Angola 2022: What (effective) seat product and impact on the outcome?

Earlier this week, in trying to understand the Angolan electoral system, I was unsure whether the allocation of the national list seats was compensatory, or in parallel to the provincial district results. In the comments, Miguel was kind enough to quote the relevant sections of the electoral law, confirming that allocation is parallel.

The results show the ruling MPLA won 51% of the vote and the main opposition UNITA 44%. I will take these as given, and not speculate on whether they are the “real” vote totals or a product of “electoral alchemy.” Rather, I am interested in whether the translation of these votes into seats suggests the MPLA chose a system that would benefit it considerably, or not.

The MPLA has won 124 of the 220 seats. That is 56.3% of the seats, for an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.10. How does this compare with an “average” electoral system? I checked my dataset, restricting it to “simple” systems, even though Angola’s is not simple, and to those that are not FPTP or other M=1. The average across 377 such elections is… 1.12.

In other words, if the MPLA was trying to give itself a considerable seat advantage from this electoral system design, it kind of failed.

There is certainly one aspect of the electoral system design that looks like “rigging” via the rules: The provincial tier is highly malapportioned. The 18 provinces vary widely in population, yet each elects five members. See the images with preliminary vote totals in another comment from Miguel or see the CNE site, which also includes seats now. Given the use of D’Hondt at this level and the ample margins in rural provinces, the MPLA won 4-1 in several districts (and 5-0 in one)1 and 3-2 in all others aside from the three where UNITA was ahead. (UNITA won 4-1 in Cabinda.)

What undermines the MPLA’s own advantage considerably is the nationwide list component, which constitutes just under three fifths of all the seats (and uses Hare quota and largest remainders). If the MPLA had really wanted to create a system to advantage itself, it could have done so by making this tier smaller, or by various other designs.

I do note that UNITA is somewhat underrepresented. Its 90 seats is 40.9%. Given 44% of the votes, its advantage ratio is 0.928. Across a subset of electoral systems fitting the criteria I referred to above, this is quite low. In fact, the average for second parties is 1.075. (Subset because my dataset does not currently have second party shares for all elections; there are 147 elections here.)

In this sense, the electoral system’s design did indeed punish the main opposition. So if this was the MPLA goal, mission accomplished. The malapportionment must be a main cause of this, combined with the parallel (non-compensatory) allocation of the national seats. It should be noted as well, however, that with only two big parties, if one is overrepresented even a little bit (as the MPLA was), the second will probably be more underrepresented than would be the case in a multiparty system more typical of PR electoral systems.

Interestingly, much of the disadvantage to UNITA went to the advantage of smaller parties instead of to MPLA. There were three other parties, each of which won 2 seats. Two seats is 0.91% of the assembly; these parties had from 1.14% to 1.02% of the votes apiece. These small parties won only in the national district, where the only threshold was that a party could not win a seat by remainder unless it had already won a seat.2 Given that the national district is 130 seats, it could easily have supported even more parties than the five that won at least 2 seats. The largest party to win no seats had 0.75%. A simple quota for this district would be 0.769%, so this party was below the weak threshold anyway.

The effective numbers of parties were 2.20 by votes and 2.06 by seats–note not much difference there.3 The deviation from proportionality (Gallagher’s “least squares index”) was 4.44%. The latter figure, using again my set of simple non-FPTP systems, is not much different from average (4.87%). So all in all, despite the unusual electoral system, it is not a terribly remarkable result in terms of election indices.

As far as the effective seat product is concerned, for a parallel system I have found the satisfactory method is to take the geometric mean of what we would get if the basic tier were the entire system and what we would get if the system were compensatory. The seat product of the basic tier of this system is straightforward: district magnitude of 5, times tier size of 90 gives us 450. The formula for compensatory based on these parameters (an update and slight modification of a method I have shown here before) would yield an effective seat product of 3844. But because it is actually parallel, we take the geometric average of these values, which is 1315.

An effective seat product of 1315 is in the general range of the simple seat product Norway had (1297) before it adopted a small compensatory tier after 1985, or Peru’s in 1980 or 1985 (1296), and also not much smaller than Switzerland’s (1540).4

The disproportionality we should expect from an effective seat product of of 1315 would be around three percent; the actual 4.4% is thus not too much higher. The seat share of the largest party in this election is about 1.4 times expectation5 from such a seat product and the effective number of seat-winning parties is about 0.62 the expectation. Obviously, this is due to MPLA political dominance. Or perhaps due to unfair vote reporting. That I can’t say. What I can say is that, despite a fairly unusual combination of extreme malapportionment in one tier and a greater than 50% parallel national tier, the impact this electoral system had on the seat allocation and disproportionality was not anything too out of the ordinary.

Finally, an interesting question but one I will not attempt to answer is whether, had UNITA won a narrow plurality of the nationwide vote, could the MPLA have retained a plurality or even majority of the assembly seats? Given the malapportionment and parallel allocation, I will say maybe. However, once again, I will point out that if they had wanted to ensure they could “win by losing,” the design they came up with was perhaps a little too “fair” to really be in their best (presumed to be anti-democratic) interest. On the other hand, if they are open to a gradual transition to democracy, and perhaps losing a fair election in five or ten years’ time, the system isn’t too bad. It plays to the MPLA’s regional strength yet does not overrepresent it greatly, and it creates space for the opposition, both UNITA and other parties, to operate.

____

Notes

  1. MPLA won 4-1 in Cuanza Sul, Moxico, Namibe, Huíla, and Cuando Cubango. It won 5-0 in Cunene (where the votes split 82.9%–14.4%). It is really striking that most of these strong MPLA districts are in the south, where UNITA was most present in the civil war. Meanwhile, the UNITA pluralities are Luanda (the capital and largest by far), Cabinda (the non-contiguous oil-rich enclave in the far north which has had a separatist movement) and Zaire (also in the northwest).
  2. It is not clear to me if this means a party could have won a provincial seat and thus been eligible for a remainder seat in the national district, or it had to have won a quota of nationwide votes. In any case, as all provincial seats were won by MPLA or UNITA, this detail would not have affected the results of this election.
  3. If I knew nothing other than that the effective number of vote-earning parties in some election was 2.2, I would expect the effective number of seat-winning parties to be around 1.72, based on logically derived, and empirically supported, formulas in Votes from Seats.
  4. By comparison, if we used the “as if compensatory” estimate of 3844, we would be in roughly the range of single-tier systems like Finland (3076 in 2019) or another former Portuguese colony, East Timor (4225). Indonesia is also in this seat-product neighborhood (4134), as was the French PR system of 1986 (3174).
  5. A ratio of actual to expected of 1.38 is near the 90th percentile for over a thousand elections, simple and complex, in the dataset (and would be about the same if I looked at just the simple non-FPTP subset).

Angola 2022

Angola is holding a general election today. According to news reports (e.g., BBC) the long-ruling MPLA faces a serious challenge this time from UNITA. I share the skepticism of many observers that the MPLA would actually accept defeat. But I am going to leave that aside, and do what F&V is known for: trying to understand the electoral rules and constitutional structure, in the event the election produces an acceptably fair outcome.

One news story I saw indicated that the voters have only one vote, and that the leader of the party with the most votes becomes president. A Wikipedia article corroborates that, and more importantly, so does the constitution itself, very explicitly (Art. 109). However, the Wikipedia article states that direct election of the president was abolished by the 2010 constitution. That would be an inaccurate portrayal of the provision: If a plurality-winning party’s leader becomes president, even in the absence of clearing 50% of the vote, and need not bargain with other parties to attain the position, that is direct election. More properly it should be thought of as a fused ballot, not indirect election. Similar fused presidential–assembly ballots, with plurality election, have been used in the past in Honduras and the Dominican Republic, for example.

As for the assembly election, the Wikipedia article referenced above says,

The 220 members are elected in two ways; 90 are elected from 18 five-seat constituencies and 130 from a single nationwide constituency. Both constituency types use a closed list proportional representation system : the D’Hondt method in the provincial constituencies and the simple quota largest remainder method in the nationwide constituency. [Links in original; I have not verified them for accuracy.]

It does not say whether this national component is compensatory or parallel. This could be important, as the basic tier evidently consists of equal-magnitude districts based on provinces that are quite unequal in population. I know nothing about the political geography of Angola, other than that when it was still a rebel movement, UNITA tended to be stronger in the south.

On the other hand, whether the system is parallel or compensatory and the degree of malapportionment may not matter greatly given that the national component is 59% of the total assembly. Parallel PR systems are rare, but have existed in various places at times (including Guatemala and Niger). Compensatory two-tier PR is fairly common, of course (e.g., Denmark or South Africa). There is a link in the Wiki page to what seemed would be the election law at the Aceproject. Unfortunately, it is not the full text, just introductory material regarding the law’s taking effect. The constitution itself sets out the two tiers, but not other key electoral rules, other than stating it must be proportional representation (Art. 143-4).

As to the executive format, it appears from my reading of the constitution to be pure presidential. There is no mention of a prime minister, the term is fixed, and the president has legislative powers, including a veto requiring two thirds of the assembly to override and the authority (Art. 124) to “issue provisional Presidential legislative decrees whenever, for reasons of urgency and need, this measure proves necessary in order to defend the public interest” (126). The cabinet (Council of Ministers) is defined as a mere “auxiliary body serving the President of the Republic” (134).

Here’s hoping the exercise in learning about Angolan political institutions matters, whatever the free choice of Angolan citizens.

Proposals for Israeli political reform–again

One thing I like about following Israeli politics is that there is no lack of willingness to propose institutional reforms to deal with (real or perceived) problems of governance. They are not always good ideas (see the term limit proposal proposed by a party in the outgoing coalition), but it is good that there is a willingness to debate ideas for political reform.

A news update from the TOI today mentions a couple that are in play during the current election campaign. The National Unity Party, led by Benny Gantz and Gideon Saar, is proposing to (1) require more than an absolute majority for the Knesset to dissolve1 itself, and (2) not make the failure to pass a budget a cause for automatic dissolution.

The second of these is an excellent idea, and I have thought for some time this should be changed. The problem with the current provision was on display in 2020 when then-PM Benjamin Netanyahu prevented the alternation of the premiership to which he had agreed from going ahead by withholding votes for the budget, thereby forcing an early election and breakup of the “unity” government. That the planned alternation would have been to Gantz is surely why the latter now wants to change this provision. Regardless of motive and experience of the proposer, the idea is sound. While it may seem straightforward that the inability to pass a budget is evidence of a lack of parliamentary confidence, it need not be so. I believe there are other parliamentary systems that can run on an automatic “continuing resolution” (borrowing a term from US politics), at least for a set period of time, if no new budget has been agreed. It is sensible as a way to prevent coalition partners from forcing an early election “passively” as opposed to actively attaining a majority for dissolution or government replacement.

As for the supermajority–specifically 70 members (58.3%)–to dissolve, the idea goes well with the proposal on the budget, and more importantly with the existing constructive vote of no confidence. Under the latter rule, in place since around 2015, the Knesset majority is not able to vote to dismiss the government unless there are 61 votes for a specific alternative. The new provisions proposed by National Unity would cement the notion that the government remains until the Knesset votes in an alternative (or the regular term ends).

Provisions for a parliament to dissolve itself are not the norm. Israel is an unusual case in this respect as far as I know.2 It is probably permitted elsewhere (see the Early Parliamentary General Election Act passed in the UK in 2019) if not specifically prohibited, but I am not sure I could name another case where a common path to an early election is the parliamentary majority passing a law to set a new election. Regarding having a super-majority vote to set an election, it is reminiscent of the debates leading up to the Fixed Term Parliament Act passed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition in the UK in 2011.3

The TOI update also notes another proposal, this one from the Yisrael Beiteinu party (Avigdor Liberman). It would require at least 90 members of the Knesset to bring down a government within two years of its formation. That’s a 75% majority requirement! The TOI says the first proposal of National Unity mentioned above is “similar” to this one from YB. But it is not similar! A super-majority for dissolution of the Knesset is consistent with the parliamentary form of government. A super-majority for dismissal of a cabinet is contrary to the very core of the parliamentary principle. I do not know where else such provisions can be found, other than Papua New Guinea4–not normally a shining model of effective governance that others seek to emulate.

The constructive vote of no confidence already introduces some potential for separation of powers (more to the point, of separation of purpose) in that a government potentially can face majority opposition yet remain in office. Yet it preserves the core of the parliamentary principle by ensuring that if a majority of the voters’ elected representatives prefers a different coalition be in power, it can proceed immediately to enforce its preference. Shielding a government from such majority preference, and allowing it to govern for up to two years unless a very substantial super-majority votes it out, is a recipe not for stability but for deadlock.

Gantz’s two reform ideas are promising. Liberman’s is very bad.

____

Notes

  1. As I have probably said before, technically the Knesset is never dissolved. It continues to hold legislative authority, albeit normally remains out of session, between the calling of an early (or regular) election and the installation of the new Knesset after the election. Lacking a good alternative term, I will go on calling it “dissolution.”
  2. Papua New Guinea has such a provision, I learned as I was drafting this. See Article 105.1.c: an absolute majority of parliament may vote to dissolve.
  3. The Johnson government repealed it with the passage of The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022.
  4. See the PNG constitution, Article 145.4: “A motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or in the Ministry may not be moved during the period of eighteen months commencing on the date of the appointment of the Prime Minister.” PNG also has a constructive provision that applies for most, but not all, of the term (145.2.a: “A motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or the Ministry… moved during the first four years of the life of Parliament shall not be allowed unless it nominates the next Prime Minister”.)

At-Large Legislative Contests in the 2020 Puerto Rico General Election

While most seats in both houses of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico are chosen by plurality (single-seat districts in the House, two-seat districts in the Senate), there are 11 seats in each body – out of a total of 27 in the Senate and 51 in the House of Representatives – that are filled on an at-large basis, by Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV). The 2020 election in the U.S. Commonwealth was notable not only for the fact that candidates from five parties secured at-large representation (along with a sitting independent senator), but also for the unexpectedly poor showing of the largest opposition party, the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in the at-large legislative races.

To be certain, the outcome of the election was nothing short of a political earthquake, with both the ruling, pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) and PPD polling their worst results ever: 33.24% and 31.75% of the valid votes for governor, for a combined share of 64.99%. Meanwhile, the island’s perennial third party, the left-wing Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) shot up from 2.13% in 2016 to 13.58%, but the new Citizens’ Victory Movement (MVC) – ideologically diverse but broadly left-liberal – outdid PIP with 13.95%. Another new party, the Christian-conservative Project Dignity (PD) won 6.80%.

Despite their respective setbacks, the two major parties continued to monopolize between themselves all legislative district seats (MVC narrowly lost a House race in San Juan to PNP), with PPD securing a majority of these in both houses despite polling fewer votes than PNP, due to latter’s concentration of votes in the San Juan metropolitan area. So why did PPD fail to do as well in the at-large legislative races? The answer lies in the workings of the at-large representation system in Puerto Rico, known in Spanish as representación por acumulación.

Specifically, since politics in Puerto Rico evolved into a two-party system in 1968, following 28 years of PPD dominance, the two major parties have nominated six at-large candidates each for both the Senate and the House of Representatives in every election (from 1952 to 1968 PPD nominated seven at-large candidates to each legislative body). In order to guarantee each candidate has an equal chance of being elected, parties vary the order in which candidates are listed on the ballot in each of the island’s electoral districts – precintos in Spanish – 110 in total since 2012 (to be increased to 114 in 2024); parties assign candidates a set of electoral districts known as a legislative bloc – bloque legislativo in Spanish – in which they are placed at the top of their respective party lists, and as such automatically receive straight votes cast for their party, which have constituted the majority of ballots in every election; party ticket votes with votes cast for other at-large candidates from the same party are considered split votes. (See sample ballot.)

From 1972 to 2012, PNP and PPD elected four to six at-large candidates each in both the Senate and the House. Nonetheless, over the years an increasing number of voters cast either split ballots or bypassed party tickets altogether and voted for candidates only – in Spanish voto por candidatura – and PIP, which nominated single at-large candidates for each body from 1984 onward, was able to tap into that vote to secure seats for its at-large candidates in nearly every election during that period (the party won no at-large seats in 2008 and only a Senate at-large mandate in 2012). Even so, as recently as the 2012 election 81.27% of valid legislative ballots were straight votes, and the overall impact of split/candidacy votes was comparatively limited.

However, in 2016 split/candidacy voting soared from 18.73% to 35.62% of the legislative ballot valid vote, and the main beneficiary was José Vargas-Vidot, who became Puerto Rico’s first-ever independent candidate to win a legislative seat, securing a Senate at-large mandate and topping the poll as well. In fact, his vote total was made up entirely of split/candidacy ballots, since no provision is made to cast a straight vote for an independent candidate, and his victory reduced PPD to three at-large Senate seats (with PIP winning one and PNP the remaining six).

Although PNP returned to power in the 2016 election, the party polled its worst result up to that point in the gubernatorial election, and PPD its second-worst, with the major parties’ combined share of valid votes declining from 95.56% in 2012 to 80.67%. Meanwhile, independent candidate Alexandra Lúgaro won a respectable 11.13% of the vote, and went on to found MVC in 2019. By then, the marked decline of PPD in 2016, along with the emergence of Lúgaro’s new party and the success of the Vargas Vidot independent candidacy called into question the wisdom of nominating six at-large candidates in 2020, when five might have a better chance of securing election. To that end, a proposal was made to the party leadership, which however was rejected after a former but still highly influential party leader spoke against it, insisting that “too much was in play,” that nominating five at-large candidates instead of six could be perceived as an admission of weakness, and prevent the party from winning an overall majority in either or both houses of the Legislative Assembly.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should note I collaborated in the proposal calling for the nomination of five PPD at-large candidates, and was present at the party leadership meeting in which it was discussed and turned down.)

As it was, MVC anticipated it would fare at least as well as Lúgaro did in her independent gubernatorial run in 2016, and nominated two at-large candidates for both legislative bodies, using Lúgaro’s 2016 vote as the basis for the corresponding legislative blocs. Meanwhile, PNP and PPD ran their usual six-candidate slates for both the Senate and the House, PIP and PD nominated single candidates for both houses, and Sen. Vargas-Vidot ran for re-election. However, although every MVC, PIP and PD at-large candidate as well as Sen. Vargas-Vidot was successful in the 2020 election, PNP only won four at-large seats in the Senate and five in the House, while PPD won just two at-large seats in both houses, as detailed in the following table (full results are available on my Elections in Puerto Rico website):

House Senate
Party % Seats % Seats
PNP 33.84 5 33.37 4
PPD 36.03 2 31.27 2
PIP 10.56 1 11.29 1
MVC 12.83 2 10.99 2
PD 6.73 1 7.33 1
Ind. 5.76 1

In both the Senate and House at-large races, the combined percentages obtained by all six PPD candidates – 31.27% in the Senate and 36.03% in the House suggested that while securing six of eleven seats might not have been a realistic goal, the party should have done better than winning just two seats (18.18%) in each case. However, an additional complication was that PPD candidates fared quite unevenly, although it should be noted these disparities weren’t due to the makeup of the PPD legislative blocs; instead, the large number of split/candidacy votes – which increased to 40.15% of all valid legislative ballots in 2020 – made the legislative bloc arrangements far less meaningful, as many voters backed candidates who weren’t assigned the top spot in their electoral districts. The uneven performance of PPD at-large candidates on account of split/candidacy votes was particularly evident in the House of Representatives, as shown in the following table:

Candidate Straight Split/Cand. Total
Héctor Ferrer 48,750 93,100 141,850
Jesús Manuel Ortiz-González 52,591 19,359 71,950
Enid Monge 52,031 6,474 58,505
Keyliz Méndez-Torres 48,416 8,827 57,243
Yaramary Torres 48,348 6,774 55,122
Gabriel López-Arrieta 45,817 4,838 50,655

In fact, Ferrer polled 73,213 votes outside his assigned legislative bloc – a figure which by itself exceeded the vote totals of the remaining five PPD House at-large candidates.

Among PPD Senate at-large candidates, the split/candidacy vote total disparities weren’t as marked, but even then the two winning candidates had the largest totals on that column:

Candidate Straight Split/Cand. Total
Juan Zaragoza-Gómez 52,591 21,218 73,809
José Luis Dalmau-Santiago 52,031 19,865 71,896
Aníbal José (Jossie) Torres 45,817 15,385 61,202
Brenda López-De-Arrarás 48,348 11,613 59,961
Ada Álvarez-Conde 48,750 8,470 57,220
Luis Vega-Ramos 48,416 6,234 54,650

Another factor at play is that many voters don’t understand the workings of SNTV, and for one reason or another cast their votes under the incorrect assumption they can vote for up to six candidates in each legislative body – as if it were a Multiple Non-Transferable Vote (MNTV) election – instead of only one. Ballot design might be at play, as at-large races are the only instance in which the number of nominations doesn’t go hand in hand with the maximum number of votes a voter may cast, but the fact is that both PNP and PPD actually use MNTV in their internal party primaries to choose at-large nominees, and many voters – sometimes including even seasoned political analysts – mistakenly assume that system is also in place for general elections, ballot instructions to the contrary notwithstanding.

The introduction in 2016 of vote counting machines providing detailed overvote and undervote statistics highlighted the confusion surrounding the way in which at-large legislators are chosen. Specifically, although overvoting in at-large legislative races, while somewhat reduced in 2020 (due to the efforts of how-to-vote campaigns from civic groups), is still significantly higher than in district races chosen by plurality voting, where it remains negligible (even though the vote counting machines are supposed to warn the voter about overvoting and undervoting). Besides overvoting, some PNP or PPD voters back third-party or independent at-large candidates under the assumption they are giving just one of six votes to such candidates, with the remaining five votes they think they have (but really don’t) going to the rest of their preferred party slate, when in fact they are giving their sole vote to a candidate outside their party.

Another issue in at-large legislative races is the so-called invasion of electoral districts, in which major party at-large candidates actively campaign for votes in electoral districts that don’t belong to their assigned legislative bloc, fully aware they are taking away votes from fellow party candidates. Suffice it to say this is a very sensitive matter, and there’s no information to confirm whether or not it took place in 2020.

It should also be noted that the 2020 general election in Puerto Rico was carried out under a new electoral law imposed unilaterally by PNP just months before the election, over the objections of opposition parties. One of the more controversial provisions of the law granted the ruling party near-absolute control of the Elections Commission, which had been run on a power-sharing basis among registered parties since a major reform in 1983 (following the disastrous 1980 election, in which the Elections Commission had been under PNP’s full control as well). While there were few issues with in-person polling, either election day or advanced, the tally of the bulk of advance/absentee votes in special polling station 77, mainly domicile and mail-in votes, accounting for about one-eight of all ballots, proved to be extremely problematic from the beginning, not least because its ten-fold expansion under the new electoral law overwhelmed the agency. To this day the exact number of voters requesting advance ballots in 2020 remains unknown, the results of polling station 77 are riddled with discrepancies – often quite significant – in every electoral district, and some believe the cited issues might have adversely affected PPD in the at-large contests. However, PNP leaders insist there is nothing wrong with the electoral law, and to date have resisted attempts to reform it ahead of the 2024 general election.

At any rate, the decision by PPD leaders to nominate six at-large candidates in 2020 for both houses proved to be a monumental blunder, which had the effect of exposing the very weakness that party leaders desperately wanted to conceal; in practical terms it resulted in a Senate in which no party had overall control of a legislative body for the first time since 1940; PPD won a plurality of Senate seats and an overall majority of one in the House.

But would PPD have been better off by nominating five at-large candidates instead of six? According to a Senate-only, post-election simulation I ran with five candidates, the answer is affirmative: at least four candidates, and possibly all five would have been elected. Even so, it’s by no means certain PPD will nominate in 2024 five at-large candidates instead of six, not least because many party leaders remain in denial about the major changes in voting trends that took place in 2016 and 2020, insisting they are nothing more than a transient phenomenon. That said, it’s worth remembering that in Spain it took several years for PP and (to a lesser degree) PSOE leaders to finally come to terms with a similar shift away from two-party dominance after 2015.

Finally, from time to time some PNP and PPD leaders have called for the elimination of at-large legislative seats, thus resulting in a Legislative Assembly elected in its entirety by plurality in districts. However, such calls appear to be motivated by a desire to get rid of independent and third-party legislators; that such a move could backfire in future elections in which either PNP or PPD, or both might no longer be major parties appears not to have been considered at all. And while leaders of both parties might scoff at such prospects in the here and now, they cannot be ruled out altogether in the long run, all the more so since as a result of their steady decline the two major parties appear to be increasingly dependent on the support of old voters, much like CDU/CSU and SPD in Germany’s 2021 Bundestag election. In fact, in the 2020 general election PNP and PPD won between themselves 87.71% of the advance/absentee vote in the gubernatorial race, 85% of which came from voters aged 60 or older; but among the younger election day voters they polled just 60.68% between themselves. All the same, doing away with the at-large legislative seats would require amending the Constitution of Puerto Rico, and for the time being it does not appear such an amendment – which would have to be approved by voters in a binding referendum – will be forthcoming.

Election indicators in Taiwan, SNTV era

I noticed that the always handy Election Indices file maintained by Michael Gallagher on his Electoral Systems page did not include Taiwan’s SNTV era of competitive elections (1992-2004). I needed the indicators for something I am working on. It just so happened that I had the candidate-level data for those years (thanks to Nathan Batto sharing them some years ago for another project). So I set out to calculate some key indices. In the off chance anyone needs them, here they are.

In the table below, “D2” is Gallagher’s “least squares” index of disproportionality (as a share, rather than percentage), “Nv” is the effective number of vote-earning parties, and “Ns” is the effective number of seat-winning parties.

yearD2NvNs
19920.04652.642.227
19950.041372.9482.541
19980.06413.2242.508
20010.047014.2663.494
20040.038283.8123.265

I calculated these by considering every independent candidate–and there are many of them, although not many won seats–as a separate “party.” This is the only really proper way to do these indices–especially for a purely nominal system like SNTV–if one has the data at candidate level, and in the absence of any information as to groups of these candidates being de-facto parties.

Values for Ns and Nv for these elections can be found in Bormann and Golder (as “enpp1” and “enep1”, respectively). However, my Nv values are somewhat higher because the index values in Bormann and Golder’s dataset would have been estimated from aggregated votes of “others” (including “independents”). That is, they do not take all others/independents to be one party (as is sometimes erroneously done by others), but without the candidate-level data, any such estimate could fall short of the method I am using, based on complete data on every candidate’s votes and formal party affiliation, if any. My calculations for Ns match theirs for enpp1 almost exactly, as they should, given that relatively few independents won seats (43 over the 5 elections).

Hungary 2022 – how biased an electoral map?

Hungary’s 2022 election resulted in an overwhelming victory for the incumbent Fidesz party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, against a broad opposition coalition, led by Peter Marki-Zay, comprised of liberals, social democrats and the nationalist Jobbik party. Orban’s twelve-year-long government has been the focus of international attention over its nationalist policies and weakening of democratic institutions.

One of the earliest initiatives of Orban’s government was a set of amendments to the electoral law in 2011. While Hungary retained a mixed-member system, the three-tier system introduced in 1989 was replaced with a two-tier system. The size of the legislature was cut drastically, from 386 to 199. This involved a redrawing of the single-seat districts, as the number of these districts fell from 176 to 106: the two-round system previously used for these seats was replaced by first-past-the-post.

The process of drawing new electoral boundaries and introducing a new electoral system represents an excellent opportunity for a governing political party to entrench its own advantages. Fidesz had a completely free hand in that process, owing to its two-thirds constitutional majority. So, what does the electoral system look like?

Based on the 2022 results, there is a clear negative relationship between Fidesz vote share and registration numbers. Interestingly, this is driven by very high registration in the electoral districts of suburban Pest county, which is the cluster on the right of the plot: Budapest, the opposition’s stronghold, has roughly average enrolment.

But what does this mean in terms of actual election results? In order to examine this, I simulated a set of uniform swings1 between Fidesz and the Alliance for Hungary. The below plot shows seat totals in the single-seat districts at different vote shares for both the opposition alliance and Fidesz (vote shares for the other parties were kept constant).

The vertical line shows where the two parties tie – approximately 44% of the vote each, or a swing of 7.8% towards the opposition. At this level, Fidesz would win 56 single-seat districts to 50 in total for the opposition. In order to win a majority of the single-seat districts, the Alliance would need approximately 46% of the vote to 43% for Fidesz.

Of course, the list seats need to be taken into account. The below plot shows the number of total seats each party would have won with the same vote shares as in the prior plot. The vote share for the other parties is held constant, and I assume that the nationalist My Homeland party would have held onto its 5% of the vote and 6 seats, and that the German minority would have elected its single member under the special procedure for ethnic minority parties.

The effect of the list seats is fairly minor. A tied vote would give the Alliance 91 seats to 100 for Fidesz, the slimmest of absolute majorities. Fidesz loses this majority at a fractionally lower share of the vote. However, for the opposition to win a plurality, they need about the same 46-43 vote share as they need for a majority of the single-seat districts, and to win the 100 seats required for an absolute majority they need 47% of the vote to 42% for Fidesz.

How serious is this effect? How does it compare to other jurisdictions? One method which has received some use in the (inevitably US-centric) gerrymandering literature is the ‘efficiency gap’, which calculates the difference between the number of wasted votes for the two major parties, as a proportion of all votes. I calculate the efficiency gap at this election to be 5.2%, again ignoring votes for minor parties. According to the paper laying out the efficiency gap measure, this gives Hungary a map roughly as biased towards Fidesz as the maps in Minnesota or South Carolina were towards the Republican Party, or the map of California was towards the Democratic Party. Hungarian bias, however, does not seem to be as strong as that in North Carolina or Florida.

Hungary’s 2012 electoral map, then, provides Fidesz with a modest but meaningful electoral advantage, only slightly ameliorated by the list tier. Nonetheless, the opposition at this election achieved a vote share well short of what would be needed to win a majority. Unlike in Poland, the role of the electoral system in the installation of this government has been seemingly fairly minimal.

1 Note that ‘swing’ is here defined as percentage points subtracted from Fidesz’s (or the opposition alliance’s) vote and added to the opposition alliance’s (or Fidesz’s) vote share. I believe this is the Australian definition, as opposed to a British one that (I think) averages the two figures.

Did Thailand’s parliament just vote to switch to MMP?

Via the Nation from Thailand, it seems that a joint sitting of parliament has voted to adopt mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) instead of a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system. The headline reads, “Parliament votes for party-list MP calculation method to be divided by 500.”

The meeting, which comprised senators and members of the House of Representatives, chose whether to divide the party-list MP calculation by 500 or by 100. The first choice won with 354 votes in favour, 162 votes against, 37 abstentions and four no votes.

The meeting rejected the use of 100 to calculate party-list seats, which is the current method, by 392 votes to 160, with 23 abstentions and two no votes.

This is a somewhat awkward way of stating the choice between MMP or MMM, but it works. Let’s take a couple of examples to demonstrate. Suppose there are 36 million valid votes, and there is a party with 6 million votes, or one sixth. If the division is by 500, then a simple quota for a seat is 72,000 votes. This party has 83 full quotas (6M/72k=83, discarding the fraction, 1/3). If instead the division is by 100, then a simple quota is 360,000 votes. Our hypothetical party with six million votes now has 16 quotas.

The first scenario logically implies MMP. The party might have won, let’s say, 30 nominal seats (single-seat district contests in which the plurality wins the seat). It is entitled to 83 seats. So it gets 53 list seats, to bring its nominal total of 30 up to its full share of 83 quotas out of 500. It is thus proportionally represented.

The second scenario logically implies MMM. Again, let’s say it has 30 single-seat wins. Its 16 quotas mean 16 list seats, which it will add to its 30, for a total of 46 seats. This is a little short of ten percent (9.2%, to be precise). It is under-rerepsented.

Note that in the first scenario, it has one sixth of the total 500 seats. In the second it has one sixth of the 100 list seats. This is precisely how MMP vs. MMM works.

Now let’s take a somewhat larger party, with nine million votes. If the division is by 500, it has 125 full quotas. The hypothetical vote total has been chosen to roughly reflect the For Thais Party (PPT) in 2019, which actually won 7.8 million votes. That made it second largest party in votes, but it won the most nominal seats, 136. So let’s give it in our hypothetical that number as well.1 It is over-represented already! It is entitled to 125, based on full quotas with the denominator of 500. In other words, it has 11 overhangs. It will keep these, but it will get no list seats. Even though the system is MMP, the other parties that need compensation from the list seats will remain somewhat under-represented as a result.

If instead the division is by 100, this party has 25 full quotas. It thus wins a quarter of the 100 list seats, and adds these to its 136 nominal seats, for a total of 161. This is 32.2% of the total, under the hypothetical MMM system. It is over-represented, given it had 25% of the vote. It was also over-represented under MMP, as we saw in the outcome with division by 500. However, in that case, its seat percentage is 136/500=27.2%, which is much closer to its vote percentage than the MMM example.2

The Nation article concludes with this puzzling note:

However, Thammasat University public law specialist Prinya Thaewanarumitkul expressed concern on Facebook on Wednesday that the new formula would result in the number of list MPs exceeding the number allowed by the constitution.

No, it would not. Or, rather, it would not have to do so. The public law specialist seems to be assuming the overhangs would be compensated, by adding further list seats. But MMP does not necessarily do this, and if the list seats are restricted to 100, it will not generate more than 100 list seats for the simple reason that it can’t. The “extra” implied seats do not exist, and we simply reduce the total compensation potential when there are overhangs in the nominal tier. You keep 100 list seats, but the parties that have not already won at least their full quotas worth in the nominal tier get fewer of the list seats. This can be accomplished by recalculating the quota. In the scenario here, assuming those 11 overhangs for the party with nine million votes are the only overhangs the election produced, the quotas would be recalculated with a denominator of 500-11=489. Now parties get a list seats for each 73,619 votes they have earned (instead of 72,000). Our party with the six million votes is now entitled to 81 total (again, discarding fractions) rather than 83. And other parties–not considered in these illustrations–get similar reductions in what would have been their entitled final shares had there been no overhangs generated by parties that got over-represented due to success in the nominal tier.

In conclusion, it seems Thailand has chosen to shift to MMP. However, it will not be a highly proportional version of MMP, given that 20% of total seats in a compensation tier is on the small side. It is still MMP, and need not permit expansion of the list tier in order to so qualify.

I should also not that this was the second reading of the bill, not final passage.

____

Notes

1. In the 2019 election, there were 350 nominal seats and 150 list, but rather than weight the seats to totals out of 400 nominal seats, I will just go with the raw numbers of seats PPT won in 2019.

2. In all these scenarios, for simplicity, I have ignored remainder seats, which result from the fractions that are ignored after seats are assigned via full quotas.

France 2022: Assessing the honeymoon election and towards a model of the impact of election timing on the president’s party’s seats

Was the French 2022 honeymoon election one that defies the usual impact of such election timing? Not to offer a spoiler, but the answer is yes and no.

Back around the time of the presidential runoff, I restated what I often say about elections for assembly held shortly after a presidential election: they are not an opportunity for the voters to “check” the president they have just chosen; presidential and semi-presidential systems just do not work that way. Well, usually. It seems hard to escape the notion that voters did just that–by holding Emmanuel Macron’s allies in Ensemble to less than a majority of seats, and by delivering bigger than expected seat totals to the Mélenchon-led united left (Nupes) and even to Le Pen’s National Rally (RN).

There will not be cohabitation, which was what I really meant in the French context when saying that honeymoon elections were not an opportunity to check the president. The results have not offered up any conceivable assembly majority that would impose its own choice for premier on Macron. I was also generally careful to say that I thought Macron’s allies would win a majority of seats, or close to it. They are relatively close, but considerably farther away that I expected, on about 42%. So, how does this outcome compare to honeymoon elections generally?

I have prepared an updated version of a graph I have shared before. An earlier version appears in Votes from Seats, as Figure 12.2. The x-axis is elapsed time, E, defined as the share of the period between presidential elections at which the assembly election occurs. The y-axis is the presidential seat ratio, RP, calculated by dividing the vote share of the party (or pre-electoral alliance) supporting the president by the president’s own vote share in the first or sole round. The diagonal line is a regression best fit on the nonconcurrent elections (those with E>0), and is RP=1.2–0.7E.

I added the France 2022 data point and label a little larger than the others, to call attention to it. The most notable thing is that this is the only case of a really extreme honeymoon–defined loosely as those with E<.05 but E>0–to have a value of RP<1.00. So in that sense, it is a poor performance. There are other honeymoons for which E≤0.1 that are below RP=1.00, including Chile 1965 and Poland 2001. In the Chilean case, the result obtains simply because the right did not present its own presidential candidate, but ran separately in the congressional election. Although this post is focused on honeymoon and other nonconcurrent elections, I also added labels to the two cases of concurrent elections (E=0) that have unusually low presidential vote ratios. Note that on average, RP in concurrent elections tends to be a bit below 1.00, as a combination of strategic voting and small-party abstention from the presidential contest leads assembly voting to be more fragmented than presidential voting, hence lowering RP. However, in very early term elections, the president’s party/alliance almost always gains. So France 2022 is unusual, but not a massive outlier. In fact, in terms of distance from the regression line, it is about equivalent to France 1997 or El Salvador 2006 (labelled).

We see that the 2022 election also features the lowest RP of any of France’s six honeymoon elections to date. The 2002 election (Chirac) produced an especially huge boost, whereas the 2017 election, when Macron had just been elected the first time, is almost on the regression line. (The regression does not include elections after 2015 because the dataset was collected around then; I added these more recent ones to the graph directly.) I also want to call attention to Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s 2019 honeymoon result in Ukraine for Servants of the People, as it is also among the most extreme honeymoon vote surges recorded anywhere as expected, perhaps aided by how uninstitutionalized that country’s party system has been. (If I wanted to be provocative, I’d say that factor also has been present in France, given frequent realignments on the right, the emergence of Macron, etc.)

(As an aside, I was somewhat surprised that an outlier, the one case of E>0.6 to have RP>1 is the French late-midterm election of 1986. This is remembered as the election that produced the first cohabitation of the French Fifth Republic. But the vote share of the Socialists was still considerably higher than Mitterrand’s own vote share in the presidential first round of 1981, when the Communists had presented their own candidate.1)

So much for the votes. I was wondering what happens if we look at seats? Strangely I had never done this before (at least with this dataset). This graph has as its y-axis the seat share of the president’s party (or alliance) divided by the president’s own first or sole-round votes, which I will call RPs. The x-axis is the same. In addition to plotting a best fit line, the diagonal, I also added the 95% confidence intervals from the regression estimates to this graph. There is also a lowess (local regression) plotted as the very thin grey line. Note how flat it is for a long portion of the term, a fact related to a point I will come to at the end (and also suggesting a more complex than linear fit may be more accurate, but I want to keep it simple for now).

The regression line here is very close to RPs=1.5–E, which is a wonderfully elegant formula! It says that at a midterm election, a president’s party’s seat share would be, all else equal, the same as his or her own vote share half a term earlier. At a truly extreme honeymoon election–imagine one held the day after the president was elected, but with the result known–the seat share would be about 1.5 times the president’s vote share. At an extreme counter-honeymoon it would drop to around 0.5. So where did Macron’s Ensemble come out in the election just concluded? His RPs=1.52! So the party actually did about what the average trend says to expect. It was his 2017 surge that was higher than we perhaps should have expected (although, again, not as high as Chirac’s in 2002).

The result in the second figure is obviously holding constant the electoral system, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, given the importance of variation in electoral systems in shaping the size of the largest party (which is usually the president’s party, at least until we get to midterms and beyond).

What I find particularly elegant about the equation is its suggestion that midterm elections are no-effect elections, in terms of seat share for the president’s party. This was presumably what major party leaders were going for in the Dominican Republic when they shifted to the world’s only ever case (to my knowledge) of an all-midterm cycle. Both president and congress were elected to four-year terms, each at the halfway point of the other. (Actual outcomes during were not always no-effect, though on average they were close2; they have since changed back to their former concurrent elections.) This may seem a surprise to readers who know the American system and its infamous midterm decline, but actually the midterm-election median in the US is 0.969. In an almost pure two-party system, anything below 1.00 might look bad, and be both politically consequential and also somewhat over-interpreted. But 0.969 is not really that much below 1.00! Okay I am cheating just a little by reporting the median. The mean is 0.943; it is brought down by a few major “shellackings” like 2010 (0.891), although 1990 was worse (0.719, in this case because G.H.W. Bush had won such a big landslide of his own).3

In concurrent elections, the regression suggests also that on average, RPs is around 1.00. For the US, the median is 0.979, and the mean is 1.009. Note how it is higher than the midterm average, but perhaps not as much as one might expect.4

At this point, both these equations are just empirical regression best fits, not logical models. There is logic behind the general effects of electoral cycles on a presidential party’s performance, but not a logical basis for the specific parameters observed. I would very much like to have such a logical basis, but I have not hit upon it. Yet.

(Considerably nerdier and some rather half-baked stuff the rest of the way.) Such a logical model may be closer now that there is a simple and elegant empirical connection between presidential votes and seats. Seat shares are more directly connected to parameters of the electoral system than votes shares are–even vote shares for assembly parties, but vote shares for presidential candidates are a good deal more remote from the assembly electoral system. Nonetheless, in Votes from Seats we do derive a predictive formula for the effective number of presidential candidates, based on the assembly’s seat product. A regression reported in the book confirms its plausibility, but with rather low R2. From that formula one could get an expected relationship for the leading presidential candidate’s vote total, vp. It would be vp = 2–3/8[(MS)1/4 +1]–1/4. We already have, for the seat share of the largest party, s1=(MS)–1/8. It so happens that these return the same value at around MS=175. Expectations of vp<s1 or s1<vp would then depend on whether MS (mean district magnitude times assembly size) is higher or lower than 175; for most presidential systems it is a good deal higher (the median in this sample of elections, including semi-presidential, is 480). Tying this observation to the one about midterm elections (E=0.5) yielding actual (not predicted) sp=vp and accepting for simplification that the president’s party seat share (sp) is also the largest party seat share, at least in elections that are not after the midterm, might be a path towards a model. But that may take a while yet. Below I will copy a table of what the formulas for vp and s1 yield at various values of seat product, MS, for simple systems. These values of s1 are without regard to elapsed time when the assembly election takes place.

Table of expected values of presidential vote shares (pv) and largest assembly party seat share (s1)

MSpvs1ratio_s1_pv
10.651.001.54
100.600.751.26
250.570.671.16
500.560.611.10
1000.540.561.04
1500.530.531.01
1750.520.521.00
2000.520.520.99
2250.520.510.98
2560.510.500.97
3000.510.490.96
5000.500.460.92
10000.480.420.88
100000.420.320.75
250000.400.280.70
500000.390.260.67
1000000.370.240.64
2000000.350.220.61
Note how we would expect president’s parties to have a seat share greater than the president’s own vote share at low MS due to system disproportionality, but higher as MS increases beyond 175, presumably because of strategic behavior being different around the majoritarian presidential election and the more permissive assembly electoral system. The smallest MS observed in this dataset for a (semi-)presidential system is 124 (Sierra Leone, 2002, 2007). The largest is 202,500 (Ukraine, 2006, 2007). For nonconcurrent elections, the minimum MS is 240 (Chile, 1997, 2001).

Footnotes

  1. Also, Mitterand himself had finished second in the first round, with 25.9% of the votes (the incumbent, Giscard, had 28.3%). The Communist candidate had 15.4%. In the 1986 election, Socialists won 31% of the votes, for RP=1.2. (I am not counting the Communists as part of Mitterrand’s alliance by then, as he had fired the Communist ministers that were in his initial cabinet.)
  2. The values for RPs in these Dominican elections were: 0.587 in 1998, 0.975 in 2002, 0.945 in 2006, and 1.067 in 2010. So other than that first run, if the no-effect was what they wanted, they basically got it.
  3. [Added, 21 June.] I somehow forgot that my first publication on this topic, in the APSR in 1995, also used seats as its outcome of interest–but it was change in seat percentage for the president’s party from the prior assembly election (with president’s vote share as a control). Looking back on that pub, I see that my regression there would agree with my updated analysis here in suggesting that midterm elections, all else constant, are no-effect elections. The regression line clearly passes very near the change=0, E=0.5 point in the article’s Figure 1. And, yes, in that article I commented on this as a “particularly striking feature” (p. 332).
  4. The way I set up the regression, its constant term would be the RPs when E=0, a concurrent election. This constant is actually 0.95, but its 95% confidence interval includes 1.00 (it is 0.844–1.057). The coefficient on the nonconcurrent dummy is 0.552, from which I get the approximation, 1.5, in the equation in the second figure (summing this coefficient and the constant). The coefficient on E is –1.072. R2=0.215.

France 2022 fourth round (legislative runoffs)

Sunday is the final round of the four-round French election–two rounds for president, two for National Assembly. Thus the legislative runoffs are now upon us. Although we have the unusual case of a honeymoon election in which the leader of an opposition alliance is proclaiming he is running for prime minister, probably the only real question in the results is whether the just-reelected President Macron gets a assembly majority or not. (See earlier planting for discussion of such points.)

In advance of the runoffs, I been poking around in the statements (profession de foi) that candidates make available. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting study patterns in the way the candidates and parties/alliances communicate. I am not about to look at this systematically, but I note a few stark differences in presentation. (Most of the following is based on a comment by me at the earlier post, but with some elaboration.)

Every candidate for an assembly seat runs with a substitute, who would replace the the originally elected member were the latter to vacate the seat for any reason (including becoming a cabinet minister). Thus, in effect, France has two-person (closed) lists for each single-seat district. The replacement is typically, although not always, featured on the statement (and, from photos I have seen, in campaign signs). But there is considerable variation in how they are presented.

Also, as typifies highly presidentialized parties (or, given that this includes major opposition parties, too, leader-ized?) as France has, almost every candidate is featured next to the presidential candidate in whose alliance the assembly candidate was running.

For example, in Bouches-du-Rhône no. 4, the candidate from Nupes features the principal and the substitute prominently, side by side. The national leader, in this case “candidate for premier” Mélenchon, is shown towards the bottom of the first page. This is the reverse of what seems to be the norm for candidates of Ensemble or RN, where the candidate is pictured (photo-shopped, more to the point) next to the leader, with the substitute in a smaller photo on a later page.

For instance, see the Ensemble candidate in the same district.

See this one for a candidate of RN (Bouches-du-Rhône no. 1). Unlike most that I have seen for candidates in other parties, this does not talk about the candidate or the district at all. It just tells what the RN party program is. It also does not mention the substitute. Instead, a picture of the main candidate with Le Pen and also (strangely) a picture of the party president, Jordan Barella. The main message comes through clearly in all caps at the top: “La seule opposition à Macron” (the only opposition to Macron).

Here is another RN candidate statement that is marginally less party-centric than that one. In Hérault no. 7, it is a little more specific to the local context, not in the sense of any mention of district issues, but in calling out the “extreme left” opponent in the district who must be stopped. The Nupes candidate in the same district has a statement that looks like the other Nupes one I mentioned before (and with minor variation, all those from Nupes that I have seen). It has the substitute depicted side-by-side with the principle and featured more prominently than the national leader, while still making room for a photo of Mélenchon at the bottom of the first page. It also has at the very top, “Face au RN, pas d’abstention”–a call not to abstain, given the contest is against the RN. Otherwise, it is mostly oriented around the national program of the alliance.

In general, the Ensemble statements seem to say the most about the candidates themselves, with information on their career on the second page, often along with some words about the district’s needs. Maybe this is to be expected for the alliance that has already won the presidency, and now wants to show how the majority Macron is seeking would be in tune with local voters’ needs. The other two main forces, RN and Nupes, on the other hand, need to emphasize how they seek to counter the president’s national policy priorities. The candidates in Nupes and RN most certainly are not cultivating a personal vote or a local vote on their statements–or rather on the subset of statements I saw.

I actually did find one from Ensemble that did not show a photo of Macron at all, although it does say “presidential majority” at the bottom of the front page. Instead, it shows the principal candidate and the substitute standing side-by-side in a park. This district is one of the three-way runoffs, Dordogne no. 3 (first round: NUPES 24%, Ensemble 23%, RN 22%), and the second page of the statement has a large block of text denouncing the “extremes” represented by the other two runoff candidates’ national programs. It still saved plenty of locally targeted information about priorities.

We can probably draw some conclusions from these patterns–if they are indeed patterns–about the priorities of the parties and alliances, in terms of local vs. national emphasis, as well as how important the leader is to the vote-seeking strategy. I looked at dozens, and while I can’t claim they were representative of the wider set of districts, it seems they just might be.

Israel’s stable coalition

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Ever since the current broad-yet-narrow coalition government in Israel was formed, it has been something of a sport for various journalists covering Israeli politics to predict its early demise. I cautioned otherwise at the time. [Note: see UPDATE at very bottom of post, 16 June]

It may be that the coalition really is in its death throes, even as it has only just passed the one-year mark of its planned three-year term. I have lost count of the number of individual members of coalition parties who have announced a “strike” or a “freeze” whereby they stop voting with the coalition for a period of time to try to get some measure they favor passed (or something they oppose stopped). Most of them have made clear that they would not defect to the opposition or vote to call an early election. But some (I think three dating back to the original investiture vote) have outright defected. The coalition fell to a 60-60 deadlock with the opposition when Idit SIlman (Yamina), coalition whip, went over to the opposition in April. More recently, there was one member from Meretz (the left-most flank of the coalition), Ghana Rinawe Zoabi, who announced she was leaving–bringing it to 59–but then walked it back a few days later after mayors of Arab towns persuaded her to stay. The most recent defector is Nir Orbach from Prime Minister Naftali Bennet’s Yamina Party, who has said “I am not part of the coalition,” putting it back, apparently, at 59 active members (where “active” might include, at any given time, one or two on “strike” of some presumably temporary sort ).

The question is whether a government can survive when it has 61 or more announced opponents in the 120-member Knesset. A majority opposed means it is done, right? Well, not necessarily. Israel has a full constructive vote of no confidence. This means a government can’t be voted out by a parliamentary majority unless that majority is simultaneously electing a replacement government. There is almost no prospect of this happening, as it would require the Joint List (of mostly Arab parties) to be willing not just to passively tolerate a Likud-led (and, yes, Bibi Netanyahu) government, but actively vote for its installation. This is almost impossible to imagine, so in this limited sense, the government may actually be stable.

We are talking about Israel, a country whose politics are notably unpredictable, so there are other scenarios that can’t be entirely ruled out. Maybe at least two of Blue & White (Benny Gantz, 8 seats) or New Hope (Gideon Saar, 6) or Yisrael Beteinu (Avigdor Liberman, 7) will surrender their current ministerial posts and vote for a new coalition with Likud as a partner if not leader. Each has as at least as many seats as the Joint List (6), and if the two bigger of these parties defected, they could then form a majority without either the Islamist Ra’am party (4 seats), which backs the current coalition, or the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist party. All three of the lists I mentioned as hypothetical defectors from the current ministerial team have been burned in the recent past by Netanyahu; it also means Liberman has to join up again with the Haredi parties, which would be a big backtrack from a position he’s held firm on since 2019. So it is hard to see what they gain by enabling his return to power. Never say never, but it seems unlikely. That suggests that indeed, at least as far as no-confidence votes are concerned, the coalition is still stable, and could remain so even if suffered another defector or two.

Stable in terms of remaining in power. Of course, it can’t pass legislation if the opposition unites against it. But that is a big “if.” Just this week, the first reading of a tax measure passed against the coalition’s declared position, but it was only 51–50. In other words, while the government may have trouble mustering a majority, it is not a sure thing for the opposition, either–even on a bill sponsored by a member of Likud. Then there is always the possibility of a selective member or two from outside the coalition voting with the government on specific bills. The government may not be able to pursue its most ambitious legislative agenda, but it probably can pass bills here and there (as well as continue executing laws already passed in a way favorable to its agendas to the extent permitted).

The bigger obstacle is the next budget. This is the one way a government can fall without losing a constructive vote of no confidence. The next budget bill must be passed in March, 2023. This vote, however, does not require 61 members of Knesset. More yes than no is sufficient. So that is a somewhat easier obstacle for the government, although by no means an easy one.

The final way–and the most likely way–that it could be forced out is if the Knesset votes to set an early election. This requires 61 votes, but it can be a negative coalition (i.e., we don’t want this Knesset and government to continue), rather than the positive vote (here’s a new government we are putting in now) like the constructive vote of no confidence. Orbach, the most recent defector from Yamina, stated in his announcement that, while he was leaving the coalition, he would not vote for early elections. He said instead that he would work to form an alternative government from within the current Knesset. We have already been over why that is not likely. At least as of now, it does not seem that there are 61 votes for an early election.1

Thus, unless the government simply resigns, it may continue on, despite its current difficulties. The constructive vote of no confidence really does enhance the potential for “separation of powers” (or better, separation of purpose) whereby the assembly majority opposes the government but does not have the means to replace it–in this case, because it does not agree on what the replacement should be (and does not favor going to elections).

So it may seem strange to call the Israeli coalition “stable” in its current situation. But if “stable” simply means that it can survive, then it is stable unless there are multiple further individual defections or a surprise change of heart by two or three of the party leaders who made this government possible in the first place. There are certainly other ways we might define whether a government is “stable” but by this criterion, and at this moment, it’s stable.

  1. Another consideration here is that the coalition agreement provisions that were put into Basic Law (i.e., Israeli’s constitution in all but name) have stipulations about the interim period after an “alternating” government like the current one has its term ended early via the setting of elections. If there are at least three defectors from Bennet’s (right-wing) side of the government, Alternate PM Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (center-left) automatically becomes PM. An election would be at least three months from the passage of the bill calling the election, and given that there is no guarantee that the election would result in a Knesset that could have a majority for a government (meaning potentially yet another election or elections, like 2019–21), those on the right voting for this option would be risking a signifiant period of time with PM Lapid. An Israeli government in this position is no mere caretaker. It is a government, period. I put all this in a footnote because I do not take it too seriously. The Knesset does not actually dissolve in the period between passage of a bill calling an election and the time the new Knesset is elected. It can still function. And these measures were passed by… 61 votes. Therefore, if 61 votes exist to call an election, 61 votes probably also exist to repeal the provisions and allow Bennet to remain as PM. Still, there would be some risk to right-wing politicians doing this, as they could not do these acts–call the election and repeal the provisions–simultaneously. So an agreement to do so could fall apart. But I’d think they could pull it off.
  2. UPDATE (intended to be part of the previous footnote but Word Press won’t allow a new paragraph here without putting a number in front of it): I just heard of a twist on all this that I wasn’t aware of, from Haviv Rettig Gur on the Times of Israel Daily Briefing podcast. The bill regulating legal matters in Judea and Samaria, which expires at the end of June—and which Likud and allies say they won’t vote for (even though expiration would be bad for some of their voters)—would get an automatic 6-month extension if the government falls before 30 June. Thus some members from the right of the coalition may want to pull the plug to save (temporarily) the status quo of the otherwise sunsetting legislation—even if it meant an interim PM Lapid. On the other hand, the polls aren’t great for the opposition and Netanyahu may not want to provoke an election now—“assessments are changing daily.” (This paragraph added 16 June, 6:30 a.m., PDT)

The French thresholds for runoff participation

This week is the inter-round period in the French two-round assembly elections. The first round was on 12 June. The French way of electing members of the National Assembly is not top-two majority-runoff, like the country’s presidential elections (or most elections in California). Rather, it is majority-plurality. That is, it is possible to have more than two candidates in the second round in any given single-seat district, and when this happens, the winner is the one with the most votes, even if it is less than 50%+1.

In any system within the broader family of two-round systems, there need to be threshold provisions for both (1) determining whether a runoff is required, and (2) determining who is eligible to participate. Under typical majority runoff, the provisions are (1) 50%+1 in the first round, or else (2) there must be a second round in which only the top two may participate.1

France follows the same first provision–with a caveat that I will get to. A majority is required at the first round. If that does not occur, the rules are that any candidate with votes equivalent to at least 12.5% of the registered voters in the district may stand in the runoff. That is, an eighth of the electorate, not an eighth of the votes cast. This is an important distinction. There is a further twist on the runoff-participation rules: If there are not two candidates who clear the 12.5%-of-registered threshold, then the top two go to the runoff anyway.

Here are some examples. In the district of Paris no. 2, the Ensemble (pro-Macron) candidate had the first-round plurality, with 35.66%, followed by the candidate of Nupes (pro-Mélenchon) on 27.27%. The third candidate, from the Republicans (LR, traditional right) has 18.23%. So is it a three-way race? Non. This candidate’s votes are a mere 10.63% of the total registered voters. Hence it is a top-two runoff.

Then we have Paris no. 15. Here, the leading candidate (from Nupes) has 47.31% of the votes cast. Pretty close to a majority, but not good enough under criterion #1 (50%+1 or else runoff). However, no other candidate cleared 12.5% of the registered voters. So maybe a runoff is not required after all. Not so fast. There needs to be a runoff if the plurality candidate did not win a majority of votes cast. Thus the candidate with the second highest vote total (from a left party unaffiliated with Nupes) advance to a runoff despite having won only 9.44% of the registered electorate in the first round. (This candidate won 17.87% of votes cast, but for qualifying purposes, this is not even relevant.)

There is, as I mentioned, a caveat on the first criterion, that a majority in the first round obviates the need for a second. To be elected in the first round, the leading candidate’s vote total also must be greater than 25% of the registered electorate in the district. There is at one prominent case where this comes up in the current election–prominent because it involves a famous politician. The district is Pas-de-Calais-11. The leading candidate is Marine Le Pen (you’ve probably heard of her–leader of the National Rally (RN)). She won 53.96% of the votes. Good for her; she won a majority! However, her votes amount to just 22.52% of registered voters. As a result, she must face a second round against another Marine, Tondelier of Nupes, who qualifies despite a vote total that is only 9.79% of the registered electorate.

It would be strange to have a candidate win a majority in the first round and yet lose the runoff. It probably won’t happen. On the other hand, if the opposition to her could mobilize and vote for the Nupes Marine, it is theoretically possible. Looking at the rest of the field, we find an Ensemble candidate in third place with 5.15% of registered electorate and then no other candidate over 1.5%. It would be a tall order, needing a whole lot of abstainers to turn up. But the rules of the French two-round system create the opportunity.

I thank Giacomo Benedetto and Steven Verbank (both via Twitter) for the above examples and clarifications on rules.

Just for fun, I was clicking on districts somewhat randomly. (You can play the game, too, by going back a step or two in any of the links for the three examples above.) It seems that the low turnout might be responsible for quite a few districts being like the second example–a candidate qualifying for a runoff despite being below 12.5% of the electorate in the first round. I do not know how common this or a majority but not 25% of registered voters has been over the course of the Fifth Republic’s history (dating to 1958, with then exception of a list-PR system in 1986). It is also noteworthy that there are eight three-way runoffs this year (compared to just one in 2017). If anyone happens to have a list of them, please post in the comments.

Randomly, I will now mention a few cases that looked interesting to me. Yonne no. 1: The top three candidates (Nupes, RN, and LR) have vote percentages of 24.25, 23.92, and 22.61. Only the first one has more than 12.5% of registered, and the third narrowly missed it (having 11.50%). I have no idea how often a candidate might ever have won from third place in a three-way runoff in France. If there were to be such a case, this would seem to be a promising opportunity–a mainstream right candidate against the left and far right, who combine for less than a majority of votes cast. However, the LR candidate came up short of making it a three-way.

Another similar case is Moselle no. 5: Top three candidates from RN, LR and Ensemble, with vote percentages of 25.88%, 24.53%, and 23.48%. Tight three-way race. But third did not clear 12.5% of the registered electorate–in fact, the leader had only 10.35%–and so it can be only a two-way.

Another majority-but-runoff case in Bouches-du-Rhone no. 4: Nupes leader has 56.04% of votes cast, but only 21.36% of registered voters. So the second candidate, from Ensemble, who won won only 14.88% of votes (and 5.67% of the electorate) advances to a runoff.

I probably could do this all day. But I probably should not.

One more thing before I hit “publish.” This collection of candidate statements and photos for every candidate in every district is an incredible resource! It is interesting that many of them are pictured next to their party’s presidential candidate (did someone say presidentialization?), and I also like how some of them show a little photo of their replacement candidate. Every candidate is elected with a substitute, who takes the seat if the principal vacates it for any reason during the term. Such reasons include appointment to an executive post, as France does not allow simultaneous service in the assembly and executive.

  1. Or sometimes–including French presidential elections–the top two remaining if one of the initial top two has bowed out for whatever reason.

France assembly 2022: Putting the prospects for NUPES in context

The first round of the French 2022 National Assembly election is on 12 June. As readers of this blog recognize, this is an extreme honeymoon election, owing to the short time that has elapsed since the presidential election. In that two-round contest in April, Emmanuel Macron was reelected, winning 27.9% of the vote in the first round and 58.6% in the runoff.

The runner-up in the presidential contest was Marine Le Pen of the extremist National Rally, with 23.2% in the first round and 41.5% in the runoff. In a close third place was the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with 22.0%. In the period since the runoff results were known, Mélenchon has led the formation of a left alliance known as the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (NUPES). (See the series of very helpful comments from Wilf at an earlier post, where he shared news stories about the coalition bargaining as it was taking place.) Mélenchon has not been shy about his goal, proclaiming that he is running to be premier. If this happened, it could usher in a period of cohabitation, defined as president and premier from opposing parties and the president’s party not in the cabinet. (I say “could usher in” because there’s always the possibility Macron’s party would be in a cabinet headed by Mélenchon, although if the latter actually were premier–and especially if NUPES won a majority of seats–that would be rather unlikely.)

As readers of this space will know, I find such an outcome extremely unlikely. Honeymoon elections do not work that way. They are not a second chance for voters to “check” the president. They confirm the mandate the voters have just conferred on the new (or newly reelected) president. Or do they? Maybe this will be a special case. That is what I am setting out to explore in this post.

Regarding “normal” honeymoon elections, see the post on France that I wrote in 2017, just before the presidential runoff, suggesting that Macron’s then-new party would get around 29% of the vote, and be the largest party. It actually won almost exactly that, 28.2%, and given both allies and the majoritarian two-round electoral system, Macron ended up with a large assembly majority. See the graph in that post, which also appears in Votes from Seats, and shows how nearly all elections early in a presidential term result in rather significant surges for the president’s party. The graph shows something called “Presidential Ratio” graphed against “Elapsed Time.” The ratio, RP, is simply the vote share of the president’s party, divided by the president’s own (first or sole round) vote share in the preceding presidential election. The elapsed time, E, is the percentage of the time between presidential elections at which the assembly election takes place.

For all non-concurrent elections, a best fit shows a steep slope starting at about 1.2 if the honeymoon election is immediately after the presidential election, and dropping steadily as assembly elections occur later in the period between presidential elections. It crosses the 1.00 line (indicating identical assembly and presidential vote shares) at around E=0.28, or just past the quarter mark, then drops to around 0.84 when E=0.5, encompassing the well known midterm-decline phenomenon. Given that for France in 2022 (as in 2017 and some previous cycles), E=0.017, we expect RP=1.19. Taking Macron’s first-round vote of 27.9%, his party should win around 33.1% of the votes. Presumably that would be a plurality and would again be sufficient to win a majority (or close to it) in the assembly when the two-round process is all said and done. Or should we be sure that would be a plurality this time? Let’s see.

Please remember that the equation of this line for presidential vote ratio is not a logical model (like the Seat Product Model or the Cube Root Law), and in any case, even logical model predictions get tripped up by real politics at times! Maybe this honeymoon election will be different. Macron won many voters in the runoff who would have preferred Mélenchon but felt they had to vote to stop Le Pen. There may be much more energy on the side of NUPES than is normal for an alliance that backed a loser.

So how surprising would a good performance be? I decided the best way to put a potential answer to this question in context was to go back to my dataset and augment it with votes data from runners-up and third-place presidential candidates. I have never looked into this before! So here we go…

First, let’s see what it looks like for the party of the candidate who finished second in the second or sole round of presidential voting.

We see that honeymoon elections are really bad for your party if you just lost the presidential election as the runner-up! All data points are below the 1.00 line until nearly E=0.3. The dashed curve is just a lowess (local regression) curve. I did not continue it much past the midterm, because the data get rather sparse late in the term. Not because there are no such elections (again, see the graph for presidential parties), but because the farther you go into the term, the more likely the runner-up’s party does not exist in a recognizable form. Presidential and semi-presidential systems can be that way.

In France 2022, it was Le Pen who finished second, and I do not think anyone would be surprised if her party got less than two thirds of what she won (in other words, around 15%). In fact, it will probably be much worse than that for her.

The topic of interest here, though, is the third presidential candidate’s party. Here is what that graph looks like:

Interestingly, the party backing the candidate who came in third quite often increases its support in a honeymoon election. In most cases, that probably comes predominantly at the expense of the second candidate’s party. But there is probably no reason why it could not come from the winner’s, in a case where there was a good deal of strategic voting in the presidential election (or specifically, in a runoff).

The curve is pretty level until E=0.2, with a mean of almost 1.5. Given how sparse the data are–there are lots of presidential elections with no third candidate or where the third had no party–I would not draw too much of a conclusion from this. However, note that 1.5 times Mélenchon’s vote would reach 33%, or almost exactly what we “predict” for Macron’s La République En Marche! (The exclamation point is in the party name, although you should be as excited about this convergence of their potential shares as I am!) If one were to add in the votes of the other presidential candidates whose parties since have joined NUPES, perhaps we would “predict” a voting plurality for Mélenchon.

So, while I still do not think Mélenchon is going to become premier, this data exploration has led me to believe it would not be as shocking a development as I initially assumed. It could be that this is the honeymoon election that has the ideal convergence of factors to generate an upset. And make no mistake, if a just-reelected president were to be forced to appoint as premier someone opposed to him, it would be an upset. On the other hand, polls do show it will indeed be close, at least in the first round.

California’s STUPID electoral system, 2022 first round edition

Yesterday was the “primary” that is NOT a primary in California. As I tried to warn the good voters of the great California Republic back in 2010, this “top two” system would be a bad idea. Yesterday offers some further examples of why it is indeed a STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM.

My favorite current example is state Senate District 4 (yeah, we do boring district names here).

Source: CATarget on Twitter.

Nearly 56% of this district’s voters voted for candidates branded on the ballot as Republican. Yet, because this is NOT A PRIMARY, but is just a top-two runoff system, the voters will choose in November from two Democrats, whose combined vote total is just 44%. Brilliant!

(For Democrats, it almost looks like a successful contest under two-seat single nontransferable vote (SNTV), with the party coordinating to equalize on two candidates, but I won’t give them that much credit. As for Republicans, well, they just punted away a win for the taking in a body where they regularly struggle to win even one third of the total seats.)

Statewide, we may have an intraparty runoff in one contest, the one for Insurance Commissioner. When the count was at 75% reporting, it looked like this:

Note the close race for the second runoff slot, between a second Democrat and a Republican. In this case, even though I will not waver from my conviction that this is a STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM, I will be happy with the result if Levine faces Lara in the runoff. In fact, Levine was one of the few candidates on this whole LONG ballot that I actually voted for. Lara is very expendable, due to being somewhat ethically challenged. In fact, it is certainly not impossible to imagine him losing in November, even to a Republican. Anyway, regardless of how I feel about the specific candidates, the notion that the so-called general election would be between two candidates of the same party is a bug not a feature. That it is for a statewide contest makes it even more so. (It would not be the first time; in fact, twice we’ve had US Senate contests on a November ballot that were between two Democrats.)

In a subsequent update, with “100% reporting” Howell has pulled ahead. However, 100% does not mean the count is finished. Far from it! There is probably still a decent chance Levine will pull back ahead for the second runoff slot. If Levine pulls back into second place, the Republicans will have shot themselves in the foot by their almost perfect vote-equalization “strategy.” If one of the Republicans finishes ahead of Lara, I am going to be mildly upset at Eugene and JJJ for splitting the anti-Lara Democratic vote. Ah, the hazard of SNTV-style competition for two slots in an eventual one-seat contest!

Speaking of US Senate contests in California, we got two of them this time! No, it is not that both seats are open (as was the case here in 1992, or more recently in Arizona and Georgia); both votes were for the same seat. The incumbent, Alex Padilla, was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to the vacated seat, and state law requires that there be a special election at the next scheduled election to fill the unexpired portion of the term. So we voted on that, as well as on the new six-year term starting in 2023.

The image on the right is the unexpired term term, and it is on the back of the page that has the full term (image on left). This is confusing! There are also many fewer candidates for the partial term than for the full term. We get 23 of them for the full term!

I am actually not sure whether the rule in the partial term is top-two runoff, or if a majority on this ballot will suffice. [Update: both are same top-two rules; I’ll keep the rest of this paragraph as it was.] It is used to be the case, even before top two was adopted for all formerly partisan elections, that special elections could be over in one round if one of the candidates–with all, regardless of one party, running against each other–won over half. I do not know if that applies here, or if the top two automatically go to a runoff, as in the full term election. If a majority suffices, you technically could have someone sworn in right away to serve only till early January. If the runoff is required anyway, then the person elected for the partial term would serve for only a few weeks. Of course, it is moot. The appointed incumbent is sure to win both contests anyway. But this is another of those poorly thought out provisions of California election law that could produce a strange result (not as bad as the recall/replacement process, about which see what I wrote last year, but bad enough).

Another thing I was watching for was to see just how well Newsom would do. At the moment, he is all the way down to 56.3%, although that percentage could well creep up again. Just last year, NO on the recall got 61.9%. In the 2018 November runoff against a Republican, he won 62.0%. So he may be slipping! Okay, not by much. Even though he will easily win a majority in this round, we get to vote on him yet again in November. What a great democracy–a majority gets to proclaim it wants its governor three times in just over a year!

(Side note: If you add the votes of a few other token self-identified Democrats running for governor to Newsom’s total, you get 58.4%.)

His opponent will be Brian Dahle, a not so well known very far-right and evidently anti-vax Republican from one of the state’s most rural districts, way up on the Oregon and Nevada borders; in fact, as far as most Californians are concerned, it might as well be Idaho. (He is interesting in that he serves in the state senate while his wife, Megan Dahle, serves in the state assembly, in the seat Brian formerly held. They are farmers, so I have kind of followed their careers.)

And then my ballot also included this contest.

That’s right, we have just two candidates. But, of course, this is a top two election, so they both have already qualified for the November ballot just by showing up! WHAT A STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM.

As you can guess from the candidates’ indicated occupations–why do we even let candidates list their occupation on the ballot?–and as you would know from the “Fruits” side of this blog, this is very much an agricultural district. Aguiar-Curry makes ag policy a key part of her legislative behavior (so I follow her career, too!). She has been a walnut grower for years. Walnuts are a major crop here, as are wine grapes, as well as almonds, tomatoes, corn, sunflower…. the list is long.

(Funny aside, B. Dahle derides Newsom as a “wine salesman” but here we have a Republican candidate who proudly lists “winemaker” as one of his occupations on the ballot. Wine is big business in this state!)

For this state assembly contest, I was tempted to vote for one now and the other in November. Just because. But instead I decided to vote for neither.

I have never left so many parts of a ballot blank. So many candidates (26 for Governor, 23 for the full term Senate seat), so few I cared enough to vote for. WHAT A STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM, and what a disappointing excuse for a democracy the California Republic has.

Ontario 2022

Ontario’s election on 2 June saw another Progressive Conservative seat majority on barely over 40% of the votes. The party, led by provincial Premier Doug Ford, barely increased its vote percentage from 2018, when it won 40.2%; this time the tally is about 40.8% (pending final count). Its vote total actually went down, because it was the lowest turnout in the province’s history. Yet it will have 83 of the 124 seats, whereas in the 2018 election it won 76.

For those keeping the stats, that would be a bare two-thirds majority (66.9%), and an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.64. That is very much on the high side, even by the standards of FPTP with multiparty systems.

The main shifts in vote percentages were among the two largest opposition parties. The Liberals improved from 19.4% to 23.9%. The payoff in seats was minimal: the party won 8 seats this time, 7 last time. The NDP performed especially badly, going from 33.3% of the vote in 2018 to 23.7%. However, even though the NDP’s votes are marginally behind the Liberals’, the NDP will continue to have more seats–a lot more–with 31 (down from 40 at the last election). Yes, FPTP in multiparty systems!

Ontario objectively needs to shift to a proportional system. It is not as if the province has not had the opportunity to do that before.

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!