Spain election 2015: It could be a bit of an outlier

If a projection from elespañol (which I found by way of Europe Elects) proves to be essentially accurate, Spain’s general election this Sunday could produce a wee bit of a break with the country’s party-system tradition.

Graph MS vs actual Spain

The blue line in the graph tracks the effective number of seat-winning parties in Spanish elections since the return to democracy in 1977. The red line is what we should expect it to be, given Spain’s “moderate” proportional system–where the many districts with small magnitude (number of members elected) has led some scholars to call it an essentially majoritarian, rather than proportional, system. In fact, it has not been uncommon for a single party to win a majority of seats, despite less than half the votes–a rather unusual occurrence under “proportional” rules.

Specifically, the “expected” value is based on Taagepera’s (2007) Seat Product model*, given Spain’s mean district magnitude (around 7) and assembly size (350). The rules have been constant, thus the expected line is straight. Needless to say, Spain has tended to be rather under-fragmented, relative to expectation. We should expect it to have an effective number of seat-winning parties of 3.65, yet the actual value has not even been above 3.0 but once, and has averaged a bit more than 2.5.

The bright red X is what it will be in this election if the projection were to be the actual result. In the trade, we call this an over-correction.

There was a small uptick in 2011, after a long period of steady decline brought on by the dominance of the two main parties, Socialist PSOE and the Popular Party (PP). But the 2011 increase is nothing compared to what could be in store in this election, with the emergence of two new parties, Podemos (on the left of the political spectrum) and Ciudadanos (on the right), which could jointly hold more than a third of the seats.

What this outcome might mean for government formation is an interesting thing to speculate on. I will not offer such speculation, but I am sure some readers have been following the pre-election conversation in Spain about the likely post-election options.

Here are the projected and current seat totals, by party:

party seat proj current
Podemos 62 0
IU 4 11
ECR 8 3
PSOE 79 110
Ciudadanos 57 0
DiL 8 10
PP 119 186
EHB 6 7
CC 1 0
UDC 0 6
PNV 6 5
others 0 12
sum 350 350

And the effective number of parties by seats (NS) and votes (NV) for each election.

year Ns Nv
1977 2.92 4.31
1979 2.81 4.28
1982 2.33 3.19
1986 3.02 3.6
1989 2.85 4.08
1993 2.67 3.53
1996 2.72 3.27
2000 2.48 3.12
2004 2.53 3
2008 2.36 2.79
2011 2.6 3.34
mean 2.66 3.50
2015 proj. 4.42 5?
revised mean 2.81

Note that the 2015 projection would be so out of line that it actually would raise the full-period mean from 2.66 to 2.81, despite being just one of 12 elections. I put “5?” in the NV cell for 2015, because Li and Shugart (2016; see footnote for link) show that, on average, NV=NS+.6. In Spain, the mean difference has actually tended to be a little higher, at .84. So maybe we will see an effective number of vote-earning parties around 5.3. That would be something–a value we might expect to see in Denmark or Israel (before its fragmentation really took off in the 1990s).

This looks to be one of those rare cases of a really serious shake-up election.

* The Seat Product is district magnitude, M, times assembly size, S. The model states that the effective number of seat-winning parties, Ns=(MS)1/6. Despite its poor accuracy for Spain, it is overall extremely accurate. See Yuhui Li and Matthew S. Shugart, “The Seat Product Model of the effective number of parties: A case for applied political science“, Electoral Studies 41 (March 2016): 23–34.


Catalonia election, 2015

Catalonia held elections to its regional parliament today. An alliance of separatists has won a majority. According to Reuters,

The main secessionist group “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes) was on track to secure 62 seats, while the smaller leftist CUP party would get another 10 [out of 135].

Their votes combine for 47.8%, and there was “record turnout” (78%).

This F&V planting is located in “Spain” because, at least for now, it is.

Partido Indignado

Leaders of Los Inignados, the Spanish protest movement that preceded the worldwide “occupy” phenomenon, have decided to form a political party, Partido X (see Guardian, 20 Oct.).

Spain’s party system has been remarkably stable since shortly after democratization. The news story says Parido X is aiming for 25% of the vote in the next election–which it also says “most observers say is fanciful”.

The protest camp in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square began in May, 2011. I was in Madrid in July of that year, and now is as good a time as any to post one of the photos I took then. A few days later, police cleared the site.


Spanish regional elections

Elections were held today for assemblies in the Spanish regions of Galicia and Euskadi (Basque Country). The following is excerpted from Reuters:

With 98 percent of ballots counted in northwesterly Galicia, [national] Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s party was on course to cede control back to the conservative main opposition party, the Popular Party, after heading a government there for four years.

[…the] PP increased their representation to 39 seats from 37, just enough for a majority in the 75-seat house.

The Socialists, who had governed in coalition with Galician nationalists, slipped to 24 seats from 25.

The Basque picture is a bit more mixed:

With 99.9 percent of ballots tallied, the PNV [Basque Nationalist Party] had the biggest share of the vote, but Zapatero’s party appeared set to increase its share to 25 seats from the 18 it won in 2005.

With the PP set to get 13 seats, a majority coalition in the 75-seat regional Basque assembly between the two main national parties appeared to be a possibility, although they are likely to make uneasy bedfellows.

I do not know Basque politics at all, but the idea of a coalition between the two main national parties–the PP and the PSOE–seems unlikely. This result portends a minority PNV government to me. (Minority governments are routine in Spain; in fact, Zapatero heads one currently in Madird.)

Spanish Socialists reelected

BBC reports that the incumbent Socialists appear to have won reelection in Spain’s general election today, though not absolute majority. Projections from exit polls and preliminary results say about 168 164 seats, ((Yet another recent update again says 168. We’ll know soon.)) which would leave them just short. (Spain has had many minority governments, with either of the two leading parties able to govern by cooperating with various regional parties.)

Various news reports I had seen over the past week anticipated the party would not win enough seats to govern alone, but many of these news items also suggested that high turnout would favor the Socialists. An earlier BBC report today had reported that turnout was indeed high.

Electoral Reform in Catalonia

Josep Colomer has a very interesting post about the work of the Commission of Experts for the Electoral Law of Catalonia, of which he is the chair. In fact, all the members of the Commission are political scientists, which Professor Colomer notes, is “an unprecedented achievement for the discipline in these latitudes.” Actually, is there any such precedent, anywhere? I suspect that idea of asking political scientists to study and propose electoral reform is even more radical than asking citizens (as in British Columbia, Ontario, and the Netherlands).

There are fifty proposals, which cover a wide range of the legal framework for elections, but I will highlight the proposed changes to districting and lists, quoting from Josep.

The Parliament of Catalonia is and would keep being elected by proportional representation rules. But its members would be elected in seven districts corresponding to the Catalan government’s territorial structure, instead of the four traditional Spanish provinces. The seat apportionment would maintain some overrepresentation for the scarcely populated territories but would increase the current proportion of seats for the overpopulated, underrepresented area of metropolitan Barcelona. […]

The current system of party’s closed lists, which are used in all elections in Spain (together with only Portugal and a few recent democracies such as Bulgaria and Romania), would be replaced with open lists, as in most European countries.

Based on that reference to “most European countries,” it appears that Josep actually means what are generally called flexible lists (as open lists–in which candidate-preferences votes alone determine the rank order of lists–are not common in Europe). Indeed, Josep goes on to explain the proposed procedure for counting preference votes:

the voter would have the possibility to select a number of individual candidates within the list (about 20 percent of the number of seats to be elected), and those candidates receiving a proportion of preferential votes higher than 5 percent of their party list votes would be elected in priority, independently from their position in the list.

I would be skeptical that this would result in a large number of members being elected on their preference votes, as five percent is actually quite a high intra-party threshold, at least for large districts.* Nonetheless, it should make parties more aware of the popularity of candidates than they need to be (especially beyond the top few ranks) under closed lists. Moreover, the bypassing of the original Spanish provinces for what is now a semi-autonomous subnational unit that subsumes those provinces can be regarded as a significant advance in Catalonian political institutions.

The proposals must be enacted by parliament, where they require a two-thirds vote.

* Based on seven districts and the current 135 seats in the parliament, the mean district magnitude would be over 19. (Currently the mean is around 34, and the Barcelona district has 85 seats; the smallest current district elects 15.)