The Salvadoran result 2018: The electoral cycle counts!

[Note: the following has been revised based on updated voting results– 9 March, 17:17 PM PST]

Before the assembly election in El Salvador, I suggested that the FMLN should be expected to win 24.2% of the vote. I hedged, saying I thought the Salvadoran party system probably was still too rigid to allow one of its two leading parties to fall off that far. I should not have hedged, because the preliminary results show that the largest party will be the opposition ARENA, which won 42.3%. The FMLN got 24.4%. How about that. I was off by a tenth of a percentage point in my pre-election prediction!

Well, as nice as that would be as a story, it is more complicated than that…

now realize that I made an error in calculating my expectation of 24.2%. I based the expectation on the fact that the FMLN is the party of the incumbent president, that this election was being held with 80% of the president’s inter-electoral time lapsed, and the president’s own (first-round) vote total (in 2013). It was in the latter factor that I made a mistake, using 39.0%; that was the ARENA total, but the FMLN candidate, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, had 48.9%. Plugging that into the formula (shown below), I should have “expected” the FMLN to get 30.3% of the vote in this past Sunday’s assembly election. So the party actually did a good deal worse than the corrected expectation. And I did worse in my prediction.

Perhaps the party system is no longer so rigid; one of the leading parties can fall below a quarter of the votes after all. Alternatively, as I shall explore here, perhaps I made a second countervailing mistake, which was not to include a coalition partner. If we add the votes of GANA, a center-right party but one that has supported FMLN presidencies since 2010 and, importantly, did not compete against Sánchez Cerén in the presidential contest, we get 35.9%. That’s greater that my (corrected) expectation of 30.3%, but somewhat closer to it than the FMLN’s own vote. I will return to this issue of party vs. alliance later.

The FMLN’s 24.4% is its worst showing in the votes for assembly since its debut election in 1994 (21.4%); that election was concurrent with the presidential election and the party ran just behind its presidential candidate (24.9%) who was a very distant second. Since then, the party has won 33.0%, 35.2%, 34.0%, 39.7%, 42.6%, 36.8%, 37.2%, and now 24.4%.

The party’s high-water mark was 2009, the “counter-honeymoon” election that presaged the leftist, ex-guerrila, party’s first presidential win a few months later.* Then, holding the presidency, it slipped in 2012, an election held with about 60% of the president’s term elapsed. In 2014, it won the presidency again, then held its own in the 2015 election, held with 20% of the new president’s term elapsed.

GANA first appeared, as a split from ARENA, in 2010, just under a year after the election of the first FMLN president. It has now run in three assembly elections staring with 2012, and its votes have been 9.6%, 9.2%, and 11.5%. Interestingly, it gained in 2018 even while the FMLN lost badly. If we add the two parties’ votes together for the last three elections, we get 46.4% (not much less than Sánchez Cerén’s own percentage in 2014), 46.4% (yes, again) in 2015, and 35.9%. That is obviously a sharp decline in the two parties’ combined votes, even if one of the partners did experience an increase. FMLN and GANA will now will have around 40% of the assembly seats, whereas they held half the seats after both the 2012 and 2015 elections.

What led to the sharp decline this time? Many political factors, no doubt. But what really counts is the elapsed time–an election this late in a presidential term tends to be bad for the presidential party–or alliance. The FMLN in 2018 is just the latest example of an effect I first researched in my dissertation (1988) and published about in the APSR in 1995.

Now, via Votes from Seats, we have a formula:

Rp=1.20–0.725E,

where Rp is the “presidential vote ratio”– vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own vote share (in the first round, if two-round system)–and E is the elapsed time (the number of months into the presidential inter-electoral period in which the assembly election takes place).

The key question around which this post is based is whether we should mean “party” literally as the party of which the president is nominee, or if we should include supporting parties that do not compete against the candidate. If you think it is cheating to use the alliance, I am being transparent and reporting the party totals. If you think it is OK to use the alliance when the two parties in question do not compete against each for presidency and cooperate in the assembly–despite running separately–we can compute the totals that way, too.

The formula above expects Rp=0.620 because E=0.80 for this election. Using only the FMLN assembly vote only, observed Rp=0.244/0.489=0.489. Using the FMLN+GANA vote, observed Rp=0.359/0.489=0.734. With the expected Rp=0.620, we get the previously mentioned expectation of 0.303 for the president’s alliance vote share. Obviously the president’s own vote does not change with these calculations, because any GANA-aligned voters who voted for the FMLN candidate are already included. This is why I think it makes sense to use the combined votes–not only because it makes the formula “work” better. (Honest! But F&V readers get to do peer review here!)**

This is the second nonconcurrent assembly election I have watched closely since Rein Taagepera and I developed the formula for our book (published in October, 2017). The other was in France. In April, 2017, I “predicted” that the brand new party of Emmanuel Macron would win around 29% of the vote. This was the day after the first round, and assuming he would win the second round (which he did, easily). At the time, much media commentary was of a hand-wringing character: Macron would be weak, maybe even face cohabitation, because he didn’t have any party to speak of. I said no, the electoral cycle will ensure he gets a good boost in votes in the assembly election. An elapsed time (E) of 0.017, an extreme “honeymoon” election, would almost guarantee it.

In fact, the election resulted in Macron’s party winning 32% of the vote. (And, a large majority of seats, due to the disproportional electoral system.)

So, that’s two elections in the past year called (more or less) correctly, within a few percentage points, based only on the elapsed time and the president’s own initial vote share.

I still hesitate to call this a prediction, because the parameters in the formula (1.20 and 0.725, above) are not themselves based on deductive logic. And perhaps I also should hesitate because of the ambiguity over party vs. alliance, as discussed in this post. But there just may be something to these electoral cycle effects, after all.

[Note: lightly edited since posting.]

______ Notes
* The 2009 presidential election featured only two candidates. So the party’s presidential vote was inflated due to the abstention of all but the two big parties from the presidential race that year. This is the only time smaller parties have not contested the first round. As I said at the time, the decision by the then-ARENA majority to shift from a concurrent to counter-honeymoon assembly election that year converted the assembly election into a “de-facto first round of the presidential election”. The right got spooked, perhaps, by the strong showing of the FMLN, and did not want to risk a division, even in the two-round election. The left followed suit and, with a sole candidate, narrowly won.


** In the 2015 election, based on the new president’s 48.9% of the (first round) vote in 2014 and elapsed time, E=0.20, we would have expected a votes ratio Rp=1.055. That would mean an assembly vote percentage of 51.6%. The FMLN itself won only 37.2%, but if we include GANA, as noted, we get 46.4% (Rp=0.949), which is a small under-performance. (Consequential, of course, as they failed to get the majority predicted.) How about one election farther back in the cycle? In 2012, GANA existed, but that party had not existed at the time the then-incumbent president of the FMLN was elected. So we certainly can’t include it in the calculation for 2012! For that election E=0.60, and so expected Rp=0.765. The president had won 51.3%, so we’d expect the FMLN to have won 39.2%. It actually won 36.8% (observed Rp=0.719), so it did only a little worse than the formula suggests it could have expected.

 

France 2017: Round 4 (honeymoon elections and presidentialization matter!)

Today is the fourth round of the French 2017 election process–that is, the runoffs of the honeymoon assembly election.

Following round 1 (the first round of the presidential election), I used a formula (from Shugart and Taagepera, 2017, Votes from Seats) to “predict” what the round 3 (first round, assembly election) vote percentage would be for the party of first-round leader Emmanuel Macron (on the safe assumption he would win the second round). I pegged it at 29%, based only on Macron’s first-round vote and the elapsed time between then and the scheduled date of the assembly first round.

In the actual voting, La Republique En Marche! (LREM) got around 32%, although I believe that also includes some small vote share for MoDem (which was part of a pre-election coalition). In any case, I won’t quibble about an error of ±3 percentage points. At the time, various commentators were fretting over how “weak” EM would be, what with an untested party and Macon’s having come from seemingly nowhere. Some folks even were wringing their hands over possible cohabitation. It did not take long for polls to catch up with the institutional reality, which is that honeymoon elections matter. The voting result was highly predictable.

Where I went well off the rails was in questioning whether a plurality of votes of around 30% in the first round could translate into an assembly majority. I noted that similar percentages of the vote in previous first rounds in France had translated into around half the seats, but that a safer prediction might be for Macron’s party to be just short. I was not worried about a “weak” presidency, but I thought some degree of post-electoral bargaining would be necessary.

Well, that was silly. I somehow forgot that our assumptions about how votes translate into seats in France are based on the “textbook” French V party system, whereby there are many parties, but two dominant blocs. In such a setting, a leading party (such as a just-elected president’s) with around 30% of the vote would be just far enough ahead of both its allies and the leading party of the opposing bloc so as to translate into a solid majority of seats for the alliance, but not necessarily for the leading party itself. The bloc of the loser of the second round, in the “textbook” party system, is not so far behind the president’s bloc. Therefore, you get a clear pro-presidential majority, but not a knock-out.

Two things should have given me pause. First of all, that the second round presidential candidate was of the National Front, so 2002 would be a better guide than, say, 2012. In 2002, the party of the second major bloc (i.e., the Socialists, whose presidential candidate had finished third) suffered terribly from the honeymoon cycle, and of course, the FN assembly candidates did poorly for lack of allies. This allowed just 33% of the first-round votes for the newly elected president’s party to translate into more than 62% of the seats.

Second, and more to the point, the party system of France 2017 has collapsed badly. Thus being at only 30% of the votes makes you a dominant player in what is, for the time being, a one-bloc system. If you are the centrist party in a two-round system, it does not matter that you lack allied parties in a bloc; what matters is that you have no opposing parties that combine for a coherent bloc against you. Seat projections, issued on the day of the first round of the assembly election, suggested that LREM could get over 400 seats. Some even say 475 (out of 577). LREM candidates will win by default, because in relatively few districts will there be active coordination against them. Moreover, turnout is (predictably) low today.

The following screen shot from Henry Schlechta on Twitter, shows just how dominant the LREM is in today’s runoffs. In other words, don’t let 32% of the first-round votes fool you (as it did me). With different opponents in different districts, from different political camps, there is no reason not to expect a massive majority.

Now that everyone seems to accept that LREM will have a big majority, the concerns (expressed in various news media stories) has shifted to how difficult it may be to govern with a party full of novices. Such concerns are also misplaced. That the party is full of novice politicians makes it more, not less, likely that it will stick to Macron even when times get tough. They have nowhere else to go. They owe their nominations and assembly seats to Macron. France 2017 is presidentialization on steroids!. And, remember, honeymoon elections matter.

France 2017–Honeymoon Election time!

Today is round three of France’s four-round national elections. As I said back on 23 April, everything followed from the first round, i.e., when the final two presidential candidates were set. At that time, I projected Macron’s party to get a plurality, with around 29% of the vote, in the first round of the assembly election (today’s vote). I also added, “maybe more!”

Things were progressing more or less as expected as Macron assembled his pro-presidential party and appointed his choice of premier and cabinet, effectively saying to voters, here is the government I want you to approve.

An assembly majority for La Republique En Marche to support the government, following runoffs in a week in most districts, is easily within reach.

That is at once remarkable–the party nominated its candidates within the last month solely to support a presidency that looked unlikely as recently as several months ago–and utterly predictable–to those of us who do logical models of electoral system and presidential effects.

Remember: Honeymoon elections matter

On 23 April, when many commentators were lamenting how weak (then-expected) President Emmannuel Macron’s support might be in the National Assembly, I offered an estimate of 29% of the vote for his newly formed party. I based this solely on the mean surge that presidents’ parties tend to have when an assembly election occurs early in their terms–a honeymoon election.

Maybe that was an underestimate. While one poll (OpinionWay/ORPI) has Macron’s party, La République en marche! (LRM), on 27%, Harris Interactive sees it on 32%. Both agree this will be the biggest party (Reuters). Given the electoral system, such a share puts Macron well within reach of having a majority in the Assembly.

And what a party it is!

Half of the LRM preliminary list of 428 candidates for the 577-member National Assembly are women and 52 percent are civil society figures.

Better yet, 95% are not current MPs and one of them is a “rockstar mathematician”! (France24)

Macron has also named his cabinet. The premier will be Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre and a member of the Les Republicans (the party of defeated and discredited presidential candidate François Fillon). Reuters reports:

A leading French conservative accused President Emmanuel Macron of “dynamiting” the political landscape on Tuesday as he put together a government that is expected to include former rivals on both left and right.

In other words, he is being “accused” of doing precisely what he won nearly two thirds of the vote (in the runoff) saying he would do.

Furthermore,

over 20 LR members of parliament, including some party heavyweights and former ministers, issued a joint statement on Monday urging the party to positively respond to the “hand extended by the president”.

All of the above should serve as a reminder of two things: (1) the purpose of the upcoming election is to ratify the new executive’s direction, not to be a second chance for an alternative vision; (2) the honeymoon electoral cycle matters.

France: what to expect for the assembly?

I am going to assume the polls are right and Emmanuel Macron will squeak past Marine Le Pen and be elected president in the runoff in France’s presidential election. (The polls actually suggest he will win at least 60% of the vote.) Let’s think ahead to the assembly elections, which come in June (also in two rounds).

I have seen various references to a likelihood of “cohabitation”. This is nonsense, if we define that term properly to mean cases in which the president and premier are from opposing parties and the president’s party is not in the cabinet. But let’s give people saying this the benefit of the doubt, and assume they mean the presumptive President Macron will have a difficult coalition-building task ahead of him with the assembly he will face. This is not unreasonable to assume, given that Macron has no existing party to start with.

Even this weaker prediction of a challenging assembly environment for the young “outsider” president is probably wrong. Honeymoon elections really matter, and France has had, since 2002, an extreme version of a honeymoon cycle, with the assembly election only about a month after the presidential.

This first graph is from the forthcoming Votes from Seats by Matthew Shugart (yes, me) and Rein Taagepera. Unlike most graphs in this book, this is not a logical model. That is, it is not based on deductive logic for the specific equation plotted. The equation is an empirical regression result. However, the basic idea of a honeymoon surge is itself well documented (as explained in Chapter 12 of the book, citing earlier work by me and others).

The plot is of the “presidential vote ratio” against “elapsed time”. The presidential vote ratio, or Rp, is the vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own vote share (in the first round, if two-round system). Elapsed time is the number of months into the presidential inter-electoral period in which the assembly election took place, so 0 means a concurrent election (same day) and the more closely elapsed time approaches 1.0, the closer it is to the next presidential election (but before it).

The upcoming French assembly election will be about 1/60=0.0167 on elapsed time, E. Macron has won, according to initial results, about 24% of the first-round vote for president. So, doing the math in the (empirical) equation, we get:

Rp=1.20–0.725*0.017=1.19.

In other words, if the pattern holds for France, 2017, we should expect Macron’s new party, En Marche!, to get around 29% of the vote (24*1.19=28.6). Is that even possible, given En Marche! did not even exist prior to Macron’s campaign? I do not know, and I will not call this a “prediction” given it is just an empirical pattern and not a logical model. But there you have it, for what it is worth–in the absence of any other information, I am going with around 29% of the vote.

Note that there is only one non-concurrent election with E<0.1 for which Rp<1. Even with an untested party, I like Macron's party's chances of getting over 25% of the vote.

For comparison purposes, note that a largest vote-earning party in this range would not be unprecedentedly low for France. In 2012, the Socialist Party of just-elected Francois Hollande won 29.4%, and this was the largest percentage for any party in the election by a margin of 2.3 percentage points. Hollande himself had won 28.6%, so his party had only a small honeymoon boost. In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP did better, at 39.5%. Sarkozy himself had won 31.2%, yielding a boost about in line with that implied by the Rp equation.

Of course, what matters more is seats. Does the French electoral system tend to boost seat shares? Yes, we might say that it does. Despite the low shares for the largest party, the use of two-round majority-plurality in single-seat districts means that the largest party can expect quite a further boost indeed.

The second graph has plots of the seat share of the largest party (s1, left panel) and the effective number of seat-winning parties (NS, right panel) since 1958. The “expected” line is based on the Seat Product Model predictions. As explained in Votes from Seats (and also in Taagepera’s 2007 Predicting Party Sizes), these are based on logical models (deductive quantitative reasoning). They are not merely empirical regressions, but regression confirm them on a large dataset of national elections. They are:

s1=(MS)-.125 and NS=(MS)1/6.

MS=mean district magnitude times the assembly size

It might be noted that the previous honeymoon elections depicted here are 1981, 1988, 2002, 2007, and 2012. All show s1 above and NS below the expectation. In other words a less fragmented party system due to the honeymoon boost for the just-elected (or, in 1988, reelected) president.

Even in 2012, with his party on only 29.4% of the votes, Hollande almost had a co-partisan majority. His Socialists had 48.5% of the seats, thanks to the electoral system; with allies, he had a large working majority of over 57%.

The models assume a “simple” system–one with a single tier of allocation in one round using a basic PR formula. FPTP counts (any PR formula when M=1 is the same as plurality), but obviously majority-plurality does not, because it is not a one-round system. Even so, the worst we can say is that in some elections we get an actual seat-winning party that is bigger than predicted (for a simple system of the same number of single-seat districts) and an effective number of seat-wing parties that is lower than expected. The major exceptions to this generalization are from the 1970s. (Note the abrupt change in expected value in 1986; this was the one PR election of the Fifth Republic.)

Of course, the reason why we might expect s1 to be higher than predicted and NS to be lower is the the largest party benefits from alliance deals in the districts between rounds. But the expectation on seats–based, again, on the incorrect assumption that this is a plurality system–is not too far off, despite the fact that the votes are so fragmented that a party with just 30% in the first round is sometimes the biggest party.

We can assume that Macron and En Marche! will benefit from alliances against the National Front. It is harder to predict what the patterns will be with respect to the traditional right and left.

The bottom line is that I would expect En Marche! to emerge as the biggest party, based on the honeymoon cycle, with somewhere between 24% and 30% (maybe more!) of the vote, and somewhere between 40% and over 50% of the seats. I would further expect Macron to have no difficulty appointing a premier of his choice, and to have a ruling coalition that will be dependent on him for its very existence. Of course, I can’t say how effective this coalition will be at governing, or whether it will last Macron’s term, or even if my expectations will be proven totally wrong. But at the very least, let’s not wring our hands over prospects of a president hobbled from the start.

The electoral cycle (honeymoon elections) and the electoral system (majority-plurality) work very much in the incoming president’s favor, and these patterns may well hold even for a president from a new and untested party.

___
(I corrected a really bad mistake in the paragraph starting “Note that…”; the point of the post is not being changed, it is just being made more accurately.)

France 2017 presidential scenarios

The graphic at this link shows a wide range of scenarios for potential runoff pairings for the French presidential contest. It comes from a recent Les Echos poll.

The most likely overall scenario remains Emanuel Macron (independent center-left) beating Marine Le Pen (National Front) in the second round. He also beats François Fillon (Republican) by the same margin, 65-35.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the Left Front, does better than I would have expected against various potential runoff opponents, beating Le Pen, 63-37, and Fillon, 59-41. While the idea of Mélenchon making it to the runoff is still a stretch, various recent polls have shown him having surged to within a few percentage points of second place in the first round.

The potential runoff pairing of Le Pen and Fillon is the most worrisome. While Le Pen still loses, it is closer, at 58-42.

Macron beats Mélenchon in the closest (and probably least likely) of these scenarios, 54-46.

Macron has been slipping in first-round polls. What once seemed certain–that he would make the top two and then easily win the runoff–now looks somewhat less so. His position as a runoff contender has become more precarious, with a crowd of three (Macron, Fillon, Mélenchon) along with Le Pen (who is almost certainly going to finish first, or at worst second if Macron recovers).

These results are what always trouble me about two-round majority systems. It is not unusual for the main contest to be for the second slot, and for two or more candidates to be vying for it. And sometimes the runoff pairing can make quite a difference. Fortunately, there is no very likely scenario in which Le Pen draws such a weak opponent that she wins.

Yet the pairing with the scandal-plagued Fillon should give voters pause. Behind whom to coordinate to block him? The obvious choice is, of course, Macron. But Mélenchon may be more competitive than even recent polls suggest, if still more left-wing voters dessert Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate with no realistic chance of making it to the runoff. Fortunately, as noted, even Mélenchon looks to beat Le Pen, though I’d take a scenario that voters may not have really digested yet with a grain of salt.

The first round is on 23 April.