Emerging signs of clarity in Colombian presidential contest?

Colombia Report notes that the leading center-right candidate for the presidency, Ivan Duque, has surged dramatically, according to a recent poll. The main candidate of the left, Gustavo Petro, also has surged, albeit less dramatically.

The article indicates that:

The poll was the first since legislative elections that were held on March 11.

As I noted before those elections, that is what counter-honeymoon congressional elections do: clarify the field. It’s also why they tend to be so highly fragmented, with parties associated with many potential presidential candidates running to show their strength in advance of the actual presidential contest.

The surges by Duque and Petro come on the heels of their victories in presidential nominating primaries held at the same time as the congressional elections.

The Colombian presidential election is held in two rounds if (as is expected to be the case) no one wins over half the votes in the first round. If this poll is capturing a trend, rather than an outlier, there may not be much drama in who the top two will be, but the runoff campaign would be critical to consolidating support from the many also-rans. The poll in question has Duque at 40%, and runner-up Petro at only 24%. The third candidate, Sergio Fajardo, is way back, under 10%.

It is possible that the surges of Duque and Petro are temporary boosts from the primaries, and that the one or two of the other candidates–who did not run in primaries–will recover. On the other hand, it is just as possible that running in (and winning!) a primary is a smashingly good way to advertise your presidential campaign.

Costa Rica first round and Cyprus runoff

Today Costa Rica has held the first round of its presidential election, along with concurrent elections for congress. Cyprus has held the runoff of its presidential election.

Costa Rica has used a variant of “qualified plurality” to elect its presidents since the current democratic regime was established in 1949. The first round is decisive if the leading candidate has over 40% of the vote. Otherwise there is a runoff between the top two. No runoff was ever required until 2002 (when the leading candidate had 38.6%). In 2006, a runoff was narrowly averted when the leader got 40.9% (with a runner-up right behind, at 39.8%). A runoff was required in the most recent election before today’s, in 2014 (although the second candidate threw in the towel before the runoff).

Opinion polls collected at a Wikipedia article show that this year’s first-round contest is too close to call, with at least three candidates closely separated.

In a live blog at Tico Times, the following observation is made (7:30 p.m. entry):

Will this unusual election, when, as our columnist Alvaro Murillo has pointed out, a candidate’s party identity has become all but irrelevant, mark the end not only of the 20th century’s bipartisan system but also of remaining loyalty to the traditional National Liberation Party? Have national divisions been redrawn along the lines of social issues such as abortion and gay marriage?Will the chaotic campaign have driven voter turnout even further down…

The decline of partisanship is perhaps indeed something recent for Costa Rica, but the “two-party” system seems to have ended a while ago. Hence the frequent need for runoffs after decades of never having one. Already in 2014, I commented on the country’s “record fragmentation”. Moreover, it was the National Liberation Party candidate who decided in 2006 that his runoff chances were too weak to remain in the race.

In Cyprus, incumbent president Nicos Anastasiades of the Democratic Rally (DISY) has been reelected. The first round featured three candidates within a range of 25% to just over 35%. This may have been a case in which the runoff pairing affected the ultimate result, although I certainly do not know enough about Cypriot politics to say if that is plausible or not. (Cyprus uses the more common majority-runoff formula.)

Unlike Costa Rica, Cyprus has non-concurrent elections. The latest assembly elections were in 2016, and DISY won 18 of the 56 seats. (Next election is not till 2021.)

Like Costa Rica, Cyprus is a pure presidential system. I wish I knew more about how presidents govern in Cyprus with that level of partisan fragmentation. For that matter, I wish I knew more about what governance has been like in Costa Rica with the high fragmentation of the past four years. It is likely that whichever candidate is eventually elected president of Costa Rica this year also will face a highly fragmented congress.

Colombia’s upcoming counter-honeymoon election and coalition presidential primaries

Colombia will have its congressional elections in March, followed by the first round of the presidential election in May. A story in El Tiempo (in Spanish) correctly notes that the congressional election will be critical for helping simplify the currently large field of candidates for the presidency:

Las elecciones para Congreso, del 11 de marzo, pueden ser claves en lo que tiene que ver con la campaña a la presidencia.

Loosely translated, the 11 March elections for Congress can be key to the presidential campaign.

I define a counter-honeymoon election as one late in the president’s term. The time within a term is a continuous variable, which can be scored as 0 when it is concurrent (same time as the president) and approaching 1.0 the closer it is to the next presidential election. This is how Taagepera and I define “term time” in Votes from Seats (2017). There’s no hard cutoff at which the election enters the category, counter-honeymoon, but 0.75 is a good approximation.

Colombia’s congressional elections come at at term time greater than 0.9, and thus are among the best examples of the phenomenon. And the term lengths for president and congress are the same (4 years) so, with rare exceptions, Colombia has only counter-honeymoon elections, unlike some countries that have a mix of different elapsed times at which elections can occur, due to different term lengths or provisions allowing dissolution.

In addition to the congressional elections, Colombia holds presidential primaries (consultas) also on the same date in March. Primaries are not required, but several parties use them. This time there are also pre-election coalitions of parties that are using primaries to decide on a joint candidacy for the first round. So, obviously these will affect the congressional elections–but also vice versa. Some of the parties entering such coalitions are stronger in some regions than in others, and will use their party organizations not only for the legislative elections but also to try to push their preferred candidate in the primary.

Chile has had coalitional presidential primaries (for the Concertación) and Colombia has had party presidential primaries concurrent with assembly elections. But I think this upcoming election season in Colombia might be the first time anywhere that coalitional primaries and assembly elections have been concurrent.

(Thanks to Steven Taylor, off-blog, for calling my attention to the article, and for thoughts on the coalitional presidential primaries.)


Presidential runoffs

With the upcoming French presidential election first-round contest looking more and more like a four-way race, now is a good time to visualize performance of candidates across the two rounds of majority-runoff presidential elections.

The data plot here graphs the top two candidates’ shares of the vote in the first round (y-axis) against their runoff share (x-axis). The candidate who had the most votes in the first round is shown with a circle, and the second candidate with a triangle. This is from the Shugart-Taagepera dataset, which contains 117 presidential elections in countries with politically significant presidents. There are 34 elections depicted in the graph–all those in which the rule was that a candidate needed over 50% to win in the first round, but no candidate achieved that threshold.

The solid line at 0.5 marks the runoff victory threshold, thus allowing us to see at a glance how close the runoff was.

Two noteworthy facts:

  1. A leading candidate under 25% is unusual. In this dataset, there are only two prior such cases–both in France (1997 and 2002).
  2. When no one can crack about 35% the votes, it becomes quite likely that the runoff will be won by the second-place candidate. (That is, after all, why there is a runoff; the first-round leader might not be a consensus pick.) The graph shows nine cases in which the first-placed candidate initially had under 35%, and in six of those the trailing candidate came back to win the runoff. Three of these winners started out under 30%.

Many polls suggest that France could wind up in both these categories in 2017.

A final curious observation: The dashed diagonal line marks equality of second and first round shares. One might think that no candidates would be to the “northwest” of this line, as in a two-candidate runoff, both candidates might be expected to increase their vote share following a first round that had three or more competitors. Yet two runoff contenders managed to lose vote share between rounds. The dubious distinction goes to John Atta Mills in Ghana in 2000 (44.5% in the first round, 43.1% in the runoff) and Geraldo Alckmin in Brazil in 2006 (41.6%, then 39.2%). In both cases, turnout may have been a factor; the number of votes cast was lower in both runoffs than it had been at the first round. Jean-Marie Le Pen was close to this line in the French 2002 election, but he did manage a small increase in his vote share, even with a large increase in turnout in the runoff following the shock of the National Front showing in the first round.

France 2017 presidential scenarios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first round is on 23 April.

France: Outsider vs. outsider?

The rise of Emmanuel Macron in polls for the French election has been impressive.

France is likely to get a president who is an “outsider”. But not the ultra-nationalist norm-trashing outsider. France has a sensible electoral system for choosing presidents that will prevent such a disastrous travesty of democracy–unlike the United States.

Sometimes the news media gloss over the important detail of the runoff. For instance, although a CNBC story mentions that there are two rounds of voting for president, it still gives a false, context-free impression: That Marine Le Pen’s recent decline in the polls, relative to Macron, means that her chances of becoming president are “slipping”.

No, there was never a realistic threat of her winning, because of that second round. A French president must win over half the votes. Unlike the US, where you don’t even need the highest vote total.

It seems almost certain now that the top two will be Le Pen and Macron. There is even some chance that Macron will win the first-round plurality (aided by the recent withdrawal of Francoios Bayrou from the race), although it does not matter which is first and which is second.

Unless Francois Fillon recovers–which seems unlikely–neither of the mainstays of the established French party system, the Republicans (as the main center-right force now calls itself) nor the Socialists, will be in the runoff.

The candidate of the incumbent Socialist party, Benoit Hamon, has almost no chance of making it. The recent backing of Yannick Jadot, a former Greenpeace director who had been running, is hardly going to do the trick. And he has apparently failed to make a deal with the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. (The combined support of these two maybe would be enough to squeak into the top two–if Hamon did not bleed support by linking up with Mélenchon, as almost surely would be the case.)

Thus the contest will be between two “outsiders”, by which I mean candidates having no ties to major parties represented in the National Assembly. Of course, Le Pen has a party, the Front National, that gets substantial votes, but is unable to win many districts under the two-round (majority-plurality) assembly electoral system.

Macron, on the other hand, has no existing party–just a “movement”, En Marche! With assembly elections coming up very soon after the presidential elections, “he is recruiting candidates from all backgrounds to stand at parliamentary elections in June” (Economist article, second link above).

We normally expect a large boost for the president’s party when elections are held very early in the term–a honeymoon election. He has to make a party fast, if he is to take advantage.