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!

Australia 2022: When does a “group of independents” become a political party?

In Australia’s election several independent candidates have beaten incumbent members of the Liberal Party

“The so-called “teal independents”, named after the colours of their campaign materials, are candidates contesting in typically safe Liberal seats on a platform of greater climate action and implementing a federal integrity commission.

“These candidates were backed by a well-funded campaigning machine called Climate 200, which raised about $12 million from more than 11,000 donors.” (ABC)

Backed by a specific campaign organization and with agreed policy priorities—sounds almost party-like. And they may matter—almost like a party holding the balance of power—because it’s not clear whether Labor has won a majority in the House of Representatives. At the moment Labor sits on 72, with 76 needed for a majority, and counting to continue.

France’s toxic combo of institutions finally bites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alberta’s United Conservative Party leader says he stays in job to block “lunatics”

Quite a juicy report about the governing party of Alberta today. Premier and United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Jason Kenny has been recorded having told a caucus staff meeting that he does not need the job and could just walk away. However, he says the party is at risk of being taken over by conspiracy mongers and other fanatics, and he is trying to stop them. “I don’t say this stuff publicly, these are just kooky people generally,” he said, and “I will not let this mainstream conservative party become an agent for extreme, hateful, intolerant, bigoted and crazy views … the lunatics are trying to take over the asylum.”

The backstory is that the UCP is itself a merger of the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose, which is indeed a far-right “populist” and conspiracy-motivated group. This division on the right is what enabled the NDP to win government in 2015, but the two parties did not draw from the same voter pool and hence the merged party has always been a fraught marriage of convenience. The UCP has a leadership review coming up, which might cost Kenney the job he does not need but is fighting to keep. From the recording–released obviously by an opponent inside the staff–his remarks on party leadership fights make for amusing reading. From the above-linked CBC story:

At a normal convention, he says, “1,300 hungover [Progressive Conservatives] would wake up at a convention hotel on Saturday morning and they’d grab a coffee and they’d stumble in to cast a ballot in the leadership review. 

“And 15 or 20 per cent or so — the people that didn’t get the appointment, didn’t get the funding, or the premier didn’t send flowers on their birthday or whatever — they would come and vote against the leader. And then everything was fine. And if that was what I was dealing with, no problems. No problem. Normal internal politics I can handle. I can handle that. There’s nothing normal about this.”

The leadership review itself has been changed to mail-in, after the number of new registrants for party membership greatly exceeded the capacity of the hall the party had booked for the planned in-person vote.

Canada confidence-and-supply agreement, and irresponsible opposition

The Canadian government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have forged a confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democratic Party (NDP). Under the terms of the deal, set to run thorough June, 2025, the NDP publicly commits to supporting the Liberal minority cabinet on budget and confidence votes, in exchange for the government advancing some NDP policy priorities. Seven policy areas are mentioned in the agreement itself. One of the key priorities–in fact, the first item in the list–is a dental care program, which has been a campaign pledge of the NDP in recent elections. There are proposals for “making democracy work for people,” but in case anyone is wondering, no, electoral system reform is not on the list.

Predictably, figures within the opposition Conservative Party is decrying the “back room” deal (as if it were not public–it is on the official government website, after all–and as if bargaining processes themselves were ever productive when carried out in a “front room” of scrutiny). But two candidates vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party have gone well beyond normal criticism of such a deal or the policies it will lead to. Jean Charest accused the government of ignoring the results of the election and of embracing an “anti-democratic” ideology. Patrick Brown said “the will of Canadians has been subverted.” (There are several contenders for the leadership; the party has been with an interim leader since shortly after its 2021 election defeat. Among the contenders, Charest and Brown would actually be considered relatively moderate!)

These are irresponsible statements, and are playing on ignorance about how parliamentary democracy works. Quite contrary to Charest’s statement, the Liberal-NDP agreement is precisely how democracy should work. Canada has a parliamentary form of government (far superior to the presidential form, by the way). Governments must maintain the confidence of the majority of elected representatives. If no party has a majority on its own—something the Conservatives have managed to achieve just once since 1988–then inter-party agreements stabilize the government and facilitate passage of policies favored by parties representing a majority. 

As for “will of Canadians” most political scientists would caution that there is no such thing as a general will. What makes democracy work is accountability at the next election, and cooperation between elections. That is what this agreement is about.

I believe it is not the first such agreement in Canadian history, although it is the first of many minority governments in some time to have such an explicit agreement. Broadly, there are three options when an election in a parliamentary system does not result in one party attaining more than half the seats. (1) Two or more parties can form a coalition cabinet; (2) one party can govern alone with a public commitment from a support party (or parties) in parliament; or (3) one can govern alone and seek case-by-case support from various parliamentary parties on specific bills and on the annual budget. One could add other options, as well, such as act as if you are the majority and dare the opposition to combine and vote you out, or call an early election and try to win a majority. The latter is, of course, precisely what Trudeau attempted in 2021, and the result ended up being hardly any different from that of the 2019 election.

This agreement represents the second of those three main options. The NDP gets no cabinet seats, and thus it is not a coalition. The NDP commits specifically not to vote against the government on budget or no-confidence votes, while the Liberals agree to take up some NDP policies. Thus the Liberal Party does not have to worry about the NDP joining with other parties against it, nor do the Liberals have to attempt to please the Conservatives or Bloc Quebecois in order to gain support for legislation. Thus it is firmly in the category of public commitment between a minority government and a support party. (Like all coalition and confidence-supply agreements, it is not legally binding, and either side could elect to break it at any time.)

It is worth noting that the Seat Product Model expects no-majority situations to be a regular occurrence. Given the district magnitude (1) and assembly size (currently 338), we should expect the leading party to average around 48% of the seats. Over time, this is very close to what we have observed. Since 1997, the first year the House of Commons had over 300 seats, the mean seat share of the largest party has been 49%, and the median has been 47.3%. The Liberals currently hold 47.0%. Five of nine elections since that time have resulted in less than 50% of seats, while the others have returned majority governments. Over the entire period since 1949, eleven of twenty four elections have returned minority situations. So roughly half of elections result in no majority, which is about what we would expect from a seat product that predicts about half the seats, on average, for the largest party.

Canadian party elites and the public thus should have got used to the idea that a majority is not the natural outcome of an election. They should further get used to the idea that, as a result, parties might strike deals to enable minority government to be stable and successful at implementing policy. Yet the habits of majoritarianism die hard, especially when both the empirical record and the Seat Product Model show that majorities always are a likely outcome, even if not necessarily the most likely at any given election. The majoritarian habit is even harder for the Conservatives to kick, given that they currently have no viable partners, and if they form minority government, their best hopes are either case-by-case deals or provoking early elections and hoping vote splits among other parties and wedge issues allow you to get a majority (both of which were practices during Stephen Harper’s two minorities before winning a majority in 2011). If the consecutive elections with similar results in 2019 and 2021 have convinced at least some party elites that a more consensual style is needed, it would mark an advance for Canadian democracy. But not an advance the Conservatives are going to find it easy to reconcile themselves to. Hence their resort to claiming inter-party cooperation is an illegitimate and anti-democratic practice, when that could hardly be farther from the truth.

Will Macron lose his assembly majority?

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

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

Rp=1.20–0.725E,

where Rp is the “presidential vote ratio”– vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own vote share (in the first round, if two-round system)–and E is the elapsed time (the number of months into the presidential inter-electoral period in which the assembly election takes place, divided by the total months comprising that period).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The invasion of Ukraine

My field is not international relations/security nor is it Russian or East European affairs. So I won’t say a lot, or pretend to be speaking from expertise. I will speak more personally. It has been quite some time since an international event has upset and shocked me as much as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

While I did not believe Putin was bluffing, I was not prepared for such a massive assault on positions all around the country. I guess I was in denial, as the leaked intelligence reports of the week before suggested it could be a really extensive attack.

It is an unprovoked aggression. I would say more unprovoked and more dangerous than any of the other invasions of sovereign states that we’ve seen in many decades. But, again, this is not my speciality. And Putin will get away with it because…. well, because no one with the means to stop him will try. And trying could be… risky. It is just a deeply depressing situation, and feels like a real shift in the international order, whatever that means.

Photos with this post were taken by me in 2005, on one of the most meaningful and interesting foreign travel experiences I have ever had.

Costa Rica 2022: Continued high fragmentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portugal 2022–unexpected majority, but not that rare (for Portugal)

The majority of seats obtained by the Socialist Party (PS) in the recent general election in Portugal was seen as a surprise. Polling generally had not shown a majority as within reach and indeed showed a likely close result. However, Portugal has had relatively frequent parliamentary majorities over the years, despite its proportional representation (PR) system. How unusual was the 2022 outcome?

From 1976 to 2019, the mean seat share for the largest party in Portugal has been 0.478–not a majority, but pretty close. In this election the PS obtained 117 of 230 seats, which is 0.509. (The total includes the four seats for Portuguese abroad.) This is the fifth absolute majority won in 16 Portuguese assembly elections since 1976. Thus in terms of Portugal’s electoral history, the result was not so unusual. How unusual is it relative to what is expected from Portugal’s PR system?

Portugal’s electoral system has a seat product of around 2400. This is a modest seat product by standards of proportional representation, stemming from a moderate assembly size, S (currently 230; 250 before 1991), and a middle-range district magnitude, M (currently 10.5 on average), yielding a seat product, MS=2415. For such a seat product, the expected largest party seat share is 0.378, derived from the formula expecting this share to be (MS)–1/8. Thus Portugal’s actual largest party seat share has averaged 1.26 times the seat product model prediction.1 This indicates that while Portugal’s electoral system is not expected to produce a high degree of fragmentation (38% of the seats is a decent sized largest party2), actual Portuguese politics supports a more de-fragmented party system–at least so far–than what its electoral system could sustain.

As for votes, the associated formula of the seat product model implies we should expect the largest to have 35.4% of the votes, but the average has been 41.8% instead. In this election the PS won 41.7%. So, whatever people expected, it was a pretty ordinary voting result by the standard of Portuguese electoral history. There was a somewhat higher boost for the largest party, however, than the norm. The average advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) has been 1.14; in this election it was 1.22. I would guess that this larger seat bonus for the largest party comes in significant part from the main rival for national power, the Social Democrats (PSD, actually a center-right party) losing votes to a farther right-wing/nationalist party, CHEGA. The latter party was the big gainer in votes and seats in the election, as it had only one seat from 2019 but won 12 in this election. However, it had a very low advantage ratio, with its 5.31% of seats coming on 7.15% of votes, for a ratio of 0.74. Its votes thus did not translate efficiently into seats, which may have helped the PS harvest more seats than normally would be the case for a party with just over 41% of the votes given Portuguese electoral laws.3

Notes

  1. The mean actual largest party seat share in a sample of 634 simple electoral systems is only 1.048 times the model prediction; for PR systems the model is even better, with a ratio of 1.033. So a ratio of 1.26 indicates a strong degree of politics being needed in addition to institutions to explain an outcome. Less than a quarter of PR elections have ratios that high or higher.
  2. The mean largest party seat share for the sample of 280 PR elections in parliamentary (or semi-presidential) democracies that I am working with happens to be 38.2%.
  3. Relative punishment of smaller parties is an inherent feature of the system’s moderate seat product. For instance, in this election the significantly smaller Liberal Initiative won 3.5% of seats on just under 5% of votes. The wasted votes by smaller parties have to go somewhere; given that Portugal uses the D’Hondt formula, the result will tend to be generally more favorable to the largest party than it would be with other PR formulas, for a given seat product. (This is not unusual; more than two thirds of all simple PR systems use D’Hondt.) Still, for a party in its range of vote percentage, CHEGA’s advantage ratio is quite low. For instance, in 2019, the Left Bloc and Unitary Democratic Coalition, with 9.5% and 6.3% of votes, respectively, had advantage ratios of 0.86 and 0.82. So CHEGA must have had an unusually inefficient geographic spread for a party of its approximate size. Indeed, skimming the table the Wikipedia page offers for district-level results, it is easy to spot districts where CHEGA received above its nationwide vote share yet won no seats. As a final note on CHEGA, I will add that its single seat in 2019 was won in Lisbon, where the district magnitude is 48, on 2% of the vote.