be granted “stacked” control via the committee chairs allocation.

The question of stacking and checking is a major theme of my paper with Itzkovitch-Malka. We find that stacking is quite common in Israel. We suggest that this may be due to the need of parties under conditions of high party fragmentation to make credible commitments that a partner, having been given a privileged position over the portfolio (via the minister) will be more able to deliver by also having the committee chair (given agenda control over proceedings, which Israeli committee chairs definitely have).

An interrelated theme of the paper is the expertise of the Knesset Members who obtain committee seats and chairs (expanding the party personnel research). Expertise is a subordinate, but still important, consideration that Israeli parties use. We do the first–to our knowledge–statistical analysis of any parliamentary system’s committee assignments to combine data on individual member attributes with an indicator of the partisan relation of chairs and ministers. Parties are somewhat more likely to appoint someone with pre-legislative experience to chair a committee when the party also has the associated minister, especially, we show, in “public goods” policy areas (like health and education). We suggest this is a further form of stacking–ensuring that the chair overseeing a co-partisan minister also has expertise in related policies. I am not sure yet which Otzma legislator is getting the Public Security committee chair in the new Knesset; I will take note of whether it is someone with any expertise in the policy area.

As for Ben Gvir himself, I suppose having been arrested and convicted on security matters counts as “expertise” of a sort in policing and public security, although not quite in the way I normally would code it.

The paper mentioned above is:

Committee assignment patterns in fragmented multiparty settings: Party personnel practices and coalition management, by Reut Itzkovitch-Malka and Matthew S. Shugart, Party Politics, 2022. Abstract:

This paper addresses the way parties assign members to parliamentary committees in fragmented multiparty settings. Thus, it analyzes how the two most central institutions of parliamentary politics––political parties and parliamentary committees––interact with one another. To the best of our knowledge, no research into this subject has systematically explored the intersection of considerations based on individual legislator characteristics and coalition management in committee assignment. Using Israel as our case study, we show that legislators’ expertise modestly shapes committee assignment patterns. However, parties in coalition often have another set of considerations to take into account when assigning members to committees. We show that parties in coalition do not only bargain on ministerial positions or committee chairs––they also bargain on their members’ assignment to committees and use this resource to allow (or hinder) each other to augment influence and control in a given policy area, or to perform affective monitoring.

Works cited in this entry:

Laver M and Shepsle KA (1996) Making and Braking Govern- ments: Cabinets and Legislatures in Parliamentary De- mocracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin LW and Vanberg G (2004) Policing the bargain: coalition government and parliamentary scrutiny. American Journal of Political Science 48(1): 13–27.

Martin LW and Vanberg G (2011) Parliaments and Coalitions: The Role of Legislative Institutions in Multiparty Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thies M (2001) Keeping tabs on partners: The logic of delegation in coalition governments. American Journal of Political Science 45(3): 580–598.

This is a short list of important works in the topic. Many more are cited in the article.

Coordination failure under nationwide PR: Manufactured majority in Israel 2022

The votes are not yet final from the 1 November 2022 Israeli general election, but the outcome is quite clear. The right-wing bloc of parties supporting current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu will have won a manufactured majority. Media are calculating the bloc’s combined seats at 65 out of 120. Yet the bloc currently has just 48.1% of the votes.* That is actually lower than the clear majority of the vote they got in April, 2019, yet at that election the result was deadlock while this one will produce a majority coalition government. What explains the difference? Coordination.

The reason for the manufactured majority in this election, despite a nationwide proportional representation electoral system, is coordination failure. The strategic choices of political leaders and voters in both the left and the Arab political camps have made Netanyahu’s impending return to government possible. On the left, Labor has barely cleared the 3.25% legal threshold, with 3.56% as of now (around 20:30 Israel time), while Meretz is below, at 3.19% (and its percentage has declined in recent hours as more votes are counted*). Even if–as appears unlikely–Meretz ultimately clears, and thus wins 4 seats instead of zero, it would not drop the right below 61 seats. For that to happen, it would also be necessary that all three Arab lists in this election cleared the threshold. But Balad is sitting on only 3.03%, so that looks at least as unlikely.

Had Balad stayed in alliance with the remnant Joint List (i.e., Hadash-Tal, which won 3.93%) and had Meretz either won just enough to clear the threshold or formed an alliance list with Labor, as Interim PM Yair Lapid openly encouraged, the additional seats won by these camps surely would have blocked Netanyahu from winning. Then there either would have been some unexpected coalition possibilities emerging, or another election next spring, with Lapid of the Yesh Atid party remaining Prime Minister during that time (and until a new government eventually formed). Thus it is hard to exaggerate just how much the left and Arab political camps blew it–assuming blocking the return of Netanyahu was important to them. (Frankly, I doubt Balad’s leaders care, although many of their voters must, and leftist leaders and voters alike surely do.)

I should add here that the third piece of the former Joint List, Ra’am, which backed the outgoing government, cleared the threshold easily with the highest vote percentage of any of the three Arab lists (4.34%). This appears to be vindication for leader Mansour Abbas’s consistent message over the last two years of normalizing Arab participation in national governance; in 2021 Ra’am had 3.79%. I will count this as one piece of good news from the election.

In some respects, this year’s outcome is a mirror image of the first of this recent run of frequent elections, in April 2019. In that first of two elections in 2019, the right suffered a coordination failure when New Right fell just below the threshold, with 3.22% of the vote. In that election, the combined right-wing vote was 55.4% if we include Yisrael Beiteinu or 51.44% if we do not. But the non-Likud, non-Haredi right was splintered: Union of Right-Wing Parties (3.70), Kulanu (3.54), New Right (3.22), and Zehut (2.74). Thus the right bloc had only 60 seats, or with Yisrael Beiteinu (4.01% of the vote) included, 65. Had New Right cleared the threshold, the combination without YB would have been 61 or 62, depriving YB leader Avigdor Lieberman of the pivotal position. (It was only after the election that he earnestly said no to the coalitions with Haredi parties that he had willingly been part of up to a few months before.) Thus coordination failure on the right probably prevented a right-Haredi government from forming in 2019, and kicked off the four-election cycle of deadlock and attempted “unity” governments.

In this year’s election, coordination on the right returned in a big way. The non-Likud, non-Haredi right was almost entirely consolidated on one list, that of Religious Zionism, which won 10.31% of the vote and probably 14 seats. There will be much consternation and condemnation over the prominent role that RZ leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir will play in the likely new government. Much of it will be deserved. They are genuine extremists. However, it will be portrayed as a far-right surge when it really only is the non-Likud, non-Haredi electorate converging on its only viable option. Consider that in the 2021 election, RZ won 6 seats (5.12% of the vote) and Yamina won 7 seats (6.21% of the vote). That is 13 seats and just over 11% of the vote. This time the remaining option will have actually lost vote share while picking up (apparently) one seat. It is not a far-right surge, it is a right-wing coordination success. To these votes we could also add Jewish Home, now led by Ayalet Shaked, which won 1.16% of the votes–far below the threshold, but suggesting the combined vote share for this more-rightwing-than-Likud flavor of politics basically did not change.

It is quite striking how much of the movement from utter coordination failure on the right in 2019 to smashing coordination success in 2022 is the story of Naftali Bennet and Ayalet Shaked and their supporters. Their gambit in 2019 was that there was political space for a strongly right-wing option that is less tied to the old religious Zionist parties, represented at the time by the Jewish Home alliance (in which both were prominent figures and Netanyahu coalition partners). But for a very small number of votes, they could have been vindicated, but instead the last three and a half years turned this on its head, with the list of Religious Zionism commandeering this segment of the vote in 2022. On the way here, Bennet and, more reluctantly, Shaked tried another gambit, teaming up with Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, Ra’am, and Yisrael Beiteinu (among others) on the “change” government. Bennet was at the time leader of Yamina, which did not even run in this election. We could say it was hardly a party at all, in terms of the disciplined outfit we’d expect of a party providing the prime minister, as it did for the initial period of the government formed in 2021. It only shed members of Knesset and voters from the moment it announced the coalition. And now its voters have a home and a government, in the form of the most hardline party to have entered any of Netanyahu’s cabinets to date.

As for the left, Labor and Meretz refused to forge an alliance. This is understandable, but also blew up on them in a big way. They had run on an alliance list in the March, 2020, election and won only 7 seats and less than 6% of the votes. Compare that to 11 seats (and over 9% of the vote) in September, 2019, for their separate lists and then in 2021, 13 seats (and combined 10.7% of votes) for their again separate lists. Thus they have reason to believe that together they are worth less than the sum of their parts–conditional on their two separate parts clearing the threshold! In this election they combine for only 6.75% of votes and 4 seats–8 if Meretz ultimately squeaks over the threshold as now seems unlikely. It was a gamble, and it looks to have failed.

There are already recriminations against Lapid for not properly “managing” the center-left bloc (see under “cannibalistic pig“). But he tried to encourage a Labor-Meretz alliance and was rebuffed. I am not in position to say whether he could have done more to prevent center-left voters from choosing him over his threshold-challenged partners. It seems to me that’s not really the bigger party leader’s job, even though it was obviously in his interests that both win seats. Once the Labor and Meretz leaders concluded they could clear the threshold running alone, it was incumbent on them to deliver their votes.

Frankly, it seems that Labor and Meretz are yesterday’s news, and they should either merge or fold. The future of the center-left is Yesh Atid. Over seven elections in just under a decade, Yesh Atid has proven it is not just another centrist flash in the pan, but a serious option with staying power and organization. It is, nonetheless, unlikely ever to be the head of a center-left/Arab government. As the 2021 experience shows, you need a party of the right to cross over and make that a majority (or you’d need Ra’am or some other cooperation-minded Arab party to supplant Hadash-Tal and Balad). It is not clear where another right-wing splinter could come from; it won’t be from the right of Likud, and there just isn’t a “soft right” anymore to its immediate left. Maybe after Netanyahu finally leaves the scene there will be. The future of the center-left is thus probably mainly as a potential coalition partner to a post-Netanyahu Likud, and it would be better for it to be one strong partner than to be fragmented into Yesh Atid and two minnows farther to the left (if they both could clear again in a future contest), plus whatever becomes of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. (The latter is the real “soft right” in the current party system, but is already firmly tied to the center-left as of now.)

Many supporters of proportional representation in the US, Canada, and elsewhere speak as if PR means no need for strategic electoral behavior. The Israeli experience of 2019 through 2022 shows the folly of such belief. Coordination is still important, especially if there are any significant contra-proportional features to the PR system. And usually there are–sometimes in the form of moderate district magnitude, and sometimes–as in Israel–in the form of a moderately high legal threshold, despite nationwide PR. The right had the coordination this time that it lacked in 2019, whereas the left and Arab sectors in this election did not. And thus a bloc will have the parliamentary majority and government despite not having won a majority of the vote.

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Update: With around 99% counted, it is now 64 seats (53.3%) on 48.4% of the vote. Meretz shrank farther from the threshold and is at 3.16%.

Denmark 2022

In addition to Israel, there is also a general election today in Denmark. I don’t really know much about Danish politics, but I hope readers who are more informed might have comments as results become known.

One particularly interesting feature of the campaign that I will note is that former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen is leading a Moderate (with a capital M) Party in this election that is campaigning outside the left and right blocs. If neither bloc wins a combined majority of seats, and his party does particularly well, it might attempt to lure the relatively more moderate (with a small m) parties from each bloc to split and form a center-spanning coalition. Otherwise, he could just be the “kingmaker“–a term I dislike, but which fits better than usual in a case of a party that has campaigned with indifference towards left or right and could strike a coalition deal with either. (That second link is actually about the first scenario I mentioned, and not the real “kingmaker” scenario.)

The incumbent government is a single-party minority cabinet of the Social Democrats, reliant on outside support from the Red–Green alliance.

Also, that second link notes the same point I made with respect to Israel: “Exit polls in Denmark can differ significantly from the final results.”

Israel 2022

Ah, yes, we are doing this again: Another Israeli general election. I am not going to pretend to know what will happen. As I type this, ILTV is making it seem as if the right-wing bloc has a majority with 61 or 62 seats. That would be a government of Likud, the two Haredi parties (Shas and UTJ), and the Religious Zionist list, returning Benjamin Netanyahu to the prime ministership.

HOWEVER, this is based on exit polls. These have been off before. It is downright misleading of media to treat these as if they are indicative of real results. On the other hand, it would be in no way a surprise if the final results were to confirm these exit polls. We just don’t know yet.

I won’t get into other possible coalition scenarios till we have actual results, other than to note that there are interesting possibilities, BUT none of them look much like the outgoing government. The bottom line on that broad yet narrow coalition is that voters who voted for the right-wing parties that joined the government did not like it. So much so that Yamina, the party formerly led by ex-PM Naftali Bennet, kept losing its affiliated Knesset members and did not even contest this election and the no. 2 on that list in 2021 (Ayelet Shaked) is leading a different list that is not expected to clear the 3.25% threshold. (The other right-wing splinter that enabled the “change” coalition, New Hope, led by ex-Likud member Gideon Saar, merged with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White for this election.)

Yamina in 2021 gave us a rare and interesting case of what might happen to voter perceptions of a relatively extreme and quite small party heading government. Alas, it won’t be around in the next wave of voter surveys for us to know.

So, for the results and coalition scenarios, we wait and see.

The output indicators for Italy 2022: Yes, MMM in a smaller assembly really mattered

In the pre-election planting I pointed out how much more disproportional Italy’s electoral system would be, given the substantial reduction in assembly size. The current allocation rules and balance between single-seat districts and list-PR seats remained unchanged since 2018, but the assembly size was cut from 630 to 400. (Here I will be referring only to the Chamber of Deputies.) The system is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM).

Assuming I calculated things correctly–and I think I did, but the party vs. bloc calculations can be a little confusing, so caveats apply–here is how the change mattered.

I will report effective number of seat-winning parties (NS), effective number of vote-earning parties (NV), and deviation from proportionality (D2, the Gallagher index also known as the Least Squares Index). I will report both by individual party and by pre-electoral bloc. I believe that for an electoral system like this, the bloc figures are more meaningful, but here you have both and can decide which one works for your analytic purposes.

2018 Party2018 Bloc2022 Party2022 Bloc
NS4.322.905.582.40
NV5.103.366.623.44
D2 (%)3.985.027.3011.74

The change is pretty dramatic. Taking that last line first–disproportionality–we see an increase at the bloc level from around five percent to nearly twelve percent. The 2018 bloc-level figure is a level just below what we might see in a moderately proportional system like Estonia (5.3% in 2019) or Spain (5.37% in 2016) or Luxembourg (5.20% in 2013). The 2022 bloc-level figure is closer to what we might find with a majoritarian system, such as Canada (11.3% in 1988) or the UK (11.8% in 2019) or to take a “brotherly” MMM example, Japan (11.5% in 2000). Thus the increase is quite consistent with how I characterized the system in the previous post, as having changed from an effective seat product just over 900 (consistent with moderate PR) to one of 650 (the same as the value for the UK) solely due to assembly-size reduction.

The effective number of seat-winning blocs is certainly in the ballpark of expectations under a majoritarian system, with 2.90 in 2018 and a drop to 2.40 in 2022 when the assembly size reduction makes it even more majoritarian. The reduction in 2022 occurs in spite of a slightly increased fragmentation of the vote, even at the bloc level (from 3.36 to 3.44). That is, of course, why the disproportionality is so high in 2022.

The bottom line result is that the center-right bloc obtained 59.3% of the seats on 43.8% of votes–a classic majoritarian outcome. In 2018, for comparison, it had 42.1% of the seats on 37.0% of the votes. Its votes grew by 6.8 percentage points, but its seats by 17.2. Some of that is due to the bigger gap between the top two two blocs this time around, which in turn was a product of the center-left’s less complete alliance formation, but a lot of it is the lower number of single-seat districts resulting from the cut in the Chamber size.

Based on the seat product model, by which we expect NS=(MS)1/6, and using the numbers reported earlier for effective seat product, we should expect the 2018 system to yield NS=3.12 and the 2022 system to yield 2.94 (based on effective seat products of 920 and 650, respectively). These are “politics blind” expectations, based solely on the systems’ fundamental design features–district magnitude of the basic tier and the sizes of the tiers that comprise the assembly. We can see that in both elections the actual outcome by blocs was a little less fragmented than these expected values, but not to any extraordinary degree. The calculation of effective seat product for these complex systems gets their impact on the assembly party system about right.

As I mentioned, I do think these indicators are more meaningful when calculated on party level for a system like this. The parties within a bloc coordinate nominations in the single-seat districts, and the contest over who will form the post-election government takes place between blocs. Thus the blocs are the meaningful units. On the other hand, nothing commits the parties within a bloc to continuing to work together, and they agree that the votes for list will determine which one gets the prime ministerial post if the bloc wins a majority. The parties thus remain relevant and competitive actors, too. The outcome at party level was a little less “blocky” overall this time, with more parties gaining significant vote and seat shares despite being outside a bloc.1 But even at the party level, what is likely to matter most–at least in the short run–is that the largest party within the largest bloc has a majority of its bloc’s seats (119 of 237 for the Brothers), despite only 26% of the overall vote for parties.2

All in all, the the key take-home outcome is that the MMM system strongly rewarded the parties that had coalesced to form the biggest bloc, and the largest party within that bloc. That is just as we would expect MMM to do, particularly with such a reduction in assembly size.

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  1. Five Star was in this category both elections. In 2018 it won 32.7% of votes and 36% of seats. This time it dropped to 15.4% of votes and 13% of seats. In addition, Action–Italia Viva in this election had 7.8% of votes and 5.3% of seats. More to the point, the three biggest blocs (counting Five Star as one of the “blocs”) had 92.5% of the votes in 2018 but just 85.4% in 2022.
  2. Quite different from 2018 when the League had just 47% of its bloc’s seats–which were in any case not a majority of the Chamber. The League’s party vote in 2018 was 17.4%.

Italy 2022

Italy votes in general elections today. The Brothers of Italy is expected to be the largest party, in a pre-electoral alliance with the League and Forza Italia that may end up with a substantial majority of seats in both houses.

The electoral system is similar to that used in 2018 in that it is mixed-member majoritarian despite having just over 60% of seats elected in the party-list proportional component of the system. In an important sense, however, this year’s version is even more majoritarian–the size of both chambers has been reduced substantially. Other things equal–as they are–a smaller assembly is less proportional (or “permissive” to small parties). And when you combine a relatively majoritarian system with a smaller assembly, you get a more majoritarian system overall. The new Chamber of Deputies, at 400 seats, is closer to the cube root law expectation for a country the size of Italy, but nonetheless the impact would be to favor more substantially than before the largest party or pre-electoral alliance, relative to the 2018 system which had a Chamber size of 630. The size of the Senate has been reduced correspondingly from 315 to 200 seats.

How is the system mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) and not mixed-member proportional (MMP)? This question has been asked before. The answer is straightforward: the seats a party wins in the list component are simply added on to those that it wins in the nominal component (single-seat districts decided by plurality). There is no compensation mechanism, not even a partial one like in the 1994–2001 version Italy used.1 There is a single vote, but whether voters can split their votes between nominal and list components has no bearing on the classification, which depends entirely on whether the list seats are allocated so as to compensate for deviations from proportionality arising from the district results (as under MMP) or not (as with “parallel” allocation under MMM).

The results from 2018, aggregated by pre-election alliances that coordinate nominations in the single-seat districts, certainly made this clear. The center-right alliance combined for 37% of the votes. This alliance won 42% of the seats, which is not terribly disproportional. However, we have to remember that more than three fifths of the seats are elected by PR. The nature of the system can be seen by looking at the detailed breakdown. The alliance won 111 nominal seats (out of 232, for 47.8%). Thus they were over-represented in this component of the system, as expected from single-seat plurality. If the list component were compensatory, as under MMP, the share of list seats won by this alliance should have been lower than its share of the vote. Yet it won 39.1% of them (111 of 386). It should have ended up with somewhere around 233 seats were these seats compensatory, but instead won 265 (including 3 seats for Italians overseas).

If we take the largest opposition force, the dynamic is even clearer. This was Five Star, which ran on its own, not as a part of any pre-electoral alliance. It won 32.7% of the vote, and 93 of the 232 nominal seats. That is 40%, so it is also slightly overrepresented in this component. To this it added 133 list seats, which is 34.5%, ending up with 227 seats total (including 1 abroad), or 36.0%. That the system was MMM becomes clearer still if we consider the second largest opposition alliance, the center-left. It had 22.9% of the vote, and won 28 nominal seats. This is only 12.1% of these seats–sever underrepresentation, as expected for a third party under single-seat plurality. Its list seat total was 88, which is 22.8% of the list component. Yes, 22.8%, so it got near-perfect proportional representation. However, it got this proportional result only in the list seats themselves. Overall, due to the punishment in the nominal seats, it was underrepresented, ending up with 122 seats (including 6 from Italians abroad), which is 19.4%. It was not severely underrepresented in the final result because–again–the list component is so large. However, were the system MMP they should have had approximately 110 list seats instead of just 88, in order to make their overall seats proportional to list votes. And, as already covered, the other alliances and parties would have had their list seats cut somewhat due to a compensation mechanism, if it were MMP. Thus the system is MMM, albeit with a large list component. I should also add that when I say “list votes” I mean votes aggregated from the nominal contests, given there is only a single fused ballot and not separate list and nominal votes (as there are in the MMM systems of Japan and Lithuania, or in the MMP systems of Germany and New Zealand).

Because polling for today’s election shows the Brothers of Italy in the lead and the combined center-right alliance clearing 40% of the vote while the second place center-left alliance looks to be under 30%, the system likely would provide a substantially larger boost to the center-right this time around than last, even if the rules were unchanged. However, assembly size is a core defining characteristic of an electoral system. If the rules for how seats are allocated are unchanged, and the balance in an MMM system between nominal and list seats is also unchanged, the key variable in how majoritarian it will be overall is assembly size. As already noted, both houses are half as large in the 2022 system as they were in 2018. This change promises a further boost to the winning alliance. There are only 147 single-seat contests in the Chamber of Deputies this time (around as many as in the Australian House of Representatives) and only 74 in the Italian Senate (about as many as in Liberia’s first chamber), it will be even more “work” for the list-PR component allocation to offset, despite its size relative to the nominal, given it is non-compensatory.

In terms of effective seat product, my estimations have it at 920 in the 2018 election. The goal behind the effective seat product is to allow us a rough approximation of what simple electoral system a given complex system is most similar to, in terms of its impact on the party system. Simple, single-tier systems with seat products in the 900–1000 ballpark include Luxembourg (900) and Greenland (961). The former has an assembly about ten percent the size of Italy’s in 2018, yet in terms of impact of the party system, the design of Italy’s system made it more like the simple PR system for the 60-seat assembly of Luxembourg than like other assemblies with 600+ seats and PR allocation (e.g., Germany’s effective seat product is currently around 1800 and Italy’s under its old PR system prior to the early 1990s was around 9800). As for Greenland, they get an effective seat product of 961 from an assembly of only 31 seats by allocating in a single territory-wide district. In other words, while Italy 2018 was a system of MMM, the large assembly and large share of seats allocated in the list component make the Chamber system of 2018 similar to a small-assembly PR system. But what about 2022?

The calculation of the effective seat product for the new Chamber of Deputies system would be around 650. In other words, roughly the same effect on a party system as Britain’s FPTP system, despite the election of over three fifths of deputies in a PR component. This is a fairly substantial reduction. It is based on the “as if” calculation of (1) an MMP system with same parameters as Italy’s new system, which would be an effective seat product of around 2860, and (2) a FPTP system of the actual size of Italy’s nominal component (147). For MMM, we take the geometric average of these two values, which is (rounded) about 650. This is very slightly less restrictive than the MMM system that was in use from 1994 to 2011 (for which the effective seat product could be said to have been around 660). Applying the same procedure to the Senate electoral system of 2022 would yield an effective seat product of around 370, implying roughly the same impact on the party system as the FPTP system of the Canadian House of Commons has.

In conclusion, Italy now has the most restrictive and thus plurality-favoring electoral system it has had in the post-WWII era.2 Despite still having a fragmented multiparty system in which parties enter pre-electoral alliances, it has an electoral system that is more like FPTP in the UK (in the case of the Chamber) or Canada (in the case of Italy’s Senate) than like a PR or MMP system. If the largest alliance clears 40% of the votes, as expected, it should obtain a substantial bonus in seats, due to the relatively majoritarian design of the system.

____

Notes

  1. That system was also MMM. It was often mis-classified in various sources as MMP. The misunderstanding was somewhat more justifiable than for the current one, because of the partial compensation mechanism, which was based on adjusting party-list votes according to nominal seat performance (rather than allocating list seats with regard to nominal seats won as is done under MMP). Even with the partial-compensation mechanism, that former system also should be classified as MMM.
  2. All of Italy’s post-war electoral systems have been complex in one way or another. Above I mentioned that the system in use as of the early 1990s had an effective seat product around 9800. That was a remainder-pooling PR system and Italy has not used a PR system since then. The mixed-member system put in place in 1994 had an effective seat product around 660. The bonus-adjusted system from 2006 through 2013 comes out to around 1325 (but this is a more challenging system to estimate because of its unusual features). In all cases, these numbers refer only to the Chamber. Also, the calculation of effective seat product for the 1994–2001 system does not take the partial compensation mechanism into account. Perhaps it should, which would increase the effective seat product of that former system to some (small) degree. However, it is not clear how one would carry out such an adjustment, given the unusual nature of the mechanism. I do not think it is necessary or worthwhile to attempt.

Proposals for Israeli political reform–again

One thing I like about following Israeli politics is that there is no lack of willingness to propose institutional reforms to deal with (real or perceived) problems of governance. They are not always good ideas (see the term limit proposal proposed by a party in the outgoing coalition), but it is good that there is a willingness to debate ideas for political reform.

A news update from the TOI today mentions a couple that are in play during the current election campaign. The National Unity Party, led by Benny Gantz and Gideon Saar, is proposing to (1) require more than an absolute majority for the Knesset to dissolve1 itself, and (2) not make the failure to pass a budget a cause for automatic dissolution.

The second of these is an excellent idea, and I have thought for some time this should be changed. The problem with the current provision was on display in 2020 when then-PM Benjamin Netanyahu prevented the alternation of the premiership to which he had agreed from going ahead by withholding votes for the budget, thereby forcing an early election and breakup of the “unity” government. That the planned alternation would have been to Gantz is surely why the latter now wants to change this provision. Regardless of motive and experience of the proposer, the idea is sound. While it may seem straightforward that the inability to pass a budget is evidence of a lack of parliamentary confidence, it need not be so. I believe there are other parliamentary systems that can run on an automatic “continuing resolution” (borrowing a term from US politics), at least for a set period of time, if no new budget has been agreed. It is sensible as a way to prevent coalition partners from forcing an early election “passively” as opposed to actively attaining a majority for dissolution or government replacement.

As for the supermajority–specifically 70 members (58.3%)–to dissolve, the idea goes well with the proposal on the budget, and more importantly with the existing constructive vote of no confidence. Under the latter rule, in place since around 2015, the Knesset majority is not able to vote to dismiss the government unless there are 61 votes for a specific alternative. The new provisions proposed by National Unity would cement the notion that the government remains until the Knesset votes in an alternative (or the regular term ends).

Provisions for a parliament to dissolve itself are not the norm. Israel is an unusual case in this respect as far as I know.2 It is probably permitted elsewhere (see the Early Parliamentary General Election Act passed in the UK in 2019) if not specifically prohibited, but I am not sure I could name another case where a common path to an early election is the parliamentary majority passing a law to set a new election. Regarding having a super-majority vote to set an election, it is reminiscent of the debates leading up to the Fixed Term Parliament Act passed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition in the UK in 2011.3

The TOI update also notes another proposal, this one from the Yisrael Beiteinu party (Avigdor Liberman). It would require at least 90 members of the Knesset to bring down a government within two years of its formation. That’s a 75% majority requirement! The TOI says the first proposal of National Unity mentioned above is “similar” to this one from YB. But it is not similar! A super-majority for dissolution of the Knesset is consistent with the parliamentary form of government. A super-majority for dismissal of a cabinet is contrary to the very core of the parliamentary principle. I do not know where else such provisions can be found, other than Papua New Guinea4–not normally a shining model of effective governance that others seek to emulate.

The constructive vote of no confidence already introduces some potential for separation of powers (more to the point, of separation of purpose) in that a government potentially can face majority opposition yet remain in office. Yet it preserves the core of the parliamentary principle by ensuring that if a majority of the voters’ elected representatives prefers a different coalition be in power, it can proceed immediately to enforce its preference. Shielding a government from such majority preference, and allowing it to govern for up to two years unless a very substantial super-majority votes it out, is a recipe not for stability but for deadlock.

Gantz’s two reform ideas are promising. Liberman’s is very bad.

____

Notes

  1. As I have probably said before, technically the Knesset is never dissolved. It continues to hold legislative authority, albeit normally remains out of session, between the calling of an early (or regular) election and the installation of the new Knesset after the election. Lacking a good alternative term, I will go on calling it “dissolution.”
  2. Papua New Guinea has such a provision, I learned as I was drafting this. See Article 105.1.c: an absolute majority of parliament may vote to dissolve.
  3. The Johnson government repealed it with the passage of The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022.
  4. See the PNG constitution, Article 145.4: “A motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or in the Ministry may not be moved during the period of eighteen months commencing on the date of the appointment of the Prime Minister.” PNG also has a constructive provision that applies for most, but not all, of the term (145.2.a: “A motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or the Ministry… moved during the first four years of the life of Parliament shall not be allowed unless it nominates the next Prime Minister”.)

Hungary 2022 – how biased an electoral map?

Hungary’s 2022 election resulted in an overwhelming victory for the incumbent Fidesz party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, against a broad opposition coalition, led by Peter Marki-Zay, comprised of liberals, social democrats and the nationalist Jobbik party. Orban’s twelve-year-long government has been the focus of international attention over its nationalist policies and weakening of democratic institutions.

One of the earliest initiatives of Orban’s government was a set of amendments to the electoral law in 2011. While Hungary retained a mixed-member system, the three-tier system introduced in 1989 was replaced with a two-tier system. The size of the legislature was cut drastically, from 386 to 199. This involved a redrawing of the single-seat districts, as the number of these districts fell from 176 to 106: the two-round system previously used for these seats was replaced by first-past-the-post.

The process of drawing new electoral boundaries and introducing a new electoral system represents an excellent opportunity for a governing political party to entrench its own advantages. Fidesz had a completely free hand in that process, owing to its two-thirds constitutional majority. So, what does the electoral system look like?

Based on the 2022 results, there is a clear negative relationship between Fidesz vote share and registration numbers. Interestingly, this is driven by very high registration in the electoral districts of suburban Pest county, which is the cluster on the right of the plot: Budapest, the opposition’s stronghold, has roughly average enrolment.

But what does this mean in terms of actual election results? In order to examine this, I simulated a set of uniform swings1 between Fidesz and the Alliance for Hungary. The below plot shows seat totals in the single-seat districts at different vote shares for both the opposition alliance and Fidesz (vote shares for the other parties were kept constant).

The vertical line shows where the two parties tie – approximately 44% of the vote each, or a swing of 7.8% towards the opposition. At this level, Fidesz would win 56 single-seat districts to 50 in total for the opposition. In order to win a majority of the single-seat districts, the Alliance would need approximately 46% of the vote to 43% for Fidesz.

Of course, the list seats need to be taken into account. The below plot shows the number of total seats each party would have won with the same vote shares as in the prior plot. The vote share for the other parties is held constant, and I assume that the nationalist My Homeland party would have held onto its 5% of the vote and 6 seats, and that the German minority would have elected its single member under the special procedure for ethnic minority parties.

The effect of the list seats is fairly minor. A tied vote would give the Alliance 91 seats to 100 for Fidesz, the slimmest of absolute majorities. Fidesz loses this majority at a fractionally lower share of the vote. However, for the opposition to win a plurality, they need about the same 46-43 vote share as they need for a majority of the single-seat districts, and to win the 100 seats required for an absolute majority they need 47% of the vote to 42% for Fidesz.

How serious is this effect? How does it compare to other jurisdictions? One method which has received some use in the (inevitably US-centric) gerrymandering literature is the ‘efficiency gap’, which calculates the difference between the number of wasted votes for the two major parties, as a proportion of all votes. I calculate the efficiency gap at this election to be 5.2%, again ignoring votes for minor parties. According to the paper laying out the efficiency gap measure, this gives Hungary a map roughly as biased towards Fidesz as the maps in Minnesota or South Carolina were towards the Republican Party, or the map of California was towards the Democratic Party. Hungarian bias, however, does not seem to be as strong as that in North Carolina or Florida.

Hungary’s 2012 electoral map, then, provides Fidesz with a modest but meaningful electoral advantage, only slightly ameliorated by the list tier. Nonetheless, the opposition at this election achieved a vote share well short of what would be needed to win a majority. Unlike in Poland, the role of the electoral system in the installation of this government has been seemingly fairly minimal.

1 Note that ‘swing’ is here defined as percentage points subtracted from Fidesz’s (or the opposition alliance’s) vote and added to the opposition alliance’s (or Fidesz’s) vote share. I believe this is the Australian definition, as opposed to a British one that (I think) averages the two figures.

France 2022: Assessing the honeymoon election and towards a model of the impact of election timing on the president’s party’s seats

Was the French 2022 honeymoon election one that defies the usual impact of such election timing? Not to offer a spoiler, but the answer is yes and no.

Back around the time of the presidential runoff, I restated what I often say about elections for assembly held shortly after a presidential election: they are not an opportunity for the voters to “check” the president they have just chosen; presidential and semi-presidential systems just do not work that way. Well, usually. It seems hard to escape the notion that voters did just that–by holding Emmanuel Macron’s allies in Ensemble to less than a majority of seats, and by delivering bigger than expected seat totals to the Mélenchon-led united left (Nupes) and even to Le Pen’s National Rally (RN).

There will not be cohabitation, which was what I really meant in the French context when saying that honeymoon elections were not an opportunity to check the president. The results have not offered up any conceivable assembly majority that would impose its own choice for premier on Macron. I was also generally careful to say that I thought Macron’s allies would win a majority of seats, or close to it. They are relatively close, but considerably farther away that I expected, on about 42%. So, how does this outcome compare to honeymoon elections generally?

I have prepared an updated version of a graph I have shared before. An earlier version appears in Votes from Seats, as Figure 12.2. The x-axis is elapsed time, E, defined as the share of the period between presidential elections at which the assembly election occurs. The y-axis is the presidential seat ratio, RP, calculated by dividing the vote share of the party (or pre-electoral alliance) supporting the president by the president’s own vote share in the first or sole round. The diagonal line is a regression best fit on the nonconcurrent elections (those with E>0), and is RP=1.2–0.7E.

I added the France 2022 data point and label a little larger than the others, to call attention to it. The most notable thing is that this is the only case of a really extreme honeymoon–defined loosely as those with E<.05 but E>0–to have a value of RP<1.00. So in that sense, it is a poor performance. There are other honeymoons for which E≤0.1 that are below RP=1.00, including Chile 1965 and Poland 2001. In the Chilean case, the result obtains simply because the right did not present its own presidential candidate, but ran separately in the congressional election. Although this post is focused on honeymoon and other nonconcurrent elections, I also added labels to the two cases of concurrent elections (E=0) that have unusually low presidential vote ratios. Note that on average, RP in concurrent elections tends to be a bit below 1.00, as a combination of strategic voting and small-party abstention from the presidential contest leads assembly voting to be more fragmented than presidential voting, hence lowering RP. However, in very early term elections, the president’s party/alliance almost always gains. So France 2022 is unusual, but not a massive outlier. In fact, in terms of distance from the regression line, it is about equivalent to France 1997 or El Salvador 2006 (labelled).

We see that the 2022 election also features the lowest RP of any of France’s six honeymoon elections to date. The 2002 election (Chirac) produced an especially huge boost, whereas the 2017 election, when Macron had just been elected the first time, is almost on the regression line. (The regression does not include elections after 2015 because the dataset was collected around then; I added these more recent ones to the graph directly.) I also want to call attention to Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s 2019 honeymoon result in Ukraine for Servants of the People, as it is also among the most extreme honeymoon vote surges recorded anywhere as expected, perhaps aided by how uninstitutionalized that country’s party system has been. (If I wanted to be provocative, I’d say that factor also has been present in France, given frequent realignments on the right, the emergence of Macron, etc.)

(As an aside, I was somewhat surprised that an outlier, the one case of E>0.6 to have RP>1 is the French late-midterm election of 1986. This is remembered as the election that produced the first cohabitation of the French Fifth Republic. But the vote share of the Socialists was still considerably higher than Mitterrand’s own vote share in the presidential first round of 1981, when the Communists had presented their own candidate.1)

So much for the votes. I was wondering what happens if we look at seats? Strangely I had never done this before (at least with this dataset). This graph has as its y-axis the seat share of the president’s party (or alliance) divided by the president’s own first or sole-round votes, which I will call RPs. The x-axis is the same. In addition to plotting a best fit line, the diagonal, I also added the 95% confidence intervals from the regression estimates to this graph. There is also a lowess (local regression) plotted as the very thin grey line. Note how flat it is for a long portion of the term, a fact related to a point I will come to at the end (and also suggesting a more complex than linear fit may be more accurate, but I want to keep it simple for now).

The regression line here is very close to RPs=1.5–E, which is a wonderfully elegant formula! It says that at a midterm election, a president’s party’s seat share would be, all else equal, the same as his or her own vote share half a term earlier. At a truly extreme honeymoon election–imagine one held the day after the president was elected, but with the result known–the seat share would be about 1.5 times the president’s vote share. At an extreme counter-honeymoon it would drop to around 0.5. So where did Macron’s Ensemble come out in the election just concluded? His RPs=1.52! So the party actually did about what the average trend says to expect. It was his 2017 surge that was higher than we perhaps should have expected (although, again, not as high as Chirac’s in 2002).

The result in the second figure is obviously holding constant the electoral system, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, given the importance of variation in electoral systems in shaping the size of the largest party (which is usually the president’s party, at least until we get to midterms and beyond).

What I find particularly elegant about the equation is its suggestion that midterm elections are no-effect elections, in terms of seat share for the president’s party. This was presumably what major party leaders were going for in the Dominican Republic when they shifted to the world’s only ever case (to my knowledge) of an all-midterm cycle. Both president and congress were elected to four-year terms, each at the halfway point of the other. (Actual outcomes during were not always no-effect, though on average they were close2; they have since changed back to their former concurrent elections.) This may seem a surprise to readers who know the American system and its infamous midterm decline, but actually the midterm-election median in the US is 0.969. In an almost pure two-party system, anything below 1.00 might look bad, and be both politically consequential and also somewhat over-interpreted. But 0.969 is not really that much below 1.00! Okay I am cheating just a little by reporting the median. The mean is 0.943; it is brought down by a few major “shellackings” like 2010 (0.891), although 1990 was worse (0.719, in this case because G.H.W. Bush had won such a big landslide of his own).3

In concurrent elections, the regression suggests also that on average, RPs is around 1.00. For the US, the median is 0.979, and the mean is 1.009. Note how it is higher than the midterm average, but perhaps not as much as one might expect.4

At this point, both these equations are just empirical regression best fits, not logical models. There is logic behind the general effects of electoral cycles on a presidential party’s performance, but not a logical basis for the specific parameters observed. I would very much like to have such a logical basis, but I have not hit upon it. Yet.

(Considerably nerdier and some rather half-baked stuff the rest of the way.) Such a logical model may be closer now that there is a simple and elegant empirical connection between presidential votes and seats. Seat shares are more directly connected to parameters of the electoral system than votes shares are–even vote shares for assembly parties, but vote shares for presidential candidates are a good deal more remote from the assembly electoral system. Nonetheless, in Votes from Seats we do derive a predictive formula for the effective number of presidential candidates, based on the assembly’s seat product. A regression reported in the book confirms its plausibility, but with rather low R2. From that formula one could get an expected relationship for the leading presidential candidate’s vote total, vp. It would be vp = 2–3/8[(MS)1/4 +1]–1/4. We already have, for the seat share of the largest party, s1=(MS)–1/8. It so happens that these return the same value at around MS=175. Expectations of vp<s1 or s1<vp would then depend on whether MS (mean district magnitude times assembly size) is higher or lower than 175; for most presidential systems it is a good deal higher (the median in this sample of elections, including semi-presidential, is 480). Tying this observation to the one about midterm elections (E=0.5) yielding actual (not predicted) sp=vp and accepting for simplification that the president’s party seat share (sp) is also the largest party seat share, at least in elections that are not after the midterm, might be a path towards a model. But that may take a while yet. Below I will copy a table of what the formulas for vp and s1 yield at various values of seat product, MS, for simple systems. These values of s1 are without regard to elapsed time when the assembly election takes place.

Table of expected values of presidential vote shares (pv) and largest assembly party seat share (s1)

MSpvs1ratio_s1_pv
10.651.001.54
100.600.751.26
250.570.671.16
500.560.611.10
1000.540.561.04
1500.530.531.01
1750.520.521.00
2000.520.520.99
2250.520.510.98
2560.510.500.97
3000.510.490.96
5000.500.460.92
10000.480.420.88
100000.420.320.75
250000.400.280.70
500000.390.260.67
1000000.370.240.64
2000000.350.220.61
Note how we would expect president’s parties to have a seat share greater than the president’s own vote share at low MS due to system disproportionality, but higher as MS increases beyond 175, presumably because of strategic behavior being different around the majoritarian presidential election and the more permissive assembly electoral system. The smallest MS observed in this dataset for a (semi-)presidential system is 124 (Sierra Leone, 2002, 2007). The largest is 202,500 (Ukraine, 2006, 2007). For nonconcurrent elections, the minimum MS is 240 (Chile, 1997, 2001).

Footnotes

  1. Also, Mitterand himself had finished second in the first round, with 25.9% of the votes (the incumbent, Giscard, had 28.3%). The Communist candidate had 15.4%. In the 1986 election, Socialists won 31% of the votes, for RP=1.2. (I am not counting the Communists as part of Mitterrand’s alliance by then, as he had fired the Communist ministers that were in his initial cabinet.)
  2. The values for RPs in these Dominican elections were: 0.587 in 1998, 0.975 in 2002, 0.945 in 2006, and 1.067 in 2010. So other than that first run, if the no-effect was what they wanted, they basically got it.
  3. [Added, 21 June.] I somehow forgot that my first publication on this topic, in the APSR in 1995, also used seats as its outcome of interest–but it was change in seat percentage for the president’s party from the prior assembly election (with president’s vote share as a control). Looking back on that pub, I see that my regression there would agree with my updated analysis here in suggesting that midterm elections, all else constant, are no-effect elections. The regression line clearly passes very near the change=0, E=0.5 point in the article’s Figure 1. And, yes, in that article I commented on this as a “particularly striking feature” (p. 332).
  4. The way I set up the regression, its constant term would be the RPs when E=0, a concurrent election. This constant is actually 0.95, but its 95% confidence interval includes 1.00 (it is 0.844–1.057). The coefficient on the nonconcurrent dummy is 0.552, from which I get the approximation, 1.5, in the equation in the second figure (summing this coefficient and the constant). The coefficient on E is –1.072. R2=0.215.

France 2022 fourth round (legislative runoffs)

Sunday is the final round of the four-round French election–two rounds for president, two for National Assembly. Thus the legislative runoffs are now upon us. Although we have the unusual case of a honeymoon election in which the leader of an opposition alliance is proclaiming he is running for prime minister, probably the only real question in the results is whether the just-reelected President Macron gets a assembly majority or not. (See earlier planting for discussion of such points.)

In advance of the runoffs, I been poking around in the statements (profession de foi) that candidates make available. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting study patterns in the way the candidates and parties/alliances communicate. I am not about to look at this systematically, but I note a few stark differences in presentation. (Most of the following is based on a comment by me at the earlier post, but with some elaboration.)

Every candidate for an assembly seat runs with a substitute, who would replace the the originally elected member were the latter to vacate the seat for any reason (including becoming a cabinet minister). Thus, in effect, France has two-person (closed) lists for each single-seat district. The replacement is typically, although not always, featured on the statement (and, from photos I have seen, in campaign signs). But there is considerable variation in how they are presented.

Also, as typifies highly presidentialized parties (or, given that this includes major opposition parties, too, leader-ized?) as France has, almost every candidate is featured next to the presidential candidate in whose alliance the assembly candidate was running.

For example, in Bouches-du-Rhône no. 4, the candidate from Nupes features the principal and the substitute prominently, side by side. The national leader, in this case “candidate for premier” Mélenchon, is shown towards the bottom of the first page. This is the reverse of what seems to be the norm for candidates of Ensemble or RN, where the candidate is pictured (photo-shopped, more to the point) next to the leader, with the substitute in a smaller photo on a later page.

For instance, see the Ensemble candidate in the same district.

See this one for a candidate of RN (Bouches-du-Rhône no. 1). Unlike most that I have seen for candidates in other parties, this does not talk about the candidate or the district at all. It just tells what the RN party program is. It also does not mention the substitute. Instead, a picture of the main candidate with Le Pen and also (strangely) a picture of the party president, Jordan Barella. The main message comes through clearly in all caps at the top: “La seule opposition à Macron” (the only opposition to Macron).

Here is another RN candidate statement that is marginally less party-centric than that one. In Hérault no. 7, it is a little more specific to the local context, not in the sense of any mention of district issues, but in calling out the “extreme left” opponent in the district who must be stopped. The Nupes candidate in the same district has a statement that looks like the other Nupes one I mentioned before (and with minor variation, all those from Nupes that I have seen). It has the substitute depicted side-by-side with the principle and featured more prominently than the national leader, while still making room for a photo of Mélenchon at the bottom of the first page. It also has at the very top, “Face au RN, pas d’abstention”–a call not to abstain, given the contest is against the RN. Otherwise, it is mostly oriented around the national program of the alliance.

In general, the Ensemble statements seem to say the most about the candidates themselves, with information on their career on the second page, often along with some words about the district’s needs. Maybe this is to be expected for the alliance that has already won the presidency, and now wants to show how the majority Macron is seeking would be in tune with local voters’ needs. The other two main forces, RN and Nupes, on the other hand, need to emphasize how they seek to counter the president’s national policy priorities. The candidates in Nupes and RN most certainly are not cultivating a personal vote or a local vote on their statements–or rather on the subset of statements I saw.

I actually did find one from Ensemble that did not show a photo of Macron at all, although it does say “presidential majority” at the bottom of the front page. Instead, it shows the principal candidate and the substitute standing side-by-side in a park. This district is one of the three-way runoffs, Dordogne no. 3 (first round: NUPES 24%, Ensemble 23%, RN 22%), and the second page of the statement has a large block of text denouncing the “extremes” represented by the other two runoff candidates’ national programs. It still saved plenty of locally targeted information about priorities.

We can probably draw some conclusions from these patterns–if they are indeed patterns–about the priorities of the parties and alliances, in terms of local vs. national emphasis, as well as how important the leader is to the vote-seeking strategy. I looked at dozens, and while I can’t claim they were representative of the wider set of districts, it seems they just might be.

Israel’s stable coalition

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Ever since the current broad-yet-narrow coalition government in Israel was formed, it has been something of a sport for various journalists covering Israeli politics to predict its early demise. I cautioned otherwise at the time. [Note: see UPDATE at very bottom of post, 16 June]

It may be that the coalition really is in its death throes, even as it has only just passed the one-year mark of its planned three-year term. I have lost count of the number of individual members of coalition parties who have announced a “strike” or a “freeze” whereby they stop voting with the coalition for a period of time to try to get some measure they favor passed (or something they oppose stopped). Most of them have made clear that they would not defect to the opposition or vote to call an early election. But some (I think three dating back to the original investiture vote) have outright defected. The coalition fell to a 60-60 deadlock with the opposition when Idit SIlman (Yamina), coalition whip, went over to the opposition in April. More recently, there was one member from Meretz (the left-most flank of the coalition), Ghana Rinawe Zoabi, who announced she was leaving–bringing it to 59–but then walked it back a few days later after mayors of Arab towns persuaded her to stay. The most recent defector is Nir Orbach from Prime Minister Naftali Bennet’s Yamina Party, who has said “I am not part of the coalition,” putting it back, apparently, at 59 active members (where “active” might include, at any given time, one or two on “strike” of some presumably temporary sort ).

The question is whether a government can survive when it has 61 or more announced opponents in the 120-member Knesset. A majority opposed means it is done, right? Well, not necessarily. Israel has a full constructive vote of no confidence. This means a government can’t be voted out by a parliamentary majority unless that majority is simultaneously electing a replacement government. There is almost no prospect of this happening, as it would require the Joint List (of mostly Arab parties) to be willing not just to passively tolerate a Likud-led (and, yes, Bibi Netanyahu) government, but actively vote for its installation. This is almost impossible to imagine, so in this limited sense, the government may actually be stable.

We are talking about Israel, a country whose politics are notably unpredictable, so there are other scenarios that can’t be entirely ruled out. Maybe at least two of Blue & White (Benny Gantz, 8 seats) or New Hope (Gideon Saar, 6) or Yisrael Beteinu (Avigdor Liberman, 7) will surrender their current ministerial posts and vote for a new coalition with Likud as a partner if not leader. Each has as at least as many seats as the Joint List (6), and if the two bigger of these parties defected, they could then form a majority without either the Islamist Ra’am party (4 seats), which backs the current coalition, or the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist party. All three of the lists I mentioned as hypothetical defectors from the current ministerial team have been burned in the recent past by Netanyahu; it also means Liberman has to join up again with the Haredi parties, which would be a big backtrack from a position he’s held firm on since 2019. So it is hard to see what they gain by enabling his return to power. Never say never, but it seems unlikely. That suggests that indeed, at least as far as no-confidence votes are concerned, the coalition is still stable, and could remain so even if suffered another defector or two.

Stable in terms of remaining in power. Of course, it can’t pass legislation if the opposition unites against it. But that is a big “if.” Just this week, the first reading of a tax measure passed against the coalition’s declared position, but it was only 51–50. In other words, while the government may have trouble mustering a majority, it is not a sure thing for the opposition, either–even on a bill sponsored by a member of Likud. Then there is always the possibility of a selective member or two from outside the coalition voting with the government on specific bills. The government may not be able to pursue its most ambitious legislative agenda, but it probably can pass bills here and there (as well as continue executing laws already passed in a way favorable to its agendas to the extent permitted).

The bigger obstacle is the next budget. This is the one way a government can fall without losing a constructive vote of no confidence. The next budget bill must be passed in March, 2023. This vote, however, does not require 61 members of Knesset. More yes than no is sufficient. So that is a somewhat easier obstacle for the government, although by no means an easy one.

The final way–and the most likely way–that it could be forced out is if the Knesset votes to set an early election. This requires 61 votes, but it can be a negative coalition (i.e., we don’t want this Knesset and government to continue), rather than the positive vote (here’s a new government we are putting in now) like the constructive vote of no confidence. Orbach, the most recent defector from Yamina, stated in his announcement that, while he was leaving the coalition, he would not vote for early elections. He said instead that he would work to form an alternative government from within the current Knesset. We have already been over why that is not likely. At least as of now, it does not seem that there are 61 votes for an early election.1

Thus, unless the government simply resigns, it may continue on, despite its current difficulties. The constructive vote of no confidence really does enhance the potential for “separation of powers” (or better, separation of purpose) whereby the assembly majority opposes the government but does not have the means to replace it–in this case, because it does not agree on what the replacement should be (and does not favor going to elections).

So it may seem strange to call the Israeli coalition “stable” in its current situation. But if “stable” simply means that it can survive, then it is stable unless there are multiple further individual defections or a surprise change of heart by two or three of the party leaders who made this government possible in the first place. There are certainly other ways we might define whether a government is “stable” but by this criterion, and at this moment, it’s stable.

  1. Another consideration here is that the coalition agreement provisions that were put into Basic Law (i.e., Israeli’s constitution in all but name) have stipulations about the interim period after an “alternating” government like the current one has its term ended early via the setting of elections. If there are at least three defectors from Bennet’s (right-wing) side of the government, Alternate PM Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (center-left) automatically becomes PM. An election would be at least three months from the passage of the bill calling the election, and given that there is no guarantee that the election would result in a Knesset that could have a majority for a government (meaning potentially yet another election or elections, like 2019–21), those on the right voting for this option would be risking a signifiant period of time with PM Lapid. An Israeli government in this position is no mere caretaker. It is a government, period. I put all this in a footnote because I do not take it too seriously. The Knesset does not actually dissolve in the period between passage of a bill calling an election and the time the new Knesset is elected. It can still function. And these measures were passed by… 61 votes. Therefore, if 61 votes exist to call an election, 61 votes probably also exist to repeal the provisions and allow Bennet to remain as PM. Still, there would be some risk to right-wing politicians doing this, as they could not do these acts–call the election and repeal the provisions–simultaneously. So an agreement to do so could fall apart. But I’d think they could pull it off.
  2. UPDATE (intended to be part of the previous footnote but Word Press won’t allow a new paragraph here without putting a number in front of it): I just heard of a twist on all this that I wasn’t aware of, from Haviv Rettig Gur on the Times of Israel Daily Briefing podcast. The bill regulating legal matters in Judea and Samaria, which expires at the end of June—and which Likud and allies say they won’t vote for (even though expiration would be bad for some of their voters)—would get an automatic 6-month extension if the government falls before 30 June. Thus some members from the right of the coalition may want to pull the plug to save (temporarily) the status quo of the otherwise sunsetting legislation—even if it meant an interim PM Lapid. On the other hand, the polls aren’t great for the opposition and Netanyahu may not want to provoke an election now—“assessments are changing daily.” (This paragraph added 16 June, 6:30 a.m., PDT)

The French thresholds for runoff participation

This week is the inter-round period in the French two-round assembly elections. The first round was on 12 June. The French way of electing members of the National Assembly is not top-two majority-runoff, like the country’s presidential elections (or most elections in California). Rather, it is majority-plurality. That is, it is possible to have more than two candidates in the second round in any given single-seat district, and when this happens, the winner is the one with the most votes, even if it is less than 50%+1.

In any system within the broader family of two-round systems, there need to be threshold provisions for both (1) determining whether a runoff is required, and (2) determining who is eligible to participate. Under typical majority runoff, the provisions are (1) 50%+1 in the first round, or else (2) there must be a second round in which only the top two may participate.1

France follows the same first provision–with a caveat that I will get to. A majority is required at the first round. If that does not occur, the rules are that any candidate with votes equivalent to at least 12.5% of the registered voters in the district may stand in the runoff. That is, an eighth of the electorate, not an eighth of the votes cast. This is an important distinction. There is a further twist on the runoff-participation rules: If there are not two candidates who clear the 12.5%-of-registered threshold, then the top two go to the runoff anyway.

Here are some examples. In the district of Paris no. 2, the Ensemble (pro-Macron) candidate had the first-round plurality, with 35.66%, followed by the candidate of Nupes (pro-Mélenchon) on 27.27%. The third candidate, from the Republicans (LR, traditional right) has 18.23%. So is it a three-way race? Non. This candidate’s votes are a mere 10.63% of the total registered voters. Hence it is a top-two runoff.

Then we have Paris no. 15. Here, the leading candidate (from Nupes) has 47.31% of the votes cast. Pretty close to a majority, but not good enough under criterion #1 (50%+1 or else runoff). However, no other candidate cleared 12.5% of the registered voters. So maybe a runoff is not required after all. Not so fast. There needs to be a runoff if the plurality candidate did not win a majority of votes cast. Thus the candidate with the second highest vote total (from a left party unaffiliated with Nupes) advance to a runoff despite having won only 9.44% of the registered electorate in the first round. (This candidate won 17.87% of votes cast, but for qualifying purposes, this is not even relevant.)

There is, as I mentioned, a caveat on the first criterion, that a majority in the first round obviates the need for a second. To be elected in the first round, the leading candidate’s vote total also must be greater than 25% of the registered electorate in the district. There is at one prominent case where this comes up in the current election–prominent because it involves a famous politician. The district is Pas-de-Calais-11. The leading candidate is Marine Le Pen (you’ve probably heard of her–leader of the National Rally (RN)). She won 53.96% of the votes. Good for her; she won a majority! However, her votes amount to just 22.52% of registered voters. As a result, she must face a second round against another Marine, Tondelier of Nupes, who qualifies despite a vote total that is only 9.79% of the registered electorate.

It would be strange to have a candidate win a majority in the first round and yet lose the runoff. It probably won’t happen. On the other hand, if the opposition to her could mobilize and vote for the Nupes Marine, it is theoretically possible. Looking at the rest of the field, we find an Ensemble candidate in third place with 5.15% of registered electorate and then no other candidate over 1.5%. It would be a tall order, needing a whole lot of abstainers to turn up. But the rules of the French two-round system create the opportunity.

I thank Giacomo Benedetto and Steven Verbank (both via Twitter) for the above examples and clarifications on rules.

Just for fun, I was clicking on districts somewhat randomly. (You can play the game, too, by going back a step or two in any of the links for the three examples above.) It seems that the low turnout might be responsible for quite a few districts being like the second example–a candidate qualifying for a runoff despite being below 12.5% of the electorate in the first round. I do not know how common this or a majority but not 25% of registered voters has been over the course of the Fifth Republic’s history (dating to 1958, with then exception of a list-PR system in 1986). It is also noteworthy that there are eight three-way runoffs this year (compared to just one in 2017). If anyone happens to have a list of them, please post in the comments.

Randomly, I will now mention a few cases that looked interesting to me. Yonne no. 1: The top three candidates (Nupes, RN, and LR) have vote percentages of 24.25, 23.92, and 22.61. Only the first one has more than 12.5% of registered, and the third narrowly missed it (having 11.50%). I have no idea how often a candidate might ever have won from third place in a three-way runoff in France. If there were to be such a case, this would seem to be a promising opportunity–a mainstream right candidate against the left and far right, who combine for less than a majority of votes cast. However, the LR candidate came up short of making it a three-way.

Another similar case is Moselle no. 5: Top three candidates from RN, LR and Ensemble, with vote percentages of 25.88%, 24.53%, and 23.48%. Tight three-way race. But third did not clear 12.5% of the registered electorate–in fact, the leader had only 10.35%–and so it can be only a two-way.

Another majority-but-runoff case in Bouches-du-Rhone no. 4: Nupes leader has 56.04% of votes cast, but only 21.36% of registered voters. So the second candidate, from Ensemble, who won won only 14.88% of votes (and 5.67% of the electorate) advances to a runoff.

I probably could do this all day. But I probably should not.

One more thing before I hit “publish.” This collection of candidate statements and photos for every candidate in every district is an incredible resource! It is interesting that many of them are pictured next to their party’s presidential candidate (did someone say presidentialization?), and I also like how some of them show a little photo of their replacement candidate. Every candidate is elected with a substitute, who takes the seat if the principal vacates it for any reason during the term. Such reasons include appointment to an executive post, as France does not allow simultaneous service in the assembly and executive.

  1. Or sometimes–including French presidential elections–the top two remaining if one of the initial top two has bowed out for whatever reason.

France assembly 2022: Putting the prospects for NUPES in context

The first round of the French 2022 National Assembly election is on 12 June. As readers of this blog recognize, this is an extreme honeymoon election, owing to the short time that has elapsed since the presidential election. In that two-round contest in April, Emmanuel Macron was reelected, winning 27.9% of the vote in the first round and 58.6% in the runoff.

The runner-up in the presidential contest was Marine Le Pen of the extremist National Rally, with 23.2% in the first round and 41.5% in the runoff. In a close third place was the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with 22.0%. In the period since the runoff results were known, Mélenchon has led the formation of a left alliance known as the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (NUPES). (See the series of very helpful comments from Wilf at an earlier post, where he shared news stories about the coalition bargaining as it was taking place.) Mélenchon has not been shy about his goal, proclaiming that he is running to be premier. If this happened, it could usher in a period of cohabitation, defined as president and premier from opposing parties and the president’s party not in the cabinet. (I say “could usher in” because there’s always the possibility Macron’s party would be in a cabinet headed by Mélenchon, although if the latter actually were premier–and especially if NUPES won a majority of seats–that would be rather unlikely.)

As readers of this space will know, I find such an outcome extremely unlikely. Honeymoon elections do not work that way. They are not a second chance for voters to “check” the president. They confirm the mandate the voters have just conferred on the new (or newly reelected) president. Or do they? Maybe this will be a special case. That is what I am setting out to explore in this post.

Regarding “normal” honeymoon elections, see the post on France that I wrote in 2017, just before the presidential runoff, suggesting that Macron’s then-new party would get around 29% of the vote, and be the largest party. It actually won almost exactly that, 28.2%, and given both allies and the majoritarian two-round electoral system, Macron ended up with a large assembly majority. See the graph in that post, which also appears in Votes from Seats, and shows how nearly all elections early in a presidential term result in rather significant surges for the president’s party. The graph shows something called “Presidential Ratio” graphed against “Elapsed Time.” The ratio, RP, is simply the vote share of the president’s party, divided by the president’s own (first or sole round) vote share in the preceding presidential election. The elapsed time, E, is the percentage of the time between presidential elections at which the assembly election takes place.

For all non-concurrent elections, a best fit shows a steep slope starting at about 1.2 if the honeymoon election is immediately after the presidential election, and dropping steadily as assembly elections occur later in the period between presidential elections. It crosses the 1.00 line (indicating identical assembly and presidential vote shares) at around E=0.28, or just past the quarter mark, then drops to around 0.84 when E=0.5, encompassing the well known midterm-decline phenomenon. Given that for France in 2022 (as in 2017 and some previous cycles), E=0.017, we expect RP=1.19. Taking Macron’s first-round vote of 27.9%, his party should win around 33.1% of the votes. Presumably that would be a plurality and would again be sufficient to win a majority (or close to it) in the assembly when the two-round process is all said and done. Or should we be sure that would be a plurality this time? Let’s see.

Please remember that the equation of this line for presidential vote ratio is not a logical model (like the Seat Product Model or the Cube Root Law), and in any case, even logical model predictions get tripped up by real politics at times! Maybe this honeymoon election will be different. Macron won many voters in the runoff who would have preferred Mélenchon but felt they had to vote to stop Le Pen. There may be much more energy on the side of NUPES than is normal for an alliance that backed a loser.

So how surprising would a good performance be? I decided the best way to put a potential answer to this question in context was to go back to my dataset and augment it with votes data from runners-up and third-place presidential candidates. I have never looked into this before! So here we go…

First, let’s see what it looks like for the party of the candidate who finished second in the second or sole round of presidential voting.

We see that honeymoon elections are really bad for your party if you just lost the presidential election as the runner-up! All data points are below the 1.00 line until nearly E=0.3. The dashed curve is just a lowess (local regression) curve. I did not continue it much past the midterm, because the data get rather sparse late in the term. Not because there are no such elections (again, see the graph for presidential parties), but because the farther you go into the term, the more likely the runner-up’s party does not exist in a recognizable form. Presidential and semi-presidential systems can be that way.

In France 2022, it was Le Pen who finished second, and I do not think anyone would be surprised if her party got less than two thirds of what she won (in other words, around 15%). In fact, it will probably be much worse than that for her.

The topic of interest here, though, is the third presidential candidate’s party. Here is what that graph looks like:

Interestingly, the party backing the candidate who came in third quite often increases its support in a honeymoon election. In most cases, that probably comes predominantly at the expense of the second candidate’s party. But there is probably no reason why it could not come from the winner’s, in a case where there was a good deal of strategic voting in the presidential election (or specifically, in a runoff).

The curve is pretty level until E=0.2, with a mean of almost 1.5. Given how sparse the data are–there are lots of presidential elections with no third candidate or where the third had no party–I would not draw too much of a conclusion from this. However, note that 1.5 times Mélenchon’s vote would reach 33%, or almost exactly what we “predict” for Macron’s La République En Marche! (The exclamation point is in the party name, although you should be as excited about this convergence of their potential shares as I am!) If one were to add in the votes of the other presidential candidates whose parties since have joined NUPES, perhaps we would “predict” a voting plurality for Mélenchon.

So, while I still do not think Mélenchon is going to become premier, this data exploration has led me to believe it would not be as shocking a development as I initially assumed. It could be that this is the honeymoon election that has the ideal convergence of factors to generate an upset. And make no mistake, if a just-reelected president were to be forced to appoint as premier someone opposed to him, it would be an upset. On the other hand, polls do show it will indeed be close, at least in the first round.