Presidentialism and diverging intraparty electoral incentives

“We’ve got people running for president all trying to find their base, and then you’ve got people from Trump states that are trying to continue to legislate the way we always have — by negotiation.”
 
Thank you, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), for a wonderful quote about how presidential systems can fracture electoral incentives within a party.

MMP weekend: Germany and New Zealand 2017

We are entering days of convergences. Over the next two days, the Jewish and Islamic new years and the first day of Autumn coincide. Then, on the weekend, we have the convergence of elections in the two countries that offer our best examples of mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation electoral systems: Germany and New Zealand. (Lest I be accused of hemispherism, let me hasten to note that in one of those countries, the election will be the day after the start of spring.)

In the case of Germany, which votes Sunday, there really has been no doubt for some time that the CDU/CSU alliance would place first, but it will be down from its 2013 result. There is also little doubt that the two parties that missed the 5% party-vote threshold in 2013 will clear it this time: the center-right FDP and the far-right AfD. The SPD, which briefly flirted with the lead in the polls some months after changing its leadership, looks like it may struggle to break 25% of the vote. The real question is what the coalition will be, after the election results are known.

I would expect the SPD to want a period of opposition to recollect itself after what looks sure to be another disappointing result for the party. Thus it may not be willing to renew the current CDU/CSU+SPD big coalition (what we should stop calling a grand coalition; my more direct translation of the German term is more apt). If the FDP has enough seats to combine with the CDU/CSU, we might see a return to the center-right combo that governed from 2009 to 2013, as well as in many past terms. There is just enough error in the projections from polling to allow for the possibility that this could be a viable combine. (Mouse over the numbers in the table at that link for the range of vote and seat projections for each party.)

However, the most likely result seems to me to be Jamaica! I will admit to rooting for this: CDU/CSU + FDP + Green. (The name refers to the parties’ colors.)

In New Zealand, the contest for Saturday’s election is much more uncertain. For months it seemed National, which heads the current multi-party governing arrangement, was cruising to another win. Then Labour changed its leader and surged (similar to the German pattern). By a few weeks ago, the two largest parties were running neck and neck, while the Greens stumbled badly and looked at risk of failing to clear the 5% party-vote threshold. This scenario was posing a potential difficult challenge for center-left voters: Do you vote Labour to bolster its formateur status (as the largest party, although there is no formal right of first attempt to the largest in New Zealand)? Or do you vote Green to ensure there is a viable partner for Labour other than Winston Peters and his New Zealand First (NZF) party? Given that the electoral system is MMP, you can do both: vote for Labour in your district (electorate) and vote Green on the list. However, while that might be a voter’s way of making a statement of preferred coalition, only the party vote affects the overall balance of seats in parliament. (Some exceptions to that statement, as I will get to below, but none likely relevant to the Labour-Green situation discussed here.)

In recent days, some polling suggests that National might be pulling ahead again. The result could be very close, and it could be a situation in which NZF is pivotal (although that may be less likely than it seemed some weeks ago). That is, assuming NZF makes it. The party has been tending downward and is hovering near 5%, as are the Greens . Here is where the electorate (district/nominal) vote comes in. The threshold provision for a party to participate in nationwide proportional allocation is 5% of party-list votes or one electorate. (Additional MPs elected beyond the electorate candidate are what I have termed “piggyback MPs“, not to be confused with that other MMP creature, the “shadow MP“.) The Greens do not have an electorate where they are viable, but NZF does.

Peters, the NZF leader, currently holds an electorate seat, Northland, having won it in a by-election in 2015. He is the party’s candidate again for the seat. If he retains it, his party would qualify for additional list seats, even if it fell below the 5% party-vote threshold.

The other electorate contests that matter include the one in Epsom, although it is not really a contest. The seat is safe for the one Act MP, David Seymour, who is quite certain to return. It is probably not likely that the Act party vote will be sufficient to earn the party a second seat, although I saw one projection a week or so ago that suggested it was possible. Act has been a governing partner with National since 2008.

Then there is Waiariki, one of the Maori set-aside seats. (Voters who claim Maori descent can choose to vote in their special Maori electorate or in the general electorate seat in which the reside.) Te Ururoa Flavell is fighting to hold the seat, which is the only way his party will retain a presence in parliament. That is quite a change for the party, which has been a National governing partner since 2008. In the past it has won as many as five electorate seats (in 2008) and in 2014 it had sufficient party votes to win a list seat for the first time, in addition to its win in Waiariki electorate. This time, it may end up with just one seat–or zero.

One electorate we know will not matter this time is Ohariu. United Future leader Peter Dunne resigned in August, after a 33-year career as an MP. This effectively kills the party, which has been a support partner to every government, whether led by Labour or National, since 2002. Only in 2002 did the party clear the party-vote threshold, and since 2008, Dunne has been its only member.

In an interesting twist on the Ohariu story, the Greens had initially decided not to contest the seat, in order to give the Labour candidate a chance to defeat Dunne and thereby knock a National partner out of the government-formation equation. When Dunne resigned, the Greens announced a candidate for the seat. With Dunne not running, there is no scenario in which this electorate will matter for the parliamentary balance, so there was no reason for the Greens not to have “local face” on the party (even though many of its voters will split their vote and give their electorate vote to the Labour candidate anyway). Running a candidate is thus another example of what I have called green contamination.

Two MMP elections in one weekend. Now that will be something to watch!

 

UK 2017: Green Party won’t stand in Ealing constituency

Here is something we do not see in First-Past-the-Post elections* as much as the Duvergerianists seem to think we should: one party agreeing not to have a candidate in order to avoid vote-splitting in a district.

The Green Party has pulled out of a crucial election seat in a bid to help the Labour Party beat the Tories – the first tactical withdrawal of its kind ahead of the general election.

The decision is expected to allow more votes to go to Labour MP Rupa Huq, who beat the Conservatives with a majority of just 274 votes in 2015, when no other party managed to attract more than seven per cent of the vote.

Green Party members in Ealing — where the party won 1,841 votes in the 2015 election — voted not to field a candidate last week, after Ms Huq promised to campaign for voting reform and the environment.

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* Except in India!

Austria’s presidential re-run

The right-wing populist Norbert Hofer has conceded defeat in the Austrian presidential runoff, confirming in today’s re-vote the original razor-thin result.

Bullet dodged.

And, no, despite what BBC and others say, the Austrian presidency is not merely “ceremonial” in its formal powers.

Is the winner, Alexander Van der Bellen, the first Green ever elected to a presidency anywhere? (Running as an independent, but former head of that party.)

The Greens, electoral reform, and the Canadian leaders’ debate

Last week, Canadian party leaders participated in a debate. It is currently the only one scheduled to include the Greens leader, Elizabeth May (the party’s only MP).

The debate included an entire segment devoted to, as moderator Paul Wells put it, “Canada’s democracy — how it works, why it doesn’t always work as well as we hoped.” (From my south of the border perspective, I can only admire a debate that actually asks such a question, rather than implicitly assuming that the debate and election themselves are proof of how great democracy is working, but enough of that digression for now.)

The first question within this segment of the debate went to May, and the exchange, which you can read in the transcript, is very interesting.

Paul Wells: Our first question on this to Elizabeth May. Ms. May, you’ve called the government we have now an elected dictatorship and you’ve called for electoral reform, but this election will be won and lost under the current electoral system. Do you worry that Green candidates will take support away from other parties that could defeat this government? Might the Green Party help reelect this government?

Elizabeth May: When I refer to the government as an elected dictatorship, it’s not personal in any way to the Prime Minister nor to his party…

The only job description for a member of parliament is that found in the Constitution, which is to represent your constituencies.

So we need to actually revisit parliamentary democracy, understand that this election isn’t about electing a prime minister — we don’t do that in this country; we elect members of parliament. And their job is to find the government that will hold the confidence of the House, so we can work for Canadians…

As far as Greens being concerned about this, not at all. We have had success and we’ve now had election – my election in Saanich–Gulf Islands, but across provinces — in British Columbia Andrew Weaver, in New Brunswick David Coon, in Prince Edward Island Peter Bevan-Baker. All of us got elected by driving voter turnout.

So instead of fixating on this splitting the vote non-problem, vote-splitting, we need to focus on the real problem, which is 40 percent of Canadians in the last number of elections haven’t voted. And vote abandoning, in my view, is a much bigger problem than vote-splitting…

Paul Wells: You’ve said we don’t elect a prime minister, and that’s true, but we saw quite a mess of a coalition crisis in 2008. Are we headed towards that sort of arbitrage among parties after the next election if there’s no majority?

Elizabeth May: I can’t tell you how committed Green MPs as a caucus will be to working with other parties, working across party lines to ensure that we go from a precarious, perhaps two-year minority parliament to a stable, productive, effective parliament, because you look at really great parliaments in this country, and I refer viewers back to Lester B. Pearson where the small group of NDPers under David Lewis and Diefenbaker in the Conservatives and Lester B. Pearson delivered our social safety net.

I find the exchange interesting for the effort to drive the discussion way from vote-splitting and choosing a prime minister–two common perceptions of elections in parliamentary systems using first-past-the-post electoral systems. These are perceptions that are, of course, harmful to small parties. So May attempts to emphasize local viability of Greens, and the advantages of cross-party cooperation in a non-majority parliament.

Then things returned pretty quickly to business as more-or-less usual, with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau engaging NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in a debate over the Clarity Act (regarding another potential Quebec secession referendum).

A bit later, Wells raises the issue of electoral reform directly, referencing the proposal of the Liberal Party (see p. 8 of the linked PDF). I will just quote a few snippets here. PM Stephen Harper (Conservative):

Well, I think it’s a very fundamental change to the way our political system would work in this country. We have a Westminster system. Voters are able to elect governments. They don’t elect coalitions that make up the government later. And you know, Canadians – Paul, this has come up before. It was subject of a referendum and plebiscite in Ontario and Prince Edward Island and British Columbia. I have not found Canadians who want to make this fundamental change. In fact, whenever Canadians are asked, they reject it. We know the rules. Let’s play under the rules that Canadians support.

Mulcair did not use the immediate opportunity to talk up his party’s stated commitment to introducing proportional representation (MMP, specifically). Instead he talked about the current government’s “Unfair Elections Act” (it is, actually, of course, the Fair Elections Act). Later, however, Mulcair did say, “We think that there are three main things we can do with regard to our institutions. The first is to make sure that every vote counts with a proportional representation system.” (The others were “open up parliament” to more public scrutiny and abolish the Senate.)

Unless I missed it, Trudeau himself never mentioned his own party’s commitment to electoral reform. Perhaps he thought it was enough that Wells invoked it and gave Harper a chance to denounce it.

NZ Greens first block bar-opening, then relent

There was an interesting little tussle between the ACT New Zealand and the Greens this past week. The matter concerned a private member’s bill that would allow the opening of bars in the wee hours of the morning so that New Zealanders could gather to watch live matches at the next Rugby World Cup (which will be played in Britain next month).

The bill was sponsored by the sole ACT MP, David Seymour. As I understand the parliamentary procedure (with the help of some New Zealand friends), if a private member’s bill does not win the regular lottery for consideration by the House, it is possible for an MP to introduce it directly. However, this requires unanimous consent to proceed. The Greens turned down this request.

RNZ:

ACT leader David Seymour said, under his bill, licensed premises would have been able to open for an hour before a match started, and an hour after it had finished.
But the Greens’ health spokesperson, Kevin Hague, said the party could not support the bill as it had the potential to cause real harm to communities.
He said the move was a ham-fisted attempt by Mr Seymour to be a ‘man of the people’ but it actually had the potential to cause real harm to communities.
“Under David Seymour’s bill, boozed-up people will be spilling out of bars just as parents are dropping their children at school or are on their way to kids’ weekend rugby and netball games.”
Mr Seymour called the Greens “party poopers” after they blocked the bill.

However, the very next day, the Greens changed course and allowed the bill to go ahead. RNZ again:

Mr Seymour told Parliament ACT had offered to make changes to the bill to get the Greens’ support.
“Politics is often the art of compromise and if this bill emerges with at least the All Black games and finals applied to then that, I believe, will be a great victory,” he said.

The article has some brief overview of the concessions (which seem minor to me).

I have to wonder if the Greens really wanted to garner a reputation as the party that is against World Cup viewing in bars. One further report that I heard on RNZ suggested that the party took a great deal of criticism for the initial veto.

The bill seems now set to go ahead with National Party support and Labour declaring it a personal (free) vote.

PEI 2015

Thanks to Wilf Day for the reminder that there is also a provincial election in Prince Edward Island this week–today, in fact.

It will be another large manufactured majority, with Liberals currently on 18 seats with a bit over 41% of the votes. Conservatives 7 seats on 37%, and a Green MLA elected (11% province wide). The NDP looks to be shut out in seats, despite currently being just slightly ahead of the Greens in votes.

As for the one Green win, in Kellys Cross-Cumberland, it is not close. The Green candidate, Peter Bevan-Baker has 54.8%, and the Liberal trails far behind on 27.6%. I know nothing about Kellys Cross-Cumberland or Bevan-Baker, but I am always intrigued by constituencies where Greens win, given how rare they are.

Political party controllers: The case of Likud

How many political parties are organized to have an internal controller with authority to sanction the party leader? I do not think I have heard of such a case before. The controller* for the Likud Party has disqualified incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the party’s leadership primary in advance of the snap election (set for March, 2015). The disqualification is due to allegations of misuse of party funds and other resources.

There is dispute about whether, in fact, the Likud controller can do this. The case itself is interesting, and could even add to the woes that suggest that Netanyahu could be “finished“. But the general question is of even more interest: do other parties have such powerful internal checks? (Powerful, that is, if this disqualification is not overturned on procedural grounds.)

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* Yes, the article refers to the “comptroller”, but as far as I know the correct pronunciation is always “controller” and so it should be spelled.

Small party electoral strategy

The strategy of parties, especially smaller ones, in multiparty systems is a particular interest of mine (a statement that will surprise no one). Here are a few interesting examples from the current New Zealand campaign.

One area of interest is about… interests. What interest groups do small parties cultivate for support?

Greens want to spend millions backing NZ game developers” was a headline on TV NZ on 12 September. Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman says, “Game developers are currently locked out of the government support and grants that other creatives receive. Our plan remedies this anomaly”. Computer game developers are not an interest group I normally think about, but the Green Party has acknowledged them.

ElectionSign2014_01flr
Photo credit: Errol Cavit, in Maungakiekie electorate. Used by permission. I am not there this year, so I rely on Errol for my election-sign photos. But you can still see my collection from 2011!

OK, so what about the racehorse industry? Check. Winston Peters recently reminded voters of “a 10-point plan from New Zealand First to save the racing industry”. In fact, earlier in the campaign, he gave a speech to the New Zealand Trainers’ Association. In the speech he claimed credit for past good deeds when he was Racing Minister in a Labour-led government:

In 2006, New Zealand First recognised the export potential of the New Zealand breeding industry and the need for improved international marketing, and achieved a much improved taxation regime through a reduction in totalisator duty and an accelerated write-down regime for bloodstock.

Peters added an allegation that “Over the past six years National has done nothing for the racing industry.”

Returning to the Greens, of course, the party is mostly an urban-based party. However, one of the characteristics of nationwide proportional representation is that votes anywhere help increase your aggregate seat total. And so the Greens’ co-leader Norman and their transport spokesperson, Julie Anne Genter, campaigned in the rural far north on their plans to make rebuilding storm-battered roads a priority. “Ms Genter said central government’s roading priorities meant there was not enough investment outside big cities.”

Additionally, Greens did a photo-op* at a dairy farm to announce their “Smart farming for clean rivers’ policy”. I suspect that one, unlike the one regarding roads in Northland, was mainly aimed at urban consumers. But the party does seek (and, apparently, receive) votes from the small-farm sector, especially organic and “sustainable” farms. Not to be outdone in this policy niche, a big party, National, has emphasized that its primary industries policy takes into account that:

Environmental sustainability is increasingly important to consumers around the world and this is a priority for National. We are cleaning up waterways and carefully manage fishing stocks, including the creation of two recreational fishing parks in the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds.

National’s primary industries spokesman Nathan Guy also noted that “We will continue to support carefully-targeted irrigation projects that will deliver economic and environmental benefits for New Zealand.”

I must admit that I am happy New Zealand’s legislative term is just three years, and that it has a thriving multiparty system. These characteristics of NZ politics keep things interesting!

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* The linked item has the photo and caption, but the story is about “Greens need to compromise to get ahead”. This is something that some of their subsequent statements indicate they are well aware of.

Slovenia election and the power of a “weak” president

The blog, Presidential Power, has a good discussion of the recent parliamentary election in Slovenia, and how the formally quite “weak” president played a role in the timing of the election.

Some background on the Slovenian ruling party’s internal splits, which triggered the whole chain of events, can be found in an earlier F&V post authored by JD.

Pakistani parties

Pakistan perhaps could use a modification of its laws on political parties.

A few observations drawn from an Express Tribune item on the “mushroom growth” in the number of parties:

The number of approved political parties has grown from 147 to 281 in the last five years. Partly this is because “there are dozens of parties registered with the same prefix or suffix – the Pakistan Muslim League, for instance.”

Fully 90% of the registered parties are a “one man show”!

There is no law to deregister a party.

It gets worse:

Some argue that it is easier to register a political party in Pakistan than to register your child in school.

There are no registration fees and all you need is an application, a copy of the party’s manifesto and constitution along with a list of office-bearers. An applicant can also give an undertaking that intra-party elections will be held soon.

The ECP doesn’t have a mechanism to verify documents submitted and nor does it pursue the verification process. As a result, many party manifestos or constitutions are reworded versions of another party’s. The list of office-bearers is only checked for names that another party’s lists may include.

This process is not exactly helpful to developing a party system that would actually aid voter representation. And, no, this is not the worst of problems facing Pakistani democracy, or Pakistan more broadly.

Slovenia PM loses party leadership challenge; new election imminent

By JD Mussel

Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek was defeated as party leader in a vote a week ago at a party conference of Positive Slovenia (PS).

The ballot was won by the party’s founder, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Jankovic by 338 votes to 422 (which raises the question, who could vote?). Jankovic formed the party in the lead-up to the last election in 2011, winning a plurality with 28 seats out of 90 in the National Assembly, but was thereafter unsuccessful in forming a government. Instead, a government was formed by Slovenian Democratic Party’s Janez Janša.

Janša’s government collapsed in early 2013 as a result of a corruption scandal (which ultimately resulted in Janša himself being sentenced to two years in prison). At that point, Jankovic stepped down from the party leadership to allow his successor Bratusek to form the new government.

Before the convention’s vote, Bratusek told the party she would resign if she was not re-elected. Jankovic said he said he hoped she would stay as PM nonetheless, but PS’s coalition partners have made it clear they would not govern together with the party if it is led by Jankovic, and would prefer holding new elections.

Bratusek will present her resignation to President Pahor on Monday. “The outgoing prime minister said on Saturday that snap elections could be held as soon as June 22, provided that none of the major parties presented a different prime ministerial candidate,” Deutsche Welle reported on 3 May.

Slovenia has a premier-presidential system, but one with quite weak presidential powers over either government-formation or assembly dissolution. When the premier resigns, the National Assembly has 30 days to elect a new PM. If the attempt is unsuccessful, the assembly is dissolved.


[Note: while the post was drafted by JD, MSS wrote the last two paragraphs after letting the post sit for a week as a draft. Apologies to JD for that; but at least it is up to date now!]

Greens as Abbot-proofing the Senate

In the launch of the Australian Greens’ campaign, leader Christine Milne acknowledged that polls showed that the opposition Coalition, led by Tony Abbot, was likely to defeat Labor and PM Kevin Rudd. Milne called a vote for the Greens one of “Abbot-proofing the Senate” and further elaborated:

‘Voting Greens is double value voting.

‘Not only does it return the Greens but it stops Tony Abbott getting absolute power in the federal parliament.’

It is an interesting case of a smaller party using the possibility of its holding the balance of power to its advantage. The Senate, unlike the House, is elected by a proportional system.

The Greens also have signaled a willingness to work to “improve” Coalition policies, specifically its parental leave program. ‘We have explained how much our paid parental leave policy will cost and how we would pay for it. It’s time for Tony Abbott to do the same’, said Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

APSA Task Force on Electoral Rules and Democratic Governance

The report of the Task Force on Electoral Rules and Democratic Governance of the American Political Science Association is now on line. (It appears not to require log-in.) I am the author of the chapter on “Ballot structure”. From the description:

Electoral rules help to make democracy work. Small variations in them influence the type of democracy that develops. The field of political science has defined the study of why and how this happens.

Political scientists have contributed to the world of electoral systems as scientists and as engineers. Taking stock of recent scientific research, this report shows that context modifies the effects of electoral rules on political outcomes in specific and systematic ways. It explores how electoral rules shape party systems, the inclusion of women and minorities, the depth and nature of political competition, and patterns of redistribution and regulation. It considers institutional innovations that could promote political equality. Finally, the report describes the diverse ways that political scientists are producing an impact on the world by sharing and applying their knowledge of the consequences of electoral rules and global trends in reform.

The task force members are:

Mala Htun, Univeristy of New Mexico, Chair
G. Bingham Powell, Jr., University of Rochester; President, APSA, 2011-12

John Carey, Dartmouth College
Karen E. Ferree, University of California, San Diego
Simon Hix, London School of Economics
Mona Lena Krook, Rutgers University
Robert G. Moser, University of Texas, Austin
Shaheen Mozaffar, Bridgewater State University
Andrew Rehfeld, Washington University in St. Louis
Andrew Reynolds, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Ethan Scheiner, University of California, Davis
Melissa Schwartzberg, Columbia University
Matthew S. Shugart, University of California, Davis

Legacy politicians and Liz Cheney

The main purpose of this item is a shout-out to Daniel Markham Smith, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Harvard, and a student whose dissertation committee I served on at UCSD. Dan was quoted, and his dissertation, Succeeding in Politics: Dynasties in Democracies, was referenced (and even linked) in a Guardian article on Liz Cheney’s candidacy for Senator from Wyoming.

As the article notes, Cheney, if elected, would be only the latest in a long history of “legacy politicians” in the USA. A legacy politician is one who has at least one family member who has held a public office in the past. As Dan is quoted saying, based on his research, “When candidates are decided more at a local level, as in the US primaries system, the chances of a legacy candidate being selected for nomination is far greater.” The article even delves a bit deeper:

[Smith] draws a distinction between political systems that encourage ‘personal vote’ as opposed to ‘party vote’ based on whether voters lean more on the party or the candidate while voting. The US primaries are certainly built around the ‘personal vote’ since it is essentially an intra-party exercise.

Smith says that political parties and election systems play as much a role in perpetuating political dynasties, as do voters. Smith discovered that election systems which are more candidate-centered than party-centered – as are US elections compared to countries with parliamentary democracy – are more likely to spawn political dynasties. Smith’s findings help explain why dynastic politicians are much lower in Canada – at around 2% – compared to the United States.

Congratulations, Dan, on the publicity. It is much deserved for an excellent work of scholarship, for which he was awarded the 2013 UCSD Chancellor’s Dissertation Award for Best Dissertation in the Division of Social Sciences.