Spain coalition agreement and possible electoral reform

The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (UP) have publicized an agreement on a program of coalition government. It is an ambitious “Progressive Coalition.” It is a minority coalition: out of the 350 seats, the PSOE won 120 and the UP 26, so together they have 41.7% of the seats, 30 seats short of a majority. Other agreements with regional parties for parliamentary support may be forthcoming; in fact an accord with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV, with 7 seats) has already been published.

The PSOE-UP agreement has one provision of special interest to F&V: Section 5.7 concerns electoral reform, and states the parties will work to find “a consensus that would permit reforming the electoral formula to improve the proportionality of the system.”

Electoral reform is, of course, generally difficult. That the current system is relatively disproportional for an electoral system we would clearly classify as “proportional representation” (PR) is well established. The modest level of proportionality is due to the use of many districts, resulting in a mean magnitude around 7, and the D’Hondt formula. There is also substantial malapportionment. Consider the following advantage ratios (%seats/%votes) for several key parties; a value greater than one indicates the party is over-represented. These are from the most recent (“2019b“) election.

PP 1.22

PSOE 1.22

UP 0.78

C’s 0.42

Vox 0.98

ERC 1.03

JxCat 1.04

EAJ/PNV 1.10

The last three are among the larger regional parties. It is noteworthy that they are not significantly over-represented, despite the regionalized nature of the PR system.   On the other hand, both “large” parties are quite over-represented, while the new government’s junior partner is quite severely under-represented (not as bad as Ciudadanos, however). Some very small regional parties are significantly over-represented. For instance, Sum Navarre has an advantage ratio of 1.43. (It helps to win all of your votes in one rather low-magnitude (5) district in which you had the local plurality of votes.)

I have no information on what reforms the parties may have in mind. However, some combination of the following might be possible:

1. Readjusting magnitudes (long overdue!);

2. Small compensation tier;

3. Shift to (Modified?) Ste.-Laguë.

An interesting feature of the agreement with the PNV is its sixth provision, which states that the new government will make good on policy deals previously struck with the Partido Popular (PP), when it was in government. A PP minority government was replaced by a PSOE minority in a constructive vote of no confidence in June, 2018, which the PNV supported. This new agreement follows the second general election since that parliamentary vote.

Thanks to Bonnie Field (on Twitter) for the links to the two accords.

UPDATE:  There is now a further agreement, this one with the Republican Left of Catalunya (ERC). It is an agreement to abstain. I am not sure how common inter-party agreements over abstention on government formation are, but here we have one.

Field has a good rundown of where things standas of 3 January, the day before the parliamentary debates being.

Spain 2019b

Spain’s second election of 2019 is today. This is also the fourth general election since 2015.

Bonnie Field did a detailed thread on the parties and their ideological positioning and standing in opinion polls. So go read that, and then as results come in, please come back and comment here.

Spain 2019

Spain’s general election was on 28 April, the third one since December of 2015. For the third time in a row, the largest party will have under 40% of the seats. This time it is the Socialists (PSOE) in first place, with just 35.1% (123 of 350 seats) on only 28.7% of the nationwide vote. The last two times it had been the Popular Party (PP), but this time that party lost 69 seats to end up at 66, or 18.9% (on 16.7% of the votes). Two newer parties, whose breakthrough in 2015 had so much to do with the sharp decline in the two big parties’ votes and seats, are Ciudadanos (C’s) and Podemos. The C’s also gained, up 25 seats for a total of 57 (16.3% on 15.7% of the votes), while Podemos slipped considerably, down 24 seats to 42 (12.0% on 14.3% of the votes).

Then there’s Vox, the new nationalist party, which won 24 seats, which is 6.9%, on 10.3% of the vote. Note how significantly underrepresented Vox is, signifying its strength in rural areas which, under Spain’s electoral system, have low magnitudes (although with malapportionment, not as low as they would be if district magnitudes were redistributed to match current population shares).

The rest of the seats, as is typical, were mostly won by regional parties, with the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) being the largest, with 15 seats (4.3% on 3.9% of the total national vote). This is an increase of 6 seats over the last election.

Overall, the parties of the left did well. But the PSOE and Podemos remain short of a majority, unless they accept the support of the ERC. Which, of course, might only feed the strength of the right for next time, including Vox.

In some ways, it was actually a pretty typical Spanish result. The districted PR system, in which there are 52 districts for the 350 seats, once again allowed the two largest parties to be significantly over-represented (at least by the standards of the PR family of systems), and some smaller ones to be under-represented, except if they are regionally based. Of course, many of them are, and several of the smaller regional parties tend to be over-represented, due to having all their votes concentrated in a few districts (which often have moderate-low district magnitude). Of course, in the past–up to 2011 when the PP won a majority of seats–the two biggest parties were much more dominant in votes and therefore in seats than they have been in these past three elections. (The PP’s vote in 2011 was 44.6%; yes, manufactured majorities can happen under PR, such as when average district magnitude is on the low side.)

Note that, despite having had only 85 seats at the last election, the PSOE was the governing party going into this election, as a result of the constructive vote of no-confidence in the PP minority government in June, 2018.

Spain, constructively

Earlier today, the Spanish parliament (specifically, the first chamber, known as the Congress) voted to replace Mariano Rajoy (Popular Party) as prime minister with Pedro Sánchez (Socialist). This is the first case of a “constructive” vote of no confidence under Spain’s constitution.

The constructive vote requires an opposition motion proposing removal of the prime minister and cabinet to state who the new prime minister would be. If the motion receives a majority in favor, the proposed replacement takes office, without need of a further investiture vote. Germany and a few other countries have similar provisions.

The vote was 180-169 in the 350-seat chamber. The farther-left Podemos and several regional parties voted in favor, while the Ciudadanos voted with the Rajoy government.

It is remarkable in that the Socialists won just 24% of the seats in the most recent (2016) election. Thus the new government will be a rather extreme minority government. (I am assuming no coalition partners will be brought into the cabinet.)

This is the system working exactly as intended. In fact, I would call this an example of parliamentary government at its best. The now-ousted government was itself a minority government, and it received only a plurality of members (170) voting in favor of its investiture when it was formed (thanks to 68 deputies abstaining). The replacement has now received, as required by the constitution, a majority. This combination of provisions makes it relatively easy* to form a minority government when the bargaining situation in parliament is difficult, as it was following the 2016 election. Yet such a government, once formed, will be quite stable because it is more difficult to vote it out than if no-confidence votes required only a negative vote against the incumbent (with its replacement to be subject to subsequent bargaining).

The new government surely will not have an easy time passing policy. It is not required to pass a new budget, nor does failure to pass a budget necessarily require a government to resign in Spain–another stability-enhancing mechanism. It seems likely that an election will come earlier than the end of a full term (2020), however. In the meantime, it is probably stable in the sense of not likely to be removed by parliament, given that such a vote would require a new majority to prefer someone else as leader.

* “Easy” here does not mean it might not take quite some time, just that it is not required to get parties comprising a majority to give the government an affirmative mandate. In fact, Rajoy’s minority government was approved just over four months after the June, 2016, election.

Catalonia 2017 result

(Following up on the pre-election entry, where I said the electoral system could make a difference to the result!)

If we aggregate the parties’ votes and seats in this week’s Catalan regional parliament election by pro-independence and pro-union blocks, we find the election produced a plurality reversal. That is, the pro-union parties won more votes, but the way the separate parties’ votes were translated into seats by electoral system resulted in a pro-indepdence assembly majority. The voting result between the blocs was not even very close, those opposed to independence winning by about 4.6 percentage points. This sort of thing should not happen under PR, but can happen when the system is malapportioned and the geographical distribution of party support favors the over-represented side.

I thank David Lublin for pointing this out, via an email message, the contents of which I am sharing here, with his permission.

In this first table are the votes by party and electoral district (data from El País). The main pro-separatist parties are JxC, ERC, and CUP, and these together have 70 of the 135 seats (as the second table below shows), but only 48.3% of the vote.

Barcelona 856382 615201 669108 491201 272632 141363 140786
Girona 79022 148702 87949 34898 16331 21539 11453
Lleida 40608 77695 63852 21618 9318 12052 10839
Tarragona 119870 95223 104057 51643 23443 17524 19976
CATALONIA 1095882 936821 924966 599360 321724 192478 183054

And here is a table David prepared of the same votes run through alternative electoral systems.

David looked at the outcomes considering:
(1) Malapportionment (actual system) v. Fair Apportionment;

(2) D’Hondt (actual system) v. Ste. Lague; and
(3) Four Districts (actual system) v. Single District.
As the following table reveals, the current setup greatly advantaged the pro-independence forces:


Back on 8 November, David had noted in a Monkey Cage post that the electoral system of Catalonia was “stacked” in the separatists’ favor. In that post, David said that Barcelona, which is the most pro-union of the districts, has 14 fewer deputies than it would have, based on its share of the population. (That would make its district magnitude 99! Of course, they could divide it into multiple districts.)

Manuel Alvarez-Rivera had previously noted the impact of the electoral system on the 2015 election, at which such a reversal also occurred. Manuel’s observations can be found both here at F&V and at his own blog, Electoral Panorama. The 2015 reversal was less severe than this year’s because in the earlier election the pro-union parties won the vote just 48.1% to 47.8%.

Catalonia and the rest of Spain need many things to work out their relationship (with or without separation). But one thing that clearly would help would be an electoral system for Catalonia’s own parliament that reflects how its people actually vote.

Catalonia 2017

I suppose it would not be an exaggeration to say that tomorrow’s election will be the most watched election ever for the regional parliament of Catalonia.

I certainly do not know anything about Catalonian politics, but indications are that the vote will be close between parties favoring secession and those favoring remaining in Spain (while perhaps advocating a new set of center-region arrangements).

The electoral system is quite proportional. At least according to the Wikipedia page on the 2015 election, the assembly size is 135. There are four districts, which makes for a mean district magnitude of 33.75. With a seat product of 135 * 33.75 = 4556.25, we should expect an effective number of seat-winning parties around 4.07. However, in 2015, the actual value was a good deal lower than that, at 3.60 (or 88% of expectation). This was due to a large leading party, which in that election was Together for Yes, with 62 seats (45.9%). Based on the seat product, we’d expect a largest party of around 35% of seats.

Naturally, with such a high seat product, the differences between percentages of seats and votes should not be large. Together for Yes had 41.3% of the votes (ignoring blank votes); overall deviation from proportionality is 3.78% (Gallagher index). While not especially high, that is a little more disproportional votes-to-seats translation than I would expect. There is a legal threshold of 3%, applied in each district. But with the smallest district having a magnitude of 15, this would not have much effect. Besides, the wasted vote percentage (non-blank votes for parties winning no seats) was only 1.1%.

So where does the disproportionality come from? Some of it is from the use of D’Hondt allocation, but with such a high seat product, even D’Hondt should not swing six seats to the largest party (the difference between a purely proportional result, to the nearest integer, and the actual result, for the largest party).

The small but potentially significant disproportionality of party votes and sats must be due to malapportionment. The largest district has 85 (!) seats. This is, of course, Barcelona. That makes it one of the very largest districts in use anywhere. Obviously smaller than the single districts in Israel (120), the Netherlands, and Slovakia (both 150), and formerly in the Russian Federation and Ukraine (both 450), but one of the largest in any recent time in a districted PR system. (I recall Indonesia used to have an 85-seat district; Brazil has one with 70*.) However, it is plausible that Barcelona’s 85/135 seats is under-representative of the capital district’s share of the population. The source I am using does not have vote totals, let alone populations, by district. Maybe someone reading this has that information.

It is actually pretty striking to see such disproportionality in a system in which the range of magnitudes is 15 to 85! Not that it is highly disproportional, but relative to what we might expect from such high magnitudes and seat product, it is on the distorted side. And, in a close election with a crisis over the territory’s status, the electoral system may prove decisive.


* Some Brazilian states have larger, statewide districts for their assemblies. (It may well be that no district has ever comprised a larger percentage of an assembly’s total seats, except where it is 100%.)


Spain: not a federation, but not strictly unitary – video

VanDeGraph of youtube recently put up an excellent video explaining Spain’s autonomous regions.

He does a very good job of explaining the crucial distinctions between between federal and unitary states[1], and why Spain, despite its very high degree of decentralization, is not (strictly speaking) federal – and, by implication, why some countries which do not actually call themselves federal probably are (e.g. South Africa).

[1] I do, however, disagree with VanDeGraph’s distinction between federations and confederations as hinging on the right to secede, or that federalism necessarily excludes this right.

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.)