The effects (or their lack) of fused presidential–assembly ballots

A question that has arisen* is whether fused ballots–a single vote electing president and assembly, i.e., with no opportunity for ticket-splitting–suppress the number of parties, particularly when the president is elected by plurality and assembly by PR.

A challenge in addressing this question is that fused ballots are rather rare. Moreover, they may be adopted/abolished by ruling parties/coalitions based on expectations of advantage. In other words, the direction of causality between party-system outputs and rules is more ambiguous than usual. With such caveats reiterated, here is what I find.

This is for pure presidential systems, only because I am not aware of cases of semi-presidential systems that fuse presidential and assembly votes. (In parliamentary systems, the option does not arise, or in a sense the vote is always fused. I did not include the brief case in Israel of separate and direct election of an executive who was still responsible to the parliamentary majority.)

My outcome of interest is the ratio of expected effective number of seat-winning parties (NS) or seat share of the largest party (s1) to the expectation, given the seat product of the assembly (first chamber) electoral system.

For NS, the ratio in non-fused cases is 1.13, for fused it is 0.927. This looks like good news for the hypothesis that fused ballots restrict party systems more than the separate vote does. However, the difference is not close to significant (p=0.12).

For s1, the ratio in non-fused is 1.012, and in fused it is 1.047. Obviously that’s not significant. (Also, the seat product model is pretty good–even for presidential systems!)

Note that for NS, the mean assembly party system in a presidential democracy tends to be more fragmented than expected from its electoral system. Probably not what most people expect. Perhaps this is driven by the unusually fragmented case of Brazil. If I take it out, the ratios in non-fused are 1.083 for Ns and 1.031 for s1. So not much impact.

Perhaps one should drop Uruguay from the set of fused cases. Not because ballots are not clearly fused, but because the electoral system is so different. Before 1999, parties could present multiple presidential candidates (and pool votes at party level for determining which party would win), and since then the fused ballot is only for the first round of a two-round presidential election. However, if we do this, we have only four cases left, so it is kind of meaningless. For the record, we would then have about a p=0.1 signifiant result in the expected direction. But I would put no stock in a result comparing four elections (in two countries) in one group to over 150 in the other group!

This is the list of cases with fused ballots that I am using. If I missed some, please let me know. (Angola, the case that prompted me to investigate this, is not in the dataset, nor are other countries that are not generally classified as democratic.)

      country   year  
Dominican Rep   1978  
     Honduras   1993  
     Honduras   1997  
     Honduras   2001  
      Uruguay   1989  
      Uruguay   1994  
      Uruguay   1999  
      Uruguay   2004  
      Uruguay   2009  
      Uruguay   2014  
      Uruguay   2019  

To this list could be added Bolivia. However, I did not include it because elections for president were not direct before 2005 (congress chose from top three if the popular vote did not yield a majority) and since 1997 the fusion has been only between the presidential vote and the party list vote of an MMP system.

(* A version of this text was originally posted as a comment in a thread on Angola, but it seemed to warrant a place in the center row of the virtual orchard.)

Disturbing runoff pairing for Colombia

In yesterday’s presidential election in Colombia, the top two candidates were from the extremes of the political spectrum. Leading the pack is Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla of the M-19 (which demobilized about thirty years ago and has been a political party, or component of various alliances, since). He won 40.3% of the vote. In second place is Rodolfo Hernández, with 28.2%. He is an outsider–having had only municipal political experience in a medium-sized city1–and presents as Colombia’s Trump/Bolsonaro/Bukele. Or worse, as he is on record saying he admires Hitler.

Regular readers of this blog or followers of my published research will know I have always been skeptical of two-round majority election of presidents. And this Colombian runoff pairing is a perfect demonstration of why–sometimes reducing choices to two means a choice between two brands of poison. Consider the third-place candidate: Federico Gutiérrez, who finished just under five points behind Hernández, with 23.9%. He is from an alliance of several more mainstream right-wing parties, including La U, the party originally formed to back former President Alvaro Uribe and which later backed President Juan Manuel Santos (with whom Uribe broke, but that’s another story).

Whatever one might think of any of these candidates and political tendencies, one might posit that a candidate like Gutiérrez could be a more consensus and less risky candidate for the top job. But first he had to stay ahead of Hernández and qualify for the runoff. Moreover, whatever one might think of the notion of a left-wing former guerrilla as president,2 one might posit that 40%, with a 12-point lead over the runner-up in a fragmented field, maybe should suffice. (See the double complement rule–first proposed by Shugart and Taagepera, 1994–under which this would be have been sufficient.) Instead, Colombia gets a polarizing runoff in which it is plausible that a genuine extremist outsider might rally most of the rest of the 60% on a “stop the left” plank and become Colombia’s president.

And then what? Quite apart from inexperience and ill temperament, Hernández will confront a congress in which those who backed his first round campaign have little presence. I do not know where within Colombian politics his voter support came from, but the alliance he led in the presidential election’s first round–League of Anti-Corruption Governors–did not even present a list for the Senate election. In the Chamber of Representatives, it won 2 of the 168 seats. This is one version of the Linzian nightmare scenario!

Colombia is, as I’ve written about before, one of the few presidential (or semi-presidential) systems to use an exclusively counter-honeymoon electoral cycle. The Chamber and Senate were elected 13 March, for a four-year term. Petro’s alliance–Historic Pact for Colombia–led the vote in the nationwide Senate election, but with only 14%. Its 16 seats (of 100 in the main electoral district, or 106 all told3) tie it with the old established Conservative Party. The other old establishment party, the Liberals, got 15 seats, a Green-Center alliance got 14, Democratic Center (Uribe’s other party, after the break with Santos) also 14, and the misnamed Radical Change (actually a split years ago from the Liberals) got 11, followed by 10 for the older Uribe party. What a fragmented mess! That would be hard to govern with no matter who would have been elected president. But at least either Petro or Gutiérrez would have had a base to build on. In the Chamber, the situation is broadly the same, although differing in important detail. There, the Liberals actually won the most seats, albeit only 32 (19%), with Petro’s alliance on 27 and Conservatives on 25.

In the past–including Colombia 2018 and 2010–I have suggested that counter-honeymoon elections can function as a de facto presidential primary, clarifying and narrowing the realistic choices for the upcoming presidential election. There seems to have been little of that this time, with the second runoff contender and realistic runoff winner having made no showing at all in the legislative races. Another feature–and not a desirable one–of counter-honeymoon elections is that they tend to be associated with greater fragmentation, relative to expectation from the electoral system’s seat product–than election held at other points in the period between presidential elections (Shugart and Taagepera, 2017, Ch. 12, in particular figures 12.1 and 12.3). That is certainly the case in Colombia, and specifically in this election.

The seat product for the Chamber is approximately 800 (162 seats elected in 33 districts means a mean district magnitude of 4.9, so the seat product is 162*4.9=795, but there are also various set-aside seats I am leaving out). For the Senate, it is approximately 10,000 (100*100, again leaving out the set-aside seats). That Chamber seat product would lead us to expect a largest party with around 43% of seats; the Senate’s around 32%.4 Obviously neither house is close to that. The electoral cycle is part of the reason (likely exacerbated by some parties and alliances holding actual presidential primaries concurrent with assembly elections), but certainly not the only or even most important reason. Colombia’s party system has not been “strong” by any definition since the old Liberal–Conservative duopoly began breaking down in the early 1990s.

This upcoming runoff–and the presidential–assembly relationship to follow–is deeply troubling. It seems to signify the death of the old moderate swings in Colombian policy that have typified the system up to now. With the social unrest of the past year, discrediting of the established elite was perhaps inevitable. But the institutions of Colombian democracy are about to endure a very serious stress test.

  1. Bucaramanga, the largest city (over half a million) in Santander department.
  2. I should note that Petro is also a former mayor of the capital, Bogotá, so not a total outsider.
  3. In addition, Colombia sets aside 2 senate seats for indigenous candidates who run separately from the main district, 5 for the party of the former FARC guerrilla movement (which got only 0.19% of the vote) and 1 for the eventual presidential runner up).
  4. The houses are co-equal; we lack a model of how diverging seat products in two strong chambers should affect the overall party system. Regardless, with largest parties–and different ones, at that–in each chamber under 20%, it is not the seat product’s fault!

France’s toxic combo of institutions finally bites

I still think Emmanuel Macron will win reelection, but it is going to be a closer fight than most prognosticators expected before this past Sunday’s first round. In the results of that vote, Macron has the expected plurality, and it was a few percentage points higher than he got in 2017 (27.8% vs. 24.0%). His runoff opponent in both 2017 and later this month, Marine Le Pen, also improved a bit over last time (23.3% vs. 21.3%). What is new–or really accelerating a trend that was already there–is the total collapse of older established parties. The Republican (mainstream right) got 20% in 2017 but only 4.8% this time, fifth place. The Socialists were already in dire shape in 2017 with 6.4%, but did even worse this time, 1.75%, despite (or because of?) running the mayor of Paris, a seemingly high-quality candidate. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise, a far left group, made the race for a runoff slot pretty close this time, coming third with just under 22% (19.6% last time, fourth place). Given just over 7% for the far-far-right Eric Zenmour, one could say there was a majority for extremes of one sort or another.

While the Economist’s forecast model still has Macron’s win probability at around 80%, it was just short of 100% as recently as 21 March. An extreme right candidate actually has a roughly 20% chance of being the next president of France.

It is never a good thing for democracy when the fate of the republic hinges on one person. But it is hard to exaggerate how absolutely essential it is that Macron win. France has been running a decades-long experiment in whether a highly presidentialized system would eventually destroy the party system. The French party system held up pretty well, despite the adoption of a relatively strong presidency with the 1958 constitution and direct election to that office in 1965. The party system did indeed become presidentialized in ways that David Samuels and I document in our 2010 book, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers. Parties reorganized themselves internally around the goal of advancing their presidential candidate, rather than emphasizing their parliamentary party organization. This presidentialization was only further enhanced by the decision in 2002 to make assembly elections follow immediately after presidential, with both elected for five-year terms. The party system’s left and right blocs, starting from the 1960s, came to be dominated by whichever party could present the successful presidential candidate–the identity of these parties changed over time on the right, but presidentialization allowed the Socialists to surpass the Communists on the left. However, with the demise of the old right and left, there is not much remaining to the party system other than presidential aspirations. Macron himself is the perfect demonstration of presidentialization–having no party at all till he was on the cusp of the presidency, and then creating one that swept into power on the heels of his own win.

The combination of direct election of a politically powerful presidency, honeymoon election of the assembly, and majoritarian electoral rules is toxic. It means that someone from outside the party system potentially can win the presidency and then, in short order, a majority in the assembly. If you get lucky with this combination, you get a Macron. If you get unlucky, you get a Le Pen (or potentially a Mélenchon).

Make no mistake. Honeymoon elections, with majoritarian rules, are the real deal. If Le Pen manages to win the runoff, there will be no “second chance” at which voters can check her with a majority opposed to her in a cohabitation via the assembly. Presidential and semi-presidential democracies just do not work that way. If she wins the runoff, we can expect her National Rally to win around 28% of the vote in the first round of the assembly (see the just-linked post or the one from 2017), and that to be a plurality. Could a broad alliance form to block her candidates, given the two-round majority-plurality system? Sure. Just don’t count on it. Do count on her getting support from various other anti-system forces and being in a much stronger position going into the second round of the assembly election than that 28% estimate implies.

Do I think this is the most likely outcome? No, I do not. I think Macron will win, and go on to win a large majority of the assembly. However, it is a bad situation for French democracy–and the world–to be dependent on this one man not slipping up in some way in the final days before the presidential runoff–especially with a major war going on in the extended neighborhood and related economic difficulties at home. France is in dangerous territory in these moments with its toxic institutional combo, and the overly high stakes that combo generates.

Will Macron lose his assembly majority?

French election season is upon us. In four rounds of elections over the next three months France will choose their President and National Assembly. The presidency is elected by two-round majority (10 and 24 April), followed closely by the assembly using two-round majority-plurality (12 and 19 June). Predictably, the news media are already starting to suggest that President Emmanuel Macron, while likely to be reelected, might be at risk of losing his assembly majority (e.g., The Economist). Will he?

What is almost as predictable as the media expressing this outcome as a real possibility is that presidents–just elected or reelected–see their parties do really well in honeymoon assembly elections. You can’t get much more honeymoon-ish than the French cycle. The assembly election occurs with approximately 1/60 of the time between presidential elections having elapsed. It just so happens that we have a formula for this.

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, divided by the total months comprising that period).

In 2017, there were actually news reports suggesting that because Macron at the time he was elected did not yet have a true political party, he would face cohabitation. That would mean an opposition majority, which under French institutions would also mean a premier (head of cabinet) from parties opposed to the president. This was, even at the time, obviously hogwash.

The formula suggested that, once we knew Macron’s first-round vote percentage, we could estimate his (proto-) party’s first-round assembly vote percentage–assuming he would go on to win his own runoff (which was never seriously in doubt). Given that Macron had won 24% of the vote in his own first round, that implied 29% of the vote for the party in the first round for assembly.

What did his party, branded by then La République En Marche!, get? The answer would be… 28.2%. Not too bad for a political science formula. Not too surprising, either. It does not sound impressive as a vote percentage, but when you have the plurality of the vote in a multiparty field with a two-round majority-plurality electoral system, it can be pretty helpful in terms of seats won. Even more when you are a center party, and your opponents are split between left, right, and farther right (and we should not leave out farther left, too). After the second round, LREM ended up with about 54% of the seats. When combined with a pre-election ally, Democratic Movement, the seat total was over 60% (the two parties had combined for about a third of the first-round votes and got 49% of second-round votes).

The Economist article I linked to in the first paragraph was published in the March 5 edition. I want to check how plausible its claim was, using the Economist’s own election forecast model. As of a few days before March 5, that model was basing its forecast on aggregated polls that averaged about 27% of expected first-round vote for Macron himself. In other words, a few percentage points higher than he ended up winning in the first round in 2017. The model also gave Macron at the time an 88% chance of winning the presidency. Thus on the basis of information available at the time–including the Shugart-Taagepera formula for expected presidential-party vote share–we should conclude that LREM would win about 32% of the vote in the first-round assembly election. Assuming this would be the plurality share–a very safe assumption–that would again imply a strong chance of a single-party majority of seats. Not a loss of the majority, or even the need to forge a post-electoral coalition.

Now, since that article was published, Macron has been enjoying quite a surge in the polls. As of today, the forecast model at The Economist has his odds of winning the presidency above 95%. His polling aggregate as of March 12 is up to 31% (Marine Le Pen, his runoff opponent in 2017, is a distant second with 18%). From this we could estimate the first-round assembly vote share is up to 38%.

I will caution that the formula is not a logical model. It is empirical. There is good logical basis behind the general idea of honeymoon surge (and midterm decline, for countries with such cycles). But the specific parameters of the formula do not have a logical basis. At least yet. The graph of the relationship that is shown in Chapter 12 of Votes from Seats (and also included in the 2017 “predictive” post on France) shows a couple honeymoon elections in various countries that have defied the expected surge. However, only one has an elapsed time of less than 0.1 (the specific example of a relatively early honeymoon decline was Chile 1965, in an election held at 0.083 of the presidential inter-election period.1)

So I can’t predict what LREM will get in June. But it would be a surprise if it was worse than around a third of the vote, even if Macron’s own polling surge does not hold. Given the fragmentation of the party system–which looks even higher now than it was in 2017–and the majoritarian nature of the electoral system, anything short of a majority of seats for Macron would be a surprise at this point.

The notion that voters will come out and vote to “check” a just-elected president that they maybe were not all that enthusiastic about is a hard notion for the news media (not only The Economist) to shake. But there just is not much evidence that politics in presidential and semi-presidential systems works like that.2

____
1. This election saw the Christian Democratic Party of newly elected President Eduardo Frei win a very strong plurality, 43.6%, but Frei himself had won 56%. The problem–for the formula–is that there were only two serious candidates and three total in the presidential election, whereas the PR-elected legislature featured many parties, including allies of the president running separately. The formula implicitly assumes that all parties contest both elections. This is one of the reasons I can’t call it a logical model, because such conditions have not been incorporated, and perhaps can’t be without making it too complicated to be useful. It is pretty useful as it is, even with its oversimplification and lack of true logical basis!

(By the way, in the next Chilean assembly election, held with 75% of the term elapsed, the party’s vote percentage fell to 31%. The formula suggests 37%, but given that we already know the party did worse than “expected” at the honeymoon, we should just use the expected drop from what it actually had. That would “predict” about 25% of the vote at the late-term election. So they did better than expected, actually.)

2. On this point, let me shout out a just-published article by some recent UC Davis Ph.D.s Carlos Algara, Isaac Hale, and Cory L. Struthers on the Georgia (US) Senate runoffs. Even I was skeptical that honeymoon logic could apply to those elections. And in fact it did not turn out as a Dem surge, but there was clearly no evidence of “checking the president” behavior by voters.

Costa Rica 2022: Continued high fragmentation

Costa Rica recently (6 Feb.) held its presidential and national assembly elections. In the case of the presidency, it was the first round; a runoff will be needed (3 April), as no candidate came close to the 40% required for a first-round victory. The result shows a continuation of the impressive degree of fragmentation that has occurred in recent elections, following a prolonged period of dominance by two major parties.

I will focus first on the assembly election. The largest party in the new assembly will be the National Liberation Party (PLN), one of those formerly major two parties, but in this election it won only 24.5% of the votes for assembly party lists and 18 of the 57 seats, or 31.6%. That is a one seat gain from what it had in the outgoing assembly, elected in 2018, when it was also the largest party. No other party broke 15%. Six parties have won at least one seat, and a large number of parties obtained vote shares of around 2% or less but no seats.

In terms of effective numbers, for votes this works out to 8.3. Yes, eight point three! That is up there with the world’s highest observed values. In seats, the effective number is 5.02, which is also high but less remarkably so in world comparative terms. For comparison, the 99th percentile of effective number of vote-earning parties from over a thousand elections in the dataset I use is 8.6. On the other hand, Costa Rica’s value for seats in this election is just above the 75th percentile (which is 4.77). Another way of stating this is that Costa Rica is experiencing an unusually large gap between effective numbers of parties by votes and seats. This is not the first time, as the values in 2018 were, respectively, 7.79 and 4.78.

The precise reasons for why the votes are fragmenting so much would require someone versed in Costa Rican politics, which I certainly am not. However, it is obvious that the electoral system is struggling to accommodate the voting fragmentation that is being fed into it, and at at the same time, voters are no longer coordinating their votes around what the electoral system can sustain. That leads to a lot of wasted votes.

This is a new phenomenon for Costa Rica. Over the entire period of the current electoral system, which has been in place since 1962 (the year the current assembly size and the current mean district magnitude (8.14) went into effect), the mean effective number of vote-earning parties has been 3.67, and the mean effective number of seat-winning parties has been 2.97. The mean largest party vote share has been 0.413. The mean seat share for the largest party has been 0.453. So the recent two elections (and to some notable degree those since 2006) have been quite a break with the old “textbook” Costa Rican party system.

A point I wish to emphasize is that the old party system was what we should expect of an electoral system like Costa Rica’s. It is a proportional representation (PR) system, but one with a modest seat product. Its seat product (mean district magnitude times assembly size) is only 464, or a little higher than that of the USA (435). So it should be expected to have a party system with two major parties, one of which averages close to a majority of seats, plus some smaller parties–as indeed the USA should have! And that is what Costa Rica had. The expected outcomes of this system, from the seat product model, would be a mean effective number of seat winning parties of 2.78 (barely below the observed fifty-year mean of 2.97). For votes we should expect 3.17 (not far below the long term observed mean, 3.67). For largest party seat share, we expect 0.464 (nearly matching the observed mean of 0.453); for vote share, 0.421 (actual mean 0.413).

In other words, the longterm party system of Costa Rica is basically what we should expect to see, given the modest value of its seat product. We do not need to invoke a presidential electoral rule that allegedly supports a two-party system, as some scholars have done in the past (hey, including me!). In fact, it is not even clear that the presidential electoral system–40% or runoff–should support two-candidate competition. In some past works I classified it as close enough to plurality, which some folks allege supports two-party systems. Of course, it does. Except when it does not. And the runoff provision makes that “except when it does not” even more accurate a description of the systemic effect. Sure, if 40% in within reach for a leading contender, others may have incentive to coordinate and try to beat the leader to 40% When the PLN was politically dominant, that was exactly what the game was. But when expectations are that no one will get to 40%, all bets are off, because to a significant degree political forces can coordinate between rounds, rather than before the first one.

In Votes from Seats (2017), Taagepera and I showed that we can actually predict presidential vote fragmentation from the assembly seat product better than we can predict it from either the rule used to elect the president or the actual number of competitors in the presidential election. And Costa Rica was, until recently, a great demonstration of that effect, with (as noted) an assembly party system that was a near perfect fit for the assembly electoral system’s seat product. The presidential party system followed right along, as expected, with a mean effective number of presidential candidates of 2.5 since 1962. The predictive model Taagepera and I propose in our 2017 book suggests that with Costa Rica’s seat product, the effective number of presidential candidates should average 2.49–so there was basically perfect prediction of Costa Rican presidential competitiveness. However, something clearly has upset the old equilibrium.

In this election, the effective number of presidential candidates was 6.15! For comparison, this is almost the 99th percentile of over 200 presidential elections from around the world in the dataset (6.25). [Update: see my own first comment below.] The leading candidate, José María Figueres had only 27.3%. His opponent in the upcoming runoff, Rodrigo Chaves Robles of Social Democratic Program, won 16.7%, and three other candidates had between 12% and 14.8%. The party of outgoing President Carlos Alvarado, Citizens Action, collapsed, with its candidate getting only 0.66% of the presidential vote (and 2.2% of the assembly vote, and no seat–in 2018, despite winning the presidency it had won only 10 seats, good for third place; further, presidents are not eligible for immediate reelection in Costa Rica).

The level of fragmentation of the presidential vote in 2022 is an increase over 2018, when the effective number of presidential candidates was 5.51, and the leading candidate (who lost the runoff) had just under 25%. It is the third election in a row in which no candidate broke 31%. (In 2010, the leading candidate who was from the PLN, won without a runoff, getting just under 47%.)

While on average, the seat product model leads us to expect presidential systems to have assembly party systems similar to what their seat product predicts, and a mean presidential competition also predictable from the seat product, individual elections can upset this. That is, short term presidential politics–who is entering competition and who is seen as a viable presidential candidate–can shock the assembly party system, due to a “coattail” effect. So we generally get longterm predictability from the assembly electoral system’s seat product, but short term disruptions from “presidentialization” of competition. This is now Costa Rica’s third consecutive election with effective number of seat-winning parties over 4.5. That seems unsustainable, based on the electoral system. But at some point maybe a short-term shock settles down and becomes the new normal. I guess we will have to wait till at least 2026 to see if the seat product reasserts itself, or if fragmentation really is the norm. And not just any fragmentation, but an exceptionally high level by world standards, particularly in the votes for both assembly and president.

The political system of Guyana

What do we consider the political system of Guyana to be? On the one hand, there is an official who is both head of state and head of government, who is determined by nationwide plurality vote. On the other hand, the constitution, in Article 106, paragraph 6, states:

The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.

Thus the president is clearly subject to majority confidence, like a parliamentary head of government–President David Granger and his cabinet fell due to a vote in December, 2018. Superficially, this implies a form of elected prime-ministerial government (like Israel 1996–2001), in that an elected head of government, and the cabinet, must maintain confidence in order to stay in office. Thus we appear to have separate origin and fused survival. Moreover, the president has no veto power other than suspensory (article 170, para. 4-5), and no other constitutional legislative powers that can be used against the majority of parliament.

It is, however, questionable whether we should conceptualize the executive’s origin as separate. The president is elected as the designated candidate on the list of the party that wins a plurality. On this point, the constitution, at Art. 177, says, in part, that a list of candidates for parliament,

shall designate not more than one of those candidates as a Presidential candidate. An elector voting at such an election in favour of a list shall be deemed to be also voting in favour of the Presidential candidate named in the list.

There is thus no separate election for president. On the one hand, this could be classified as just another case of fused-ballot presidential election, like the Dominican Republic and Honduras have had at times in the past. (I do not generally consider these systems non-presidential just because voters can’t ticket-split between president and congress, although a case could be made for considering them in a distinct class.) On the other hand, defining the president as the head of a winning party list, rather than as a separate candidacy, could be said to be no more separate origin than we have in Botswana and South Africa (cases I consider unequivocally parliamentary). What is unclear to me is what happens in Guyana if the plurality list in the parliamentary election is opposed by a multiparty post-electoral majority in parliament. Is the head of the plurality list still president? It seems so. Yet Art. 106 implies such a leader would not remain in office.

It is thus unclear how this case should be classified, and I think I have tended to ignore it in the past. Now that I am planning no longer to ignore it, I need to decide if it is “parliamentary” or “hybrid.” There might be a case to be made that this is just a parliamentary system where the leader’s election only appears direct and separate. Or it could be that it is a hybrid of separate election but parliamentary-style fused survival through the no-confidence mechanism in Art. 106.

I should note that there is a constitutional office of Prime Minister, so unlike in Botswana or South Africa it might be odd to say that the “President” is really a prime minister on account of being dependent on parliamentary-majority confidence. However, the PM is clearly a subordinate appointee of the president (and also serves as Vice President, and the President may appoint others to be Vice Presidents as well). So I would not let this quirk determine which executive-type box I put the case in.

As for the country’s electoral system, it appears to be a straightforward case of two-tier PR. There are both regional multi-seat districts and a nationwide PR tier, and it seems there is full compensatory allocation. (See constitutional article 160 or the election results at Psephos.) This would make it one of the few two-tier PR systems outside of Europe (leaving aside the question of whether MMP–found in New Zealand, Lesotho, and Bolivia–is a sub-type of two-tier PR or not). Thus the case is valuable for my goal of maximum coverage of both simple and two-tier PR around the world. (For instance, my recent queries about small dependent territories and free-list systems, and ongoing efforts to make sense of remainder-pooling systems.)

But does Guyana have a parliamentary system, some sort of parliamentarized hybrid presidential system, or an elected prime-ministerial system?

Chile 2021: Presidential first round and congress

On 21 November, Chile held its first round presidential contest and elections for both chambers of congress. These elections come in the context of the ongoing process of a constitutional assembly, and thus are critical inasmuch as they elect the authorities who will be responsible for implementing the new constitution (assuming the assembly agrees on a text that is then approved by referendum). The outcome confirms the considerable fragmentation already apparent in the elections for the assembly itself earlier this year.

The presidential election is sending two candidates to the runoff that together won just over half the votes. In the lead coming out of the first round is José Antonio Kast, on 27.8%, followed by Gabriel Boric on 25.8%. The third place candidate was well back, on 12.80%, with another on 12.79%, the fifth place finisher on 11.6%, and two more rounding out the field. That is some considerable fragmentation.

It is a striking collapse of the center, as Kast is well to the right and Boric well to the left. It is pretty much the nightmare scenario for two-round majority election. While the runoff will require the winner to tack to the center to win, the occupant of the chief executive’s office will be quite extreme, whoever wins the runoff. He will then have to construct alliances in a fragmented congress, with whatever powers are granted in a new constitution.

The congressional outcome is so complex that I am not going to attempt to break it down in much detail. You can see the results for Deputies and Senators on the SERVEL website, or with helpful color coding by party and alliance on the Wikipedia page. In the Chamber of Deputies, the largest single party appears to be National Renewal (RN) with just 25 of the 155 seats. By alliance, the largest is Chile Podemos Más (of which RN is a part), with 53. This is a center-right combine associated with outgoing President Sebastián Piñera. (This alliance also has the most seats in the constitutional assembly elected in May, but that is just 37 of 155.) The alliance supporting Kast, Chritian Social Front, has a mere 15 Deputies in the newly elected Chamber. It won 11.2% of the vote, or about 40% of the vote its presidential candidate obtained–lots of ticket-splitting there. The alliance supporting Boric, Apruebo Dignidad, did a little better, with 37 seats (it has 28 in the constitutional assembly). It won 20.9% of the votes, which is 81% of its presidential candidate’s vote. The biggest party comprising this alliance is the Communist Party, which won 12 seats.

Needless to say, further alliance-building–both in advance of the presidential runoff and in the congress for whoever is elected–will be necessary. It also is going to be very interesting to see what changes might be introduced in the new proposed constitution to the executive structure and executive-legislative power balance. Negretto (2021) observes that constitutional assemblies that have no majority force tend to produce constitutions with more constraints on the executive than the previous constitution (referring to processes occurring within ongoing democracies). Given that the current Chilean constitution has one of the strongest presidencies anywhere, there is a lot of room for new constraints. How far will they go? I am not sure if a semi-presidential (let alone parliamentary) system is even on the table, but it probably should be. They should also consider moving either to a unicameral congress, or convert the senate into a more explicitly regional body with substantially diminished powers.

Reforming the California recall-replacement process

What a relief. It turned out like the fundamentals of this state said it should all along. But the risk was high. Maybe those polls that showed the recall ahead or close were just rogues. But a process that lets a motivated minority potentially replace an effective but unexciting incumbent with someone elected by a small percentage of the vote is deeply undemocratic. 

It needs to be reformed before an extremist minority puts us through such an attempted power grab again, and maybe pulls it off. So this planting is all about brainstorming for some possible improvements to the process.

As I have noted before, I oppose recalls in principle, at least against the elected chief executive. I explained why in the first in my series on this recall. But for this discussion, I will assume we are stuck with a recall provision, and only focus on how it could be improved. I also am limiting myself to recalls of elected governors (or by extension, presidents), and not to all the other offices that are, or might be, subject to recall.

Minimal changes

The California process of initiating a recall is probably the most favorable to an incumbent’s opponents. Without undermining the principle of allowing the people to recall a governor, there are numerous ways the hurdle could be made higher. FiveThirtyEight has already done a helpful rundown of how California’s provisions compare to those of other US states.

Possible reforms, drawn from experiences of other states, include raising the petition signature requirement (currently just 12% of the number of voters who participated in the previous gubernatorial election) and shortening the time during which petitions can circulate (currently 160 days).

While reforms of this sort are probably a good idea, they are very minimal. There are more fundamental problems with the process, once qualified. These problems do not go away unless the qualification becomes so onerous that effectively a recall election is never triggered. And while some tightening of the criteria may now be likely, it is unlikely the conditions will be greatly restricted.

Somewhat more significant changes for recall

Somewhat more significant options including requiring a claim of malfeasance, rather than we just do not like you, as a basis for petitioning for a recall, or requiring a supermajority to vote in favor of the recall. I do not think the first of these ideas is easily enforceable. (What are the criteria, and who decides if they have been met and so an election is triggered?)

The supermajority idea is attractive. Obviously, a supermajority privileges the status quo, and that is why I normally do not approve of such rules other than perhaps for constitutional changes. Yet in a system based on fixed terms, privileging the status quo is not such a bad idea–the officeholder serves his or her original term unless a strict condition for termination has been met. Nonetheless, I would be concerned about the continued legitimacy and effectiveness of a governor whom a majority of voters–but less than three fifths or two thirds or whatever–had voted to oust.

One could also set a rule that says the recall has not succeeded unless it obtains a majority that is also a greater number of voters than originally voted for the governor in the last election. This is de-facto a supermajority requirement, but it sets the threshold according to the existing electoral base of the incumbent instead of at a fixed level. I retains the same problems I noted with a specific supermajority threshold, but I do rather like the idea nonetheless. See Frozen Garlic for a good statement of the general principle “that recalling an elected official should be significantly harder than electing that same official”; the post has some specific suggestions for implementing that principle. That blog is about elections in Taiwan, where there are recalls and there is a turnout requirement for it to be valid (but it is low, at 25%).

Reforms to the replacement election

Here is where the most important changes could be made. Currently, all state officeholders in California are elected by majority in a “top two” runoff election–unless they are replacing a recalled officeholder. Per Section 5(a) of the California Constitution, “The candidates who are the top two vote-getters at a voter-nominated primary election for a congressional or state elective office shall, regardless of party preference, compete in the ensuing general election.” However, Section 15(c), regarding recalls, says “If the majority vote on the question is to recall, the officer is removed and, if there is a candidate, the candidate who receives a plurality is the successor. The officer may not be a candidate…”

An obvious solution is to clean up this contradiction. Why should a replacement be eligible to be elected by only a plurality when the officeholder being replaced was elected by a majority? This violates the previously articulated principle by making it easier to replace than to initially elect. Among the strange things about recall-replacement elections in this state is that there is no primary. Of course, readers of this site know that we do not have primaries at all anymore (other than for presidential nominating delegates). What Section 5(a) calls a “primary” is actually not a primary; it is just the first round of a two-round majority election in which party affiliation is not a criterion regarding who advances to the runoff (as quoted previously, “regardless of party preference”). In any case, how we label this process is not the point–important though it is!. The point is that there is a prior qualifying round for general elections, but not for the special election that chooses a replacement. This should be corrected.

Any correction should also resolve the current undemocratic “trainwreck” criterion that a replacement can win fewer votes than the recalled officer had not merely when previously elected but also in the same election. If a majority is required to elect the replacement, this problem is mostly solved. But how to do it? Here are a few possibilities.

(1) Replicate the current general-election process, that is, have a preliminary round (“primary”) and then a top-two runoff, in the event a majority has voted to recall the incumbent.

A key problem with this is it could result in having three special election dates to complete the process: the recall, then if a majority votes for it, a qualifying election, and then if no candidate wins a majority, a runoff. Such a proposal is not likely to fly.

(2) An alternative would be to hold the qualifying round concurrent with the recall question. If the recall passes by majority, but no single replacement candidate wins a majority, then there is a top-two runoff a few weeks later. This would turn a potentially three-round process into a maximum of two, and might still allow it to be over in one round.

If this option were chosen, I would explicitly permit the recalled officer to run in the qualifying round on the same day. If he or she is one of the top two, then the recalled official proceeds to the runoff against a single challenger. If a majority votes to retain the previously recalled governor, so be it. A majority has decided it did not see a single replacement who was better than the incumbent after all. (This sub-option that I suggest is not necessary for the general principle of two rounds to be adopted.)

(3) Yet another possibility is to dispense with the recall question altogether. A successfully qualified recall petition simply triggers a special election in which the incumbent may stand alongside whatever replacement candidates have qualified. The incumbent survives unless a single replacement candidate earns a majority of votes cast. It is all over in one round, and on one question. It would have the advantage of forcing coordination among the opponents, because they need a majority and get only one chance at it.

A potential flaw is the incumbent could survive without even a plurality if coordination fails and there are many candidates, which raises those legitimacy questions again. But the goal is to make it hard to replace, not hard to continue. A twist would be to say there is a runoff if and only if the incumbent finishes second or worse to a challenger who has fallen short of a majority. (Such a runoff probably should include the incumbent even if he or she finished lower than second, but I don’t feel strongly about that particular sub-option.)

By now, some readers will be impatient that I have not mentioned the ranked-choice option. Okay, here you go.

(4) Using ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a simple solution that could be done in one round of voting either with, or without, two questions. The smallest change would be to have two separate questions like we currently do, but the replacement is by ranked-choice voting (alternative vote). A better–I think–option would be the single question: rank as many of the following candidates, including the incumbent, as you wish.

I do not favor these RCV options because we have seen we can have dozens of candidates enter. Asking voters to rank a huge field, where at least the major out-party may have several candidates, is asking a lot of the voters. Moreover, with many candidates, many voters will not rank them all, and the chances are high that the winner will still have only a plurality. This is a general problem with RCV in an effectively non-partisan context (i.e. when multiple parties have not each pre-selected a single candidate). I do not favor this, although I recognize it as an improvement over the status quo. Almost anything would be.

Abolish the replacement election

We have a Lieutenant Governor. The main point of such an office is to replace the incumbent Governor if the latter is unable to discharge his or her duties. If a recall passes, have the Lt.Gov. take over and there is no need to have a special replacement election. This makes a great deal of sense, and I’d be happy with it. Voters might not be, and so its chance of being enacted as a constitutional reform in California is likely not high.

Think big

As I explained earlier (see first linked post), one of my objections to gubernatorial (or presidential) recall is that it targets one officeholder. If we are talking impeachment for malfeasance, that’s fine. But in reality, a recall is a just another political process–even more than impeachment, which is also political. If the objection of the potential majority in favor of recall is discontent with policy, the problem is clearly not only with one person. So recall them all! Have a recall process that simply initiates an early election for the entire legislature as well as the governor. Sort of like an early dissolution in a parliamentary system. Go back to the people and get new policymakers, or if the voters prefer, reelect them all.

I do not actually favor this. But I mention to make a point–recalls are about attempting to reset the terms of delegation from voters to their agents in government. So it sensibly should not be used to target a single individual (again, unless there is some process specifically targeting only a corrupt individual officeholder).

So there you have it. These are the ideas I have come up. What are yours? What do you think of these? We desperately need to change this process before a minority power grab succeeds in the future, but how?

Peru 2021

Peru has its presidential and congressional elections today. For presidency, it is the first round of a two-round majority election. And it is likely that the top two will combine for a very small percentage of the vote in this first round. (See polling summary.) That’s really no way to select a top leader, but that’s what you get when you have a democracy without political parties in any meaningful sense of the term. See Steven Taylor’s post today for more about that.

The combination of weak parties and fragmentation with an electoral system that uses a wide variation in district magnitude and D’Hondt divisors, can also result in wide discrepancies between national votes and congressional seats. For instance, in 2016, it helped produce divided government when the party that won a manufactured majority in congress, concurrent with the first round, lost the runoff. In the just-linked earlier post, I said that “governing may be a challenge” in the period ahead. Oh, did that prove to be a good call! (Details in Steven’s post.)

Does the electoral system affect polling errors, and what about presidentialism?

I will attempt to answer the questions in the title through an examination of the dataset that accompanies Jennings and Wlezien (2018), Election polling errors across time and space. The main purpose of the article is to investigate the question as to whether polls have become less reliable over time. One of their key findings can be summarized from the following brief excerpt:

We find that, contrary to much conventional wisdom, the recent performance of polls has not been outside the ordinary; if anything, polling errors are getting smaller on average, not bigger.

A secondary task of Jennings and Wlezien is to ask whether the institutional context matters for polling accuracy. This sort of question is just what this virtual orchard exists for, and I was not satisfied with the treatment of electoral systems in the article. Fortunately, their dataset is available and is in Stata format, so I went about both replicating what they did (which I was able to do without any issues) and then merging in other data I have and making various new codings and analyses.

My hunch was that, if we operationalize the electoral system as more than “proportional or not”, we would find that more “permissive” electoral systems–those that favor higher party-system fragmentation and proportionality–would tend to have larger polling errors. I reasoned that when there are more parties in the system (as is usually the case under more permissive systems), voters have more choices that might be broadly acceptable to them, and hence late shifts from party to party might be more likely to be missed by the polls. This is contrary to what the authors expect and find, which is that mean absolute error tends to be lower in proportional representation (PR) systems than under “SMD” (single-member districts, which as I always feel I must add, is not an electoral system type, but simply a district magnitude). See their Table 2, which shows a mean absolute error in the last week before electoral day of 1.62 under PR and 2.28 under “SMD”.

The authors also expect and show that presidential elections have systematically higher error than legislative elections (2.70 vs. 1.83, according to the same table). They also have a nifty Figure 1 that shows that presidential election polling is both more volatile over the timeline of a given election campaign in its mean absolute error and exhibits higher error than legislative election polling at almost any point from 200 days before the election to the last pre-election polls. Importantly, even presidential election polls become more accurate near the end, but they still retain higher error than legislative elections even immediately before the election.

This finding on presidential elections is consistent with my own theoretical priors. Because presidential contests are between individuals who have a “personal vote” and who are not necessarily reliable agents of the party organization, but are selected because their parties think they can win a nationwide contest (Samuels and Shugart, 2010), the contest for president should be harder to poll than for legislative elections, all else equal. That is, winning presidential candidates attract floating voters–that is pretty much the entire goal of finding the right presidential candidate–and these might be more likely to be missed, even late in the campaign.

To test my own hunches on the impact of institutions on polling errors, I ran a regression (OLS) similar to what is reported in the authors’ Table 3: “Regressions of absolute vote-poll error using polls from the week before Election Day.” This regression shows, among other results, a strong significant effect of presidential elections (i.e., more polling error), and a negative and significant effect of PR. It also shows that the strongest effect among included variables is party size: those parties that get more than 20% of the vote tend to have larger absolute polling errors, all else equal. (I include this variable as a control in my regression as well.)

The main item of dissatisfaction for me was the dichotomy, PR vs. SMD. (Even if we call it PR vs. plurality/majority, I’d still be dissatisfied). My general rule is do not dichotomize electoral systems! Systems are more or less permissive, and are best characterized by their seat product, which is defined as mean district magnitude times assembly size. Thus I wanted to explore what the result would be if I used the seat product to define the electoral system.

I also had a further hunch, which was that presidential elections would be especially challenging to poll in institutional settings in which the electoral system for the assembly is highly permissive. In these cases, either small parties enter the presidential contest to “show the flag” even though they may have little chance to win–and hence voters may be more likely to defect at the end–or they form pre-election joint candidacies with other parties. In the latter case, some voters may hedge about whether they will vote for a candidate of an allied party when their preferred party has no candidate. Either situation should tend to make polling more difficult, inflating error even late in the campaign. To test this requires interacting the seat product with the binary variable for election type (presidential or legislative). My regression has 642 observations; theirs has 763. The difference is due to a few complex systems having unclear seat product plus a dropping of some elections that I explain below. Their findings hold on my smaller sample with almost the precise same coefficients, and so I do not think the different sample sizes matter for the conclusions.

When I do this, and graph the result (using Stata ‘margins’ command), I get the following.

I am both right and wrong! On the electoral system effect, the seat product does not matter at all for error in legislative elections. That is, we do not see either the finding Jennings and Wlezien report of lower error under PR (compared to “SMD”), nor my expectation that error would increase as the seat product increases–EXCEPT: It seems I was right in my expectation that error in presidential contests increases with the seat product of the (legislative) electoral system.

The graph shows the estimated output and 95% confidence intervals for presidential elections (black lines and data points) and for legislative (gray). We see that the error is higher, on average, for presidential systems for all seat products greater than a logged value of about 2.75, and increasingly so as the seat product rises. Note that a logged value of 2.75 is an unlogged seat product of 562. Countries in this range include France, India, the Dominican Republic, and Peru. (Note that some of these are “PR” and some “SMD”; that is the point, in that district magnitude and formula are not the only features that determine how permissive an entire national electoral system is–see Shugart and Taagepera, 2017.)

I have checked the result in various ways, both with alternative codings of the electoral system variable, and with sub-sets, as well as by selectively dropping specific countries that comprise many data points. For instance, I thought maybe Brazil (seat product of 9,669, or a logged value just short of 4) was driving the effect, or maybe the USA (435; logged =2.64) was. No. It is robust to these and other exclusions.

For alternatives on the coding of electoral system, the effect is similar if I revert to the dichotomy, and it also works if I just use the log of mean district magnitude (thereby ignoring assembly size).

For executive format types, running the regression on sub-samples also is robust. If I run only the presidential elections in pure presidential systems (73 obs.), I still get a strong positive and significant effect of the seat product on polling error. If I run only on pure parliamentary systems (410 obs.), I get no impact of the seat product. If I restrict the sample only to semi-presidential systems (159 obs.), the interactive effect holds (and all coefficients stay roughly the same) just as when all systems are included. So it seems there is a real effect here of the seat product–standing in for electoral system permissiveness–on the accuracy of polling near the end of presidential election campaigns.

I want to briefly describe a few other data choices I made. First of all, legislative elections in pure presidential systems are dropped. The Jennings and Wlezien regression sample actually has no such elections other than US midterm elections, and I do not think we can generalize from that experience to legislative vs. presidential elections in other presidential systems. (Most are concurrent anyway, as is every presidential election in the US and thus the other half of the total number of congressional elections.)

However, I did check within systems where we have both presidential and legislative polls available. All countries in the Jennings-Wlezien regression sample that are represented by both types of election are semi-presidential, aside from the US. In the US, Poland, and Portugal, the pattern holds: mean error is greater in presidential elections than in assembly elections in the same country. But the difference is significant only in Portugal. In Croatia the effect goes the other way, but to a trivial degree and there are only three legislative elections included. (If I pool all these countries, the difference across election types is statistically significant, but the magnitude of the difference is small: 2.22 for legislative and 2.78 for presidential.)

The astute reader will have noticed that the x-axis of the graph is labelled, effective seat product. This is because I need a way to include two-tier systems and the seat product’s strict definition (average magnitude X assembly size) only works for single-tier systems. There is a way to estimate the seat product equivalent for a two-tier system as if it were simple. I promise to explain that some time soon, but here is not the place for it. (UPDATE: Now planted.)

I also checked one other thing that I wanted to report before concluding. I wondered if there would be a different effect if a given election had an effective number of parties (seat-winning) greater than expected from its seat product. The intuition is that polling would be tend to off more if the party (or presidential) contest were more fragmented than expected for the given electoral system. The answer is that it does not alter the basic pattern, whereby it makes no difference to legislative elections (in parliamentary or semi-presidential systems). For presidential elections, there is a tendency for significantly higher error the more the fragmentation of the legislative election is greater than expected for the seat product. The graph below shows a plot of this election; as you can probably tell from the data plot, the fit of this regression is poorer than the one reported earlier. Still, there may be something here that is worth investigating further.

If the USA had direct plurality election of the president, what effect on the party system?

I know the 2020 election result–assuming the Senate majority remains Republican*–has ended any chance of serious electoral reform passing for the foreseeable future. But what if the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact were enacted? If there were no other reforms, the compact would result in the US President being elected by direct nationwide plurality.

Given the way assembly and presidential party systems work together in systems with powerful directly elected presidents, just changing to direct election in the USA could open up the wider party system in a way fully consistent with expectations from its existing electoral system. It is likely that direct election would lead to more presidential candidates winning votes, and that, in turn, would potentially lead to more parties in House elections, because the House party system is probably currently being restrained by how the presidency is elected more than by how the House itself is elected.

The House electoral system has seat product of 435. (The seat product of a single-tier electoral system is its mean district magnitude, times the assembly size.) Based on the Seat Product Model, the expected party system in the US House would have an effective number of seat-winning parties of around 2.75, on average, and a largest party averaging around 46.8% of the seats (about 204 seats). Of course, the actual party system has an effective number just below 2.0 and a largest party always above 50% of the seats. Do not blame the electoral system for the absence of other parties in American national politics. Even with single-seat plurality (in a few states, majority), the electoral system for the House should be expected to support more parties than what we actually have.

If we look at the worldwide dataset of presidential elections that Rein Taagepera and I analyze in Chapter 11 of Votes from Seats, the mean total for winning presidents under nationwide plurality is 48%. That is, of course, below the long-term average for US presidents, which is 52%, although it has trended downward since 1992 and averages around 49% over the past three decades, suggesting there is indeed some pent-up demand for more options. The leading presidential candidate typically wins more than the 48% that is the average in countries using direct plurality because the multi-seat plurality rule used at the state level in the electoral college normally suppresses third parties. And, unable to attract many votes in presidential contests, sustained party organizations beyond the top two are lacking. If they existed, they likely would compete for House seats as well.

It just so happens that a switch to direct plurality election of the president would be pretty consistent with what the existing House electoral system should be yielding! The estimates we have are: A president winning 48% on average (roughly what Hillary Clinton won in 2016, though with the electoral college that was not good enough); A largest party in the House having 47% of the seats. Based on other formulas in the Seat Product Model (SPM), the expected vote share of the largest party in the House then would be 42.5%, for an implied effective number of vote-earning parties of 3.13.

While it would be nice to have proportional representation of some sort for the House, it actually is the case that just changing to nationwide plurality for the presidency–as the NPV would produce–might be sufficient to “unleash” the House seat product and bring about a relatively more multiparty, but not significantly fragmented, House party system.

A quick comparative check of the data is in order, to see how these estimates compare to other countries’ experience. Across 117 presidential and semi-presidential systems (including, for the latter, only those with “strong” presidents), the mean share for the first-round or sole-round leading presidential candidate is 46.64% and the mean vote share for the largest assembly party in those same cases is 40.43%. Restricted to just pure presidential systems and those that elect their presidents by plurality (only 25 observations) we have 44.88% and 40.95%, respectively. So 42.5% for the largest vote share in US House elections is within the ballpark of other presidential systems’ observed experience; the set of cases from which I just reported average values has a mean seat product of 934.5, which is obviously higher than the US House’s seat product, and so they should be expected to have higher average fragmentation (smaller leading party) than the USA.

Additionally, Taagepera and I also have a model in Votes from Seats to estimate the effective number of presidential candidates (Np) from the assembly electoral system. It is Np=1.44[(MS)1/4 +1]1/3 (where M is the district magnitude–here 1, obviously–and S is the assembly size). For the US, this yields Np=2.55. We did not try to predict the vote share of the leading presidential candidate, but a rough approximation from that effective number would be 49.5%. Thus, roughly 48-50% for the president, on average, from direct plurality, plus a largest party in House elections in the ~43% vote range, seem like good educated guesses if the US were to change to direct plurality, by way of the NPV, even without any change in the House electoral system.

Given that reform to PR normally follows, rather than leads, an increase in vote share to parties other than the majors, it is even possible that the NPV’s anticipated effect on the wider party system could generate momentum towards House electoral reform. But that is beyond the scope of this planting, which was simply intended to show that the currently under-fragmented House (according to the SPM) could be brought in line with expectations simply by making presidential elections direct via plurality.

A couple of caveats: First, the exercise here reveals that the multi-seat plurality system of the current electoral college could be a major drag on the party system at the moment, preventing the House from having the party system its seat product could support. However, we should not ignore the Senate. Given that the Senate is a co-equal chamber, parties need to organize with this body in mind, as well as with an eye towards seat-winning potential in the House. And the Senate seat product is ridiculously small. Even if it were taken to be 100, based on the Senate’s total size, that would be small–roughly the size of New Zealand’s before its electoral reform in the 1990s. However, it is worse than that: I think its seat product actually should be coded as 33, as that is the normal number of seats at stake in any given election. And if we run the SPM on a seat product of 33, we get an expected largest party seat share of 65% (!). Obviously, the actual is already normally well below that, at least in recent times. So that suggests that the more “permissive” House electoral system is already helping keep the Senate less dominated by one party than the Senate electoral system in isolation would.

The second caveat is that primaries also reduce party-formation incentives to some unmeasurable but probably significant degree. But my working assumption is that ideological groups within the existing parties would bypass primaries for president if the latter were elected nationwide, and that the resulting new parties would want to show their flag in House elections, too, under such a scenario. Yes, of course, single-seat districts make life hard on smaller parties. But note that no single-seat plurality system in the world with a seat product greater than about 100 has a party system as dominated by two parties as the USA has. So small parties can find ways to win local pluralities. They just need to be unleashed. And plurality election of the president would help the House’s existing seat product do its thing.

Electoral reform is not happening soon. The NPV itself is likely off the table for now. Even if sufficient states (totaling at least 270 electoral votes) were to agree to enter into the compact, it presumably would take effect only with the approval of Congress. Thus as long as Republicans control the Senate, its chances are poor. Nonetheless, the issue will not go completely away (I hope!), and it is thus helpful to understand that just this one measure could break the dam of the rigid two-party system for elections to the national legislature, even without any reform of how the House is elected.

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* Well, the Senate did not remain Republican, but even a year later, serious electoral reform looks dead nonetheless. It is just not a Democratic priority.

Thinking about the US method of presidential selection

Thinking about the US method of presidential selection is something I do a lot, and have written about before (both at F&V and in academic works). This planting won’t have any new ideas on the topic. However, I want to call readers’ attention to a “symposium” at Balkinization on the topic, which began on 13 October. The first entry there makes some good criticisms against the current method that are less commonly articulated–for instance, that the electoral college is vulnerable to “stalking horse candidates” and to the whims of billionaires with egos as big as their asset portfolios.

The symposium is motivated by a couple of new books on the topic (see at the top of their post), and has had further installments posted in subsequent days.

Thanks to Alan for the tip.

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Note: I found the various parts of the symposium hard to locate on the Balkinization blog when I went back in early February to re-read them. So, I am providing the links here. The one above takes you to Part 1. Then click these for Part 2, and Part 3. (The last one there is an idea from Edward Foley for state-by-state ranked-choice voting for presidential electors.)

Poland 2020: Presidential runoff

The second round of Poland’s presidential election is Sunday, 12 July. I really did not expect a close runoff. As I showed in a graph in 2017, both things that have to happen are relatively rare: (1) First round leader with >40% not getting 50% in runoff, and (2) First rounder runner-up with ~30% getting >50% in runoff.

In the first round on 28 June, incumbent Andrzej Duda earned 43.5% and the runner-up Rafal Trzaskowski earned 30.5%. (The third place candidate had 13.9%.) Yet several polls in the past week have shown the race for the second round too close to call.

It is worth noting, given my interest in electoral cycles, that whereas Duda benefitted from a honeymoon election in 2015 that helped his party (Law and Justice, PiS) get into strong enough position to win a parliamentary majority, Trzaskowski would have no such advantage. The PiS already narrowly held its majority in 2019 and another assembly election is not due until October, 2023. And while there is a procedure by which the president can call early assembly elections, the power is not unilateral and the parliamentary majority should be able to avert such recourse by the president (see Articles 145 and 155 of the Polish Constitution).

(The 2015 presidential and assembly elections demonstrate so many interesting effects of electoral rules that the sequence features prominently in the introductory chapter to Votes from Seats.)

Democratic primary: Don’t understate Biden’s dominance

The fragmentation of the US Democratic Party’s field of presidential pre-candidates exaggerates the weakness–real though it is–of the clear front-runner, Joe Biden.

Taking two poll trackers, Economist and FiveThirtyEight, here are those polling at five percent or more:

Pre-candidate Economist FiveThirtyEight
Biden 26 27.3
Sanders 17 17.8
Warren 16 14.7
Buttigieg 8 8.0
Bloomberg 7 5.0
(Sub-)total 74 72.8

It is noteworthy that even with so many candidates and different methodologies, the two trackers agree on the order. The only really substantial difference between them is in the estimate for Bloomberg. Not shown here, the two trackers also agree in the order of the next three: Yang, Klobuchar, and Booker. After that they diverge on the farther trailing candidates. (Economist has both Gabbard and Steyer at 1% but lists her ahead of him; perhaps we could say they agree on the order of the top ten.)

In the Economist tracker, the full list of all candidates who are given a vote percentage includes five listed as “<1%” (trailing two estimated at 1%). If we assumed all these five averaged 0.5% (which is probably too high) we still get to only 88.5% as a “total”. So that leaves too much for the thirteen who were running but have dropped out; the tracker does not report a percentage undecided. If we take Biden’s percentage over all those with at least 1%, he is just over 30%. Still pretty weak for a front-runner. But the one in second place, Sanders, would rise only to just under 20%. That’s a large gap.

Applying the same exercise to the FiveThirtyEight percentages–which have six candidates over 1%–we get a “total” of 86.3% and the top two at 31.6% and 20.6%.

The Democratic Party obviously does not use a nationwide two-round majority rule. But if it did, where would a top two 30–20 finish rank? How likely would it be that the second place candidate would win the runoff? I looked at this question in 2016; the graph at that post shows rather few real-world presidential contests with approximately 30–20 for the top two. But if one were to draw a line on the graph marking the region in which the gap is ten percentage points or more, no second-candidate comeback shows up with this large a gap until the leading candidate is around 35% (Austria 2016, the case that prompted the post). That is, even with a first-round candidate as weak as a third of the vote or less, comebacks occur only when the two are rather closer than Biden and Sanders are at this point. And this is, of course, before one even considers ideological placement of the candidates.

What I am getting at, in case it is not obvious, is that it is hard to imagine Biden not being the winner were there a hypothetical direct two-round primary–and even if the field stayed this fragmented up till the first round (which is itself unlikely). Perhaps Warren’s chances increase slightly if this nationwide primary were run under the alternative vote. She might pick up enough from eliminated candidates to surpass Sanders in the final two when calculated this way. It still seems a stretch that she could end up with a majority after reallocation of preferences.

Now, let’s try a different hypothetical. The primary actually uses proportional representation to allocate delegates. Sort of. There is a 15% threshold, and the rules consist of a mix of statewide delegate allocation and allocation in congressional districts using varying district magnitude. If it were a single-shot affair rather than sequential across states and regions, only three candidates look like they would get any delegates (generously granting Warren what she needs to get over 15% in the FiveThirtyEight tracker or allowing for regional variance even if she stayed at 14.7%). In this scenario, Biden has 44% or 45% of the above-threshold vote. That might just be enough to win a majority of elected delegates or close to it, given a medium district magnitude on average. It would certainly put him close.

(There are 3,836 “pledged” delegates; 435 congressional districts plus separate statewide districts for the states that have more than one congressional district, DC, and various territories means ~480 districts, so an average magnitude of about 8.)

None of this is to say Biden can’t be caught by someone. And in the real and strange world, Iowa and then New Hampshire get to go before anyone else. According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden is in a tight three-way fight in their Iowa estimate, with Buttigieg still clinging to a slight lead over Biden and then Sanders (19.7–19.1–18.3), with Warren at just 13.4%. The New Hampshire estimate is similar, only with Sanders the one clinging to a narrow lead over Biden and Buttigieg (18.0–17.3–15.6) and Warren at 13.9%. (Gasp–the fifth place candidate is Tulsi Gabbard, on 4.9%.)

The odd (I am being kind) procedure the party uses in the real world could still produce a surprise, if Biden fails to get a plurality in either Iowa or New Hampshire, and if the pre-candidate (or two or more) beating him were to surge nationally afterwards. It looks unlikely to me. I think Biden has it, barring an occurrence of something even stranger than the method by which the party selects its nominee.