As discussed in a previous thread, the new Israeli government is based on an agreement that includes a commitment to raise the electoral threshold from 2% to 4%. What impact might this have?
In a working paper (of which I will become co-author), Taagepera has developed a logical model that suggests the number of parties (of any size) should be about the inverse square root of the threshold (expressed in fractional terms, not percent). The models fits a range of established countries quite well.
At 4%, that means five parties.
The problem is that Israel already has far “too many” parties for its existing threshold. At 2%, the country “should have” seven parties. In the most recent election, twelve parties (or, rather, lists) won seats. That’s about one and two thirds more than expected. So maybe raising the threshold to 4% would reduce the number of parties in the Knesset to about eight. Coincidentally (or maybe not), that would be a reduction by precisely the number of parties that won more than 2%, but less than 4%, of the vote in the most recent election.
I had missed most of the following discussion earlier, and as it occurred in a thread on Lower Saxony, it could easily have been missed by others as well.
I am going to reproduce two comments that describe interesting ideas for coping with thresholds.
there’s no reason you couldn’t make thresholds less discontinuous, by combining them with preferential votes.
The mechanics would be a tweaked STV, with the following differences:
1. Because of large district magnitude, a full preferential vote for all candidates would be impractical. Instead voters would list parties in order of preference, with the intraparty order being fixed as in List-PR.
2. To effect a threshold of T seats, a party would not be awarded its first seat until it has accumulated T quotas.
Vasi, that sounds essentially like the NSW Legislative Council electoral system.
The election is by STV, with 21 vacancies at an election. One has the option of either voting below the line, by ranking at least 15 candidates, or voting above the line, by voting for one or more party tickets. Unlike federal Senate elections, voting for a party’s ticket does not result in a vote for a preset preference ranking of every candidate; instead, it only ranks the candidates of that party, in the order they appear on the ballot paper. Voters have the option of marking multiple parties above the line, unlike federal Senate elections. So, for instance, the Labor how-to-vote cards in the last election suggested that their supporters vote 1 Labor, 2 Greens above the line. That means they essentially ranked every Labor candidate, followed by every Greens candidate, and if all of them are elected or excluded, their ballot is exhausted.
The Australian group voting ticket essentially operates like closed-list PR, with the exception of in very large elections. The NSW Legislative Council used to use the same ticket style system that the federal Senate uses, but after the 1999 election resulted in a ballot paper the size of a tablecloth (almost 1 sq. m), and a candidate from the “Outdoor Recreation Party” got elected with 8,000 first preference votes (something like 5% of a quota), they changed the group-ticket system to the single party ticket system now in place.
Stephane Dion, the former Leader of the Official Opposition in Canada, also is advocating a version of party-preferential voting. though in ridings which would be only 3-5 seats (1 seat by AV in the territories). In a 4-seat riding, the threshold would be 25% + 1 vote. If all remaining parties are above the threshold, seats are awarded to them by largest remainder (I believe). If there are any parties remaining below the threshold, the party with the least votes is eliminated and their supporters votes transferred to their highest remaining preference. His system is OLPR, with each voter able to cast a preference vote for one candidate of his first-preference party.
I think the most proportional system possible would be party-preferential with a low threshold and a large district magnitude (the most proportional would obviously be a single national district). You could either exclude parties one-by-one (hopefully with block exclusions) until every party remaining was above the threshold, then distribute seats. Otherwise you could simply exclude all parties below the threshold and distribute their voters’ preferences to remaining parties. It avoids the huge numbers of voters wasting their votes by being below the thresold; for instance, even with a relatively low threshold of 3%, 19% of the valid votes in the May 2012 Greek election were cast for parties below the threshold. In this system, the only voters who do not have either a first preference or a transfer vote elect an MP are those who deliberately choose not to rank any parties that make it into parliament.
I also think a novel way to build a stronger government while remaining representative of votes would be to use preferential ballots, but with multiple thresholds. In a 120 seat legislature, 60 seats could be awarded to those parties above 2%, with voters below the threshold transferring to their highest placed remaining party. Then a further 30 seats could be given to those parties above 5% (including transferred votes), then a further 20 seats to those parties above 10%, and then the final 10 seats to the party which wins a majority by transfers. This means that even voters who vote below the threshold are represented, and parties with a decent amount of support have representatives in parliament, just not proportionally to their first-preference votes. You also get larger parties at the top, making a stable government more likely, but unlike supplemental member, or the Italian/Greek plurality-winner top up system, the larger bloc is distributed based on all voters’ preferences, retaining a much larger degree of proportionality than other semi-proportional systems.
I am not necessarily endorsing this concept, although I do find it very interesting. I would be interested in further discussion.
The thread has a lot of other interesting comments on the relationship of thresholds to democratic theory (particularly the last several comments posted as of 4 February). I re-posted the two comments above simply because they refer to proposals for an alternative way of coping with thresholds in electoral-system design.
The question of party and voter strategy in PR systems with legal thresholds has received less attention from analysts of electoral systems than it deserves.1 The impact on a party’s fortunes of individual candidates who are too low on a closed list to be elected also receives too little attention.
Here are two examples, which I offer as small correctives to these deficiencies, from the current Israeli campaign. Both are based on interviews I heard on IBA News (broadcast on World Harvest TV).
Kadima, which was the largest party in the 2009 election, but went into opposition rather than make a deal with the ultra-orthodox parties, is fighting for its life in this campaign. In 2012, the party dumped its leader, Tzipi Livni, who then announced her retirement from politics. However, once this election was called, Livni unretired and set up her own party, called Tnua (Movement). My examples come from each of these parties.
Today’s election for the state assembly of Lower Saxony, Germany, was considered too close to call as polls closed. It is regarded as one of Germany’s most important bellwethers, given the state’s large size and that its election is occurring several months before a federal election.
The state’s incumbent government mirrors the federal: a coalition of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The latter party has had a string of bad results in state elections, and many pre-election polls suggested it might not pass the 5% threshold in today’s election. If it did not, the Christian Democrats (CDU) would not be able to govern except in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).
However, exit polls suggest the FDP has reached 9%:
Its gain was attributed to the CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament — a precondition for him remaining in office.
Pre-election polls had put the CDU at 42% or higher, but all those threshold-surpassing list votes for the FDP had to come from somewhere. As a result, the CDU is down to 36%, according to the exit polls.
As for the SPD, its former federal chancellor (PM), Gerhard Schröder was shown on DW-TV campaigning directly on the promise of an SPD-Green coalition. He said (paraphrasing from the translation on DW English): voters know the SPD and Greens served them well when we governed before, because the SPD took care of jobs, while the Greens took care of the environment”.
The SPD is on 32% and the Greens on 13.5%. Thus the two opposing combines have almost the same combined vote totals. Both the Left and Pirates are below 5%.1
The campaign signs, photographed from the DW Journal (aired in the USA by Link TV), are interesting. Note how the CDU and SPD both emphasize their leaders, while the FDP and Greens explicitly call for list votes (Zweitstimme, or “second votes”) in the state’s two-vote mixed-member proportional system.
I had seen some polling that had the Left well above the threshold; maybe there was some tactical voting there, too, by soft Left voters who feared voting for the Left would only increase the odds of a grand coalition, given that SPD-Green-Left post-electoral cooperation would have been unlikely. [↩]
The final report from the official review of New Zealand’s Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system is now posted [PDF].
I have not yet digested the entire report, but the highlights of the recommendations are: dual candidacy OK, closed lists OK, dump the one-seat threshold, lower list-vote threshold to 4%, consider fixed 60:40 ratio of electorate to list seats. If one-seat threshold abolished, also get rid of overhang provision.
All good, though I’m not sure about that last one. The report says, on p.8:
Abolishing the one electorate seat threshold would increase the chances of significant numbers of overhang seats being generated by parties that win electorate seats but do not cross the party vote threshold. Therefore, if the one electorate seat threshold is abolished, we also recommend the provision for overhang seats be abolished. Parties that win electorate seats would keep those seats. However, the size of Parliament would remain at 120 seats because no extra list seats would be allocated. This would have minimal impact on the proportionality of Parliament.
I suspect most of the voting for small-party candidates in single-seat districts (electorates) is motivated by the possibility that said party would win more than this one seat, if it had a party vote sufficient for two or more seats (but less than 5% of the vote). Without the district win granting it a chance at list seats, there is usually little incentive to vote for such a party. An exception would be the Maori Party, which is able to win several of these seats even while getting few list votes. And it is this (very big) exception that calls into question the Commission’s claim of a minimal effect of their recommendation on proportionality. Without adding seats to parliament to (partially) compensate other parties for the party that is overrepresented due to district wins, it would seem that there would be considerable potential for increased disproportionality.
As Turkey prepares for a parliamentary election, triggered by the deadlock over the attempted election of a president by the current parliament, the parties turn their attention to the mobilization of voters. I have noted before that the current AKP majority is based on barely over a third of the votes. It counts as one of the largest manufactured majorities anywhere in recent decades. Not only does the ruling party enjoy a majority on far less than half the votes, it also is barely short of two thirds of the seats. Many electoral systems distort the votes-to-seats conversion process in favor of the plurality. However, most of those that do so are FPTP systems. For instance, the British Labour Party currently enjoys a comfortable majority of seats on only around 35% of the votes.
Whatever one’s position on the question of the desirability of close approximation of partisan vote and seat shares (and even the most casual glance at F&V makes clear my own position on that question), such overrepresentation is much more easily justified on democratic grounds when the electoral system is nominal in character, as is FPTP. In a nominal system, voters are choosing a legislator in a local district and, no matter how strong the normal party discipline in Westminster-type parliamentary systems, the representation of parties in parliament remains fundamentally centered around locally accountable individual members of parliament.
In Turkey, however, as we shall see, even local accountability is limited. Not only is the electoral system one of (apparently closed) party lists, rather than nominal votes for locally elected and accountable members. More significantly, it has a very high national threshold, notwithstanding the existence of numerous regional multiseat districts.
Additionally, a nationwide threshold can introduce disproportionality, but it has the potential advantage of ensuring that parliamentary blocs meet a minimum size, while ensuring that all parties that cross the threshold are treated fairly. Most list-based electoral systems with nationwide thresholds result in each represented party having about the same advantage ratio (% seats/% votes) as every other. We can expect voters and politicians alike to adapt to such thresholds, with the result that strategic entry (of parties) and strategic voting kick in, and few parties just fail to meet the threshold. Instead of strategic voting district-by-district, as occurs in FPTP systems, it is strategic voting based on expected national party vote shares. That’s perfectly consistent with the competing-parties logic of list systems.
Turkey’s electoral system really has the worst of all of these provisions. On the one hand, manufactured majorities, but without the local and individual accountability of members. On the other hand, a nationwide threshold, but in the context of exclusively district-based allocation of seats. Unlike many two-tier proportional systems, in which seats are allocated first at a local multiseat district, and the threshold is applied to national (or regional) compensation seats after the local results are known, in Turkey the nationwide threshold is applied first.
The Turkish system has local competition in self-contained districts–79 of them in all (for an average magnitude of around 7)–but the seats in these races are allocated only after the nationwide votes are tabulated and it is determined which parties have cleared the nationwide threshold. And that threshold is high, at 10%. This is the highest threshold I have ever seen, but I want to keep the stress here not on the absolute magnitude of the threshold (significant though that is), but on its unusual application in a way that overrides the local accountability otherwise implied by a system based on medium-sized local districts.1
This is a genuinely perverse system. It often results in districts being represented only by the parties that placed third and fourth, simply because the leading parties in the district did not have 10% of the national vote. For instance, in Afyon, the AKP won 6 of the 7 seats on 42.6% of the vote. The seventh seat was won by a party with only the fourth highest local vote total. With a more typical d’Hondt PR allocation of the seats, the AK would have won four seats, and each of three other parties would have won one each.
Or take Agri, where the AKP won three of five seats on a mere 17.6% of the vote. The leading party in the district, the DHP, had 35% of the vote, yet won no seats. Two seats were won by the CHP, despite its having only 9.6% of the vote. The DHP was similarly shortchanged in Van, where it won 40.9% of the votes but no seats, while the AKP won 6 of the 7 seats on only 25.8% and the fourth-place CHP the other seat on just 5.2%.
In Ardahan, the AKP had the fourth highest vote total (11.7%), yet won one of the two seats, while parties with 18% and 15.8% went without representation.
The Turkish electoral law allows legislators to be elected on local strength if the candidate runs as an independent. The district of Sirnak offers a good demonstration of the impact of this provision. There, one independent was elected with just over 10,000 votes (9.7%), while a party with just over 1,500 more votes than the independent won no seats. Oh, and incidentally, another party had over 47,000 votes and elected no one. (In this district, the AKP won two seats on 14,512 votes.) The Sirnak example gave rise to a case before the European Court of Human Rights.
Earlier this year, the Court ruled that the Turkish electoral law was not in violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights.2 Two candidates had alleged that the 10% threshold’s exclusion of parties who won more votes locally than other parties or independents who won seats “interfered with the free expression of the opinion of the people in their choice of the legislature.”
Whether it is a human rights violation or not, the exclusion of all votes cast for parties that fail to cross the nationwide threshold obviously lowers significantly the threshold at the district level for non-party candidates. Another example, the district of Sanliufra, is perhaps even more egregious. There an independent won with only 4.4% of the district vote while three parties with more than 10% (including one with more than 19%) went unrepresented. (Three seats in Sanliufra were won by the CHP on 9.9%.)
The low threshold for independents makes me wonder why more candidates do not run as independents, clandestinely backed by locally strong parties that might not pass the threshold. (I assume there are privileges in the electoral law for registered parties that discourage the practice.)3
Turkey’s electoral results clearly show a pattern of significant regional variation in the vote. As in many developing countries, national fragmentation masks considerable local bailiwicks of strong support for nationally minor parties. Yet the electoral system completely fails to represent this reality of Turkish regionalism.
Is the Turkish electoral system democratic? I think a strong case can be made that it is not.
1. It is actually a good deal more complex. From the IPU description, we find that there are several restrictions on parties:
Party-list proportional representation system using the d’Hondt method, with restricted options and a double barrier (at the local and national level). Accordingly, a candidate from a political party can only be elected if the party (a) is fully organized in at least half of the provinces and one- third of the districts within these provinces; (b) has nominated two candidates for each parliamentary seat in at least half of the provinces; (c) has obtained at least 10% of the valid votes cast nationwide; and (d) has received, in the constituency in question, valid votes at least equal to the applicable simple electoral quotient. Subject to certain conditions and exceptions, vacancies arising between general elections are filled through by-elections. Voting is compulsory, abstention being punishable by a fine. [Emphasis mine]
3. In addition, it appears that it may simply be difficult for independents to obtain votes. A story in the IHT sent to me by one of my students, notes that independent candidates must pass out their own ballots. Apparently, the official state-provided ballots list only the parties. The story actually gives the impression that this makes it easier for independents. I don’t think so (and neither does my student). Maybe for a very well organized campaign, but otherwise, it has to be easier for a voter to obtain the official ballot and select one of the options already depicted on it. Besides, if the provision made it easier, we would expect to see many more independents, because running as an independent bypasses the risk that one’s party might not clear 10% nationally. (And, again, there is also the possibility that there are other legal provisions that give incentives to run as a party, such as campaign finance or the allocation of parliamentary rights.)
The September, 2007, parliamentary elections in Morocco are likely to be held under a new electoral law. In July, the government submitted a bill that to impose two higher thresholds against smaller parties compared to the current law:
(1) Parties that won under 3% of the vote in the 2002 elections would lose their right to compete in the 2007 election, unless they could submit a petition signed by at least 100 people for each candidate on their party list; and
(2) The threshold for representation in the parliament would be raised from 3% to 7% of the votes in 2007.
The bill was submitted by the government in July and approved by parliament’s Interior, Decentralization and Infrastructures Committee in late November. Under pressure from opposition parties, including the Islamist Justice and Charity group (Al Adl wal Ihsan), parliament amended the bill. Nabil Benabdallah, minister of communications and official spokesman for the Moroccan government, told Al-Hayat that:
the parliament endorsed a new election law that forgoes the three per cent threshold, requires that 100 signatures be obtained from each constituency containing 50,000 to 60,000 voters, and lowers the seven per cent requirement to six per cent.
Benabdallah also claimed that the law “was drafted by political parties in Morocco and not by the state,” and noted that “election laws spark disputes in all democratic countries.” Apparently, final approval is still pending and opposition parties continue to protest the government’s plans.
The electoral system evidently is districted list PR of some form, and the seat-allocation process and districts from 2002 are unchanged in the draft bill. The Islamist party is currently represented by 40 deputies (out of 325) and is expected to do much better in the upcoming elections, possibly even a majority.
Sources: Arab Reform Bulletin and 24 November and 23 December reports from Global News Wire – Asia Africa Intelligence Wire via BBC Monitoring International Reports (accessed through LexisNexis). The quotations come from the latter item.
Just a heads up for those interested in this topic: There is a discussion of thresholds in PR (including MMP) systems ongoing at the propagation bench of my earlier planting on “Tail and Dog in PR.” Start with seed #2, and start scrolling.
Thanks, as always, to those who actually take the trouble to make this blog interesting!
Their Czech counterpart never did make into parliament (those pesky high thresholds again), but at least they rehabilitated one of Prague’s finest pubs. From As Think Magazine describes it:
At no. 2, right at the bottom of the street, is U Kocoura (House at The Cat). A rarity in this area, this pub makes no attempts to make itself into a magnet for passers-by. No tri-lingual menus, no welcoming hostess, no nothing. Just a few tables covered with dirty table cloths, 22,5Kc for a half litre of Budvar, and a big picture of Garfield on the right hand wall.
The double doors are opened when it’s warm, and the atmosphere is airy and relaxed. It used to be (and maybe still is) owned by (Pratele piva) The Friends of Beer, a former political party…
Yes, former political party. Sigh. And they still own the pub, as far as I know. But I have to admit I have not been to U Kocoura in my last two visits to Prague, having been just a little disappointed that the Friends of Beer changed their pub’s tie from Pilsner Urquell to Budvar and prettied the place up a little too much for a real Czech pub experience. Oh, a topic for a future post…
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4