The world’s longest-ruling democratically elected Communist parties have been voted out of office as results of four key Indian state legislative elections were released today.
As has been widely anticipated since at least the dust-up in the central government over the Left Front’s resistance to the Indo-US nuclear agreement, the West Bengal result shows a crushing defeat in the Left’s most important stronghold. In the 2009 national Lok Sabha (parliament) elections, an alliance headed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) dominated the state. In 2009, as well as in these state elections, the TMC was in a pre-electoral alliance with the federal ruling party, the Indian National Congress (INC). TMC’s leader, Mamata Banerjee, is the federal Railways Minister in the coalition cabinet of the INC-led United Progressive Alliance.
The TMC-INC alliance has won 226 seats out of 294. The TMC itself won 184. The various parties of the Left Front, which has ruled the state for 34 years, will have only 60.
In Kerala, another long-time Left stronghold in the southwest, the result was close between the United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the INC, and the Left Democratic Front. Projections of seats kept swinging between the two fronts, but in the end the UDF emerged with 72 seats out of 140. Of these 72, the INC will have 38 and the Kerala Muslim League 20. (Several smaller pre-poll allies split the rest.) The Communist Party of India (Marxist)1 will have the most seats in the Kerala assembly of any single party, 45, but it does not matter, given that the pre-poll UDF won a majority.
Another southern state, Tamil Nadu, saw a setback for Congress, as one of the main Dravidian parties displaced the other. The AIADMK and its pre-poll allies (which include left parties as junior partners) defeated the Congress-allied DMK. The outgoing government was a DMK minority cabinet, backed by the INC.
In Assam, in the northeast, Congress scored a big reelection victory. It will have 76 of the assembly’s 126 seats. The opposition regional party, Asam Gana Parishad (AGP), and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were unable to conclude a pre-poll alliance to challenge the INC.
The run-up to the elections saw some interesting brinksmanship between the INC and its allies. The AIADMK and, especially the TMC, held out for many more districts than the INC was initially willing to concede. Because these are pre-electoral alliances to contest single-seat districts (decided by FPTP), the key to how many seats each alliance partner wins lies in how many winnable districts it gets to contest. The TMC forced the INC to back down, leaving the latter with far fewer seats than it originally demanded as a bottom line, and thereby underscoring how dependent the INC is on its state-based partners. In the dealing, however, the TMC had to trade off an attempt to expand its base of operation further into neighboring Assam.2
The Congress Party seems to be steadily rebuilding its strength in recent years, but it remains reliant on regional parties to do so in some key states. Its main rival for power nationally, the BJP, was scarcely a factor in these states (other than contributing to vote-splitting in Assam).
All eyes have already shifted to the next huge prize, Uttar Pradesh, which has state elections next year. Neither Congress nor the BJP currently has much a foothold there, and the main competition is between two state parties that have declined to join national alliances. The intrigue is already getting intense, with protests and counter-protests over state government land acquisition for development projects,3 and Rahul Gandhi’s midnight ride.
Yes, that is it’s name; the parenthetical term being needed to distinguish it from various other Communist Parties in India that perhaps are not Marxist enough, in some folks’ eyes. [↩]
Like many an Indian regional party, TMC harbors aspirations of becoming a “national” party; in fact, its full name is the All-India Trinamool Congress. Similarly, the “AI” in the AIADMK name in Tamil Nadu also means “All India.” [↩]
Similar conflicts fueled the TNC-INC opposition to the Left in West Bengal [↩]
I highly recommend a post by Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Stephen Crone of Democratic Audit, writing at the LSE blog, on trends in British opinion regarding proportionality.
A short summary would be that public support for the principles of proportionality or “fairness” vs. “effective government” has been quite stable over the past three decades. However, results of polls that specifically reference a possible shift to a PR system have been more volatile. There was a sharp, but temporary, uptick in support for a PR system according to polling in 2009, yet in 2010 there was a sharp increase in opposition to PR.
In other words, while underlying democratic values may not have changed, the public has become more polarized about the issue of adopting of a proportional representation system.
It has been an interesting week for election-watchers, especially those of us interested in the dynamics of competition in single-seat districts. Canada had its election, with historic shifts in voting patterns, on Monday. Tomorrow the UK votes on whether to retain FPTP or move to the Alternative Vote (AV). And, just to make things even more interesting, voters in parts of the UK–Scotland and Wales–will be voting in MMP elections tomorrow as well. 1 Quite a week–and tomorrow is quite a day–for electoral systems!
Here I will offer some observations about why I do not like either FPTP or AV (except from a researcher’s standpoint, for which they are terrific!)
The problem with FPTP is that it is fundamentally a system to elect a local representative in a world in which–at least for Canada and the UK–a general election is mostly a contest among national parties. That’s fine if there are just two parties of any significance. You still get the tension between hundreds of local contests and the clash of national parties. But if most districts are two-party contests, notwithstanding some number of “safe” seats for one party or the other, the system works, on its own terms: A series of local playings of the national contest between government and alternative government.
However, decades ago in Canada and the UK, the voters (and the party elites) largely stopped playing this game. Third parties have become more and more significant, and not only regionally. There seems to be a widespread view, even in the academy, that national multipartism masks local two-partism–that most districts feature two “serious” candidates, just not necessarily the same two in all parts of the country. That may have been true at one time, but it ceased being so some time ago. Now many British and Canadian districts feature a strong third party, and can be won with barely a third of the vote. Or even less. Canada’s election could be a step back to a more two-party pattern, given the collapse of the Bloc and the poor performance of the Liberals, but the latter may well be back. So it is far too early to say.
Sometimes voters in a given district even “tacitly” coordinate to send a minor party to parliament, not because it is best positioned to represent the specifically local interests of the district’s voters, but because the small party has invested in winning this one district that happens to have a demographic base consisting of the type of voters the party appeals to. I am thinking especially of Elizabeth May’s move across Canada to Saanich and Gulf Islands, which she won for a Green party that invested everything there. Caroline Lucas and the UK Greens last year are another such case, although Lucas at least had represented the same locale in other offices previously. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with this strategy and outcome. Not at all! It just is another piece of evidence that voters and elites not playing the FPTP game.2 The contest in such a district becomes not about local representation, per se, nor about voting for the current or a potential governing party, but about voting for a fringe national party.
Then there is the whole micro-targeting strategy. To the extent that a party tailors its message to ever-smaller subsets of its constituency in swing districts, it, too, is not playing the FPTP game as we (used to) know it. It ceases to be a national campaign, speaking to broad swaths of citizens collectively, and becomes instead a disaggregated message to relatively small blocs of voters who just happen to live in swing districts. Again, not necessarily about local concerns, per se, but about ever-narrower demographic slices.
OK, so British voters can put a stop to all of this by voting for AV, right? Not so fast.
The best argument that the pro-AV camp in this referendum seems to have come up with is that your MP will “work harder” and will have to earn a majority of the district’s voters. I assume MPs tend to work pretty hard as it is, and to the extent that many of them already are pretty close to the median voter in their district (even when winning 40% or less), it is not clear that they have to work any harder under AV. Moreover, given that the proposed version of AV for the UK would allow voters to give only one or as few preferences as they wish,3it is simply not true that the system will guarantee endorsement of every MP by a majority of voters.
Fundamentally, it seems that the argument for AV in an existing FPTP system where two-party competition is no longer the norm is a reactionary one.4 It puts the emphasis back on who wins the district and by what share of the vote. Yet FPTP parliamentary democracies have mostly gone well beyond that, as I started out with in my overview of the problem with FPTP.5 If significant percentages of voters are routinely voting for parties that have little hope of winning their district, but instead will be a clear third or fourth place finisher, it says they don’t really care about who represents the district. They care about national politics. And the two Green examples mentioned above suggest voters are capable of coordinating when what they care about national politics is electing a nationally small party with what are perceived to be fresh ideas. In neither case is AV necessary, and in the main, it’s not helpful if it is trying to put the genie back in the bottle and return to the good old days of majority winners in each district (as a presumed ideal).
And I would think that AV would be a micro-targeters dream. (Is there evidence for that in Australia, or am I out of line here?)
My take on AV would be different if the system could make a large difference in the way national politics works. And in style maybe it would do so, although I suspect that claims about reducing negative campaigning are exaggerated. (Candidates still have an incentive to see that certain contenders are eliminated from the count before others.) Fundamentally, most UK elections would have had the same basic shape of partisan forces in parliament with AV as they had under FPTP. So you get a reactionary effect at the district level without a clear corresponding progressive effect at the national level.
I guess it is clear how I’d be voting tomorrow if I had the privilege. Not because I like the status quo. And not because the political scientist in me wouldn’t love to see how AV would work if adopted in the UK context. But because I am not convinced AV is a real improvement on FPTP.
If FPTP is broken, as I believe it is in the UK (and arguably Canada, even if less this week than it seemed before), the only solution worth the effort is MMP or STV or another proportional system. If only the voters could have the chance to plump for PR…
Plus voting for many English local councls; are these all FPTP? There could have also been STV races on tap, in Scottish municipalities, but these are no longer concurrent with the Scottish Parliament elections. [↩]
If enough of this sort of thing happens to subvert FPTP, it’s fine by me! [↩]
Which is fine; I do not like the Australian requirement to rank every candidate. [↩]
But not in the horrifically specious way that William Hague and Margaret Beckett claim in a cross-party no-on-AV article in The Telegraph: that it would take Britain back to the days of the rotten borough by undermining one person, one vote. [↩]
India, the largest FPTP parliamentary democracy by far, is at least partially an exception to this point. More to come on that, as Indian district patterns are an ongoing research topic of mine. [↩]
What if we had a FPTP parliamentary system in which there were three national parties, and their vote percentages in any given election were:
We would have to call that fairly typical FPTP stuff. Not your ideal Duvergerian pattern, to be sure, but nothing remarkable in the real world of FPTP elections. Now let’s suppose their seat percentages were:
Pretty unremarkable, too, right?
Yes and no. On the one hand, this is what we should expect with FPTP: the two biggest parties with higher percentages of seats than votes, and the third party with significantly lower seats than votes.
Of the 211 FPTP elections in my database, there are 23 in which the largest party won from 38% to 42% of the vote (regardless of other parties’ percentages and excluding four plurality reversals). Of those 23 elections,* what’s the average seat percentage for the largest party? 54.35%. (The median is 52.63%, and the range is 36.15% to 69.09%.) So a large party winning around 40% of the votes and 54% of the seats is totally unremarkable.
Yet in another sense, the largest party in this Canadian election, the Conservatives, is under-represented–relative to a norm of FPTP expectations. Here I am speaking of the expectation set by the seat-vote equation,** which takes a distribution of the top three parties (plus “others”) and computes a “normal” output of seats for a given voting population and assembly size. Here is what the seat-vote equation thinks the seat distribution should look like, given the actual vote percentages:
We’ll call that 1 “other” seat the Green winner, given that the Greens indeed did win their first elected seat. The seat-vote equation does not do well with regional parties. Fortunately for the equation, the regional party in this election almost disappeared (4 seats for the BQ, down from 50).
So the Liberals did quite a bit better than can be expected for the national third party. As a result, the Conservatives are under-represented, relative to FPTP “norm,” with 18 fewer seats than the equation’s estimate.
For all those who think the Liberals’ run as a viable party is over, be cautious. The British experience tells us that a Liberal party can survive for a good long time between the big parties of left and right. The party’s over-shooting of the seat-vote equation estimate underscores the extent to which it retains an efficient regional distribution on which it could build to win back seats in the future. In percentage terms, it is about where the British Liberal Democrats are in seats. This is a big shift, to be sure, but it is premature to write the party off, or to assume it will merge with the NDP.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether the NDP can survive as a major national left-wing party; first it will have to reconcile its now dominant Quebec wing with the NDP constituencies in the rest of the country. If it can’t, the Liberals will resume relevance, whether or not they surge back to “major party” status again anytime soon.
For all those advocates of proportional representation in Canada, this election is bad news. The first past the post system functioned about as expected, notwithstanding the under-inflation of the governing party’s plurality.
* The elections are: BC 1963, BC 1972, BC 1991, CA 1963, CA 1965, CA 1972, CA 1993, CA 1997, CA 2000 (the last majority government in Canada before this election), MB 1986, MB 1988, NS 1999, NS 2006, ON 1977, QC 1976, SK 1975, UK 1975, UK 1992, UK 2001, IN 1967, IN 1977, IN 1989.
** For details, click the words, seat-vote equation in the “Planted in” line above. There was an entry on election day applying the equation to the EKOS final projection, and many previous entries applying it to various past elections.
First it seemed boring. Canada was sleepwalking to yet another Conservative minority, with hardly any change in the four represented parties’ seat totals. Then it got exciting. The NDP was surging, and there was talk of Prime Minister Layton, winning a majority with the backing the remnant of the Liberals, joining to defeat outgoing PM Harper’s Throne Speech.
Then they had the election. Boring. Just another two-and-a-half (or should that be two-and-a-third?) party system under FPTP. Positively British, or at least the way Britain used to be. Two big parties, one of the left, the other of the right, one of which has a comfortable majority. Plus a small third liberal party squeezed between the big two. A few scattered “others.”
The pollsters and prognosticators generally got the NDP right: around 30% of the votes and 100 seats seemed to be the consensus. However, they missed the extent of the Liberal-Conservative swing. The Tories won almost 40% of the vote, when more like 35% was expected. The Liberals failed to make it to 20%. More importantly, the Conservatives will have 167 seats, when most projections had them in the 145-150 range (where 155 is a majority). The Liberals are reduced to just 34 seats, the Bloc Quebecois to 4 (yes, four). The Greens picked up their first seat. (See overall results at CBC.)
I have hesitated until now to run the seat-vote equation on the polls for Canada’s current election, because the campaign has been so unpredictable and regional and riding-level factors are likely to be decisive. Then again, maybe this is Canada’s most nationalized election in two decades or so…
(Most other vote projections do not differ much from this.)
Disclaimer and background: The seat-vote equation is NOT a seat predictor. This is not a “projection”; you can find those elsewhere. The seat-vote equation simply tells us what the main parties’ seat totals “should have been” for a given votes distribution, based on “mechanical” features of the electoral system–how many districts there are in relation to the number of voters. It offers no insight into district-level factors. It has missed some past Canadian elections badly; in fact, I assembled the database specifically to see which elections were so out of line with how FPTP works that electoral reform might be put on the agenda. There have been many of those over the years in Canadian provinces, although at the national level Canada’s FPTP has not been prone to “anomalous” results, but rather has tended to be relatively proportional compared to other FPTP systems. (The seat-vote equation performed either admirably or terribly in the UK 2010, depending on your criteria.)*
With that disclaimer and background out of the way, what does it say the seats “should be” if we use the above votes?
Of course, the BQ is not going to win only one seat, and the Greens just might won one, as well. I said it was not a projection!
The seat-vote equation does not like parties that win seats despite having quite small national vote shares. It is right about the Greens getting 0 or 1 seat on their ~6%, but not about the BQ, despite the latter also being on only 6%. Regional concentration, or its absence, matters in FPTP.
Nonetheless, and for whatever it might be worth, the estimates for the Conservatives, NDP, and Liberals are well within the range of the EKOS seat projections. To be precise, the CPC and NDP numbers are near the upper end of the EKOS projections, and at least one of them will need to be nearer the lower end (130, 103, and 36, respectively, at EKOS) to make room for 10-20 BQ seats.
But, yes, a third straight Conservative plurality–possibly reduced from what it was in the dissolved parliament–and an NDP total around 100-125 really could happen. And if those were the top two parties’ seat totals, it would mean that Canada 2011, far from being any sort of anomalous FPTP election, would be in line with what the seat-vote equation says “should be” the outcome, given these expected votes.
* For more on the seat-vote equation, just click those words in the “Planted in” line above. I have been writing about the equation and various elections, especially Canadian federal and provincial elections, since 2006. The first entry in the series provides the most detail about the equation’s application. If you want the full explanation, please see:
Matthew S. Shugart, “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in To Keep or Change First Past the Post, ed. By André Blais. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Just before the 2010 UK election, I noted that final polls put the leading party at around 36% of the vote, the second party just under 30%, and the third just over 20%.* I asked how uncommon such a distribution of the top three parties’ votes was in FPTP systems.
I counted five such cases out of 211 FPTP elections in a database I assembled for a project on reform (or its absence) in FPTP systems.
A column in The Independent by John Curtice (Professor of Politics at Strathclyde) suggests that the UK Conservative Party has good reason to oppose the adoption of the Alternative Vote (AV). At every election in the past three decades, save one, the Conservatives would have won fewer seats under AV than they did under First Past the Post (FPTP). The conclusion is based on analysis of polls from these past elections that asked voters who their second choice would have been.
While the Liberal Democrats would have gained seats in most elections, they would not have gained enough in any election to result in neither big party holding a majority in parliament. Only 2010 would have been a no-majority situation, just as it was under FPTP in the election that produced the current Conservative-LibDem coalition.
While the government is going ahead with the referendum on AV for May of this year, as part of its coalition agreement, the two parties are opposing each other on the referendum question.
There is, of course, always the chance that changed voting patterns resulting from the very existence of the coalition itself could make Conservatives a beneficiary of AV in future elections–a possibility not addressed by Curtice’s study. There have been indications recently that at least some Conservatives were warming to AV. Yet based on past experience, Conservatives and AV do not mix.
Curtice’s columns provides some breakdowns of the voting patterns and likely effect at each of the elections analyzed.
There is also a companion article in The Independent on this theme.
Yet again, the voters of California are being asked to decide on the process of redistricting. This time, we are being asked not one, but two questions.
Proposition 20 would extend the current redistricting commission to include US House seats. It currently applies only to state legislative elections and the Board of Equalization (which administers the tax code). Proposition 27 would abolish the commission entirely, and return all redistricting back to the regular political process–the legislature and governor.
The current commission was enacted by voter initiative only in 2008. So, exactly one general election later, we are being asked to either extend its mandate or get rid of it.
In 2008, I expressed opposition to the measure that created the current commission. The reason is certainly not that I am not in favor of legislators getting to draw their own district boundaries. It is an inherent conflict of interest. At the time I quoted one of my favorite political reformers of all time, Henry Droop, who wrote the following lament in 1869:
from Maine westward to the Pacific Ocean, in the last ten years, in no state whatever had there been an honest and fair district apportionment bill passed for the election of members of Congress [except] where two branches of a legislature were divided in political opinion, and one checked the other.
Despite my belief that independent commissions, rather than partisan elected officials, should handle redistricting, I was against this measure because of its being effectively a bipartisan commission, rather than a really independent one, and having an unduly complex selection process. I will not belabor the arguments here; any reader who wants to see my logic at the time can read the original. There was a lively debate in the comment thread at the time.
But now I get a chance to reconsider. And I think I will vote NO on 27, that is to keep the new status quo of the redistricting commission. I still do not like the model created by this commission, but I would rather improve it than abolish it. If we put legislators back in the line-drawing business, we might never get it back. If nothing else, voter fatigue over more and more redistricting measures may set in (if it has not already!).
Now, what about extending it to cover US House districts? I believe I will vote NO on 20 as well. Again, I most certainly oppose letting legislators draw district lines. However, I have never been a fan of unilateral disarmament. The federal dimension matters here, and this measure takes California’s legislature (controlled by Democrats) out of the process of determining the boundaries of 53 House districts (12% of the total number of House seats!), with no reciprocal move by Republican-controlled states to “disarm” their legislatures from controlling a like number of districts. As I also said in the earlier post,
Thus redistricting reform in the House presumably should be done via constitutional amendment or an interstate compact (on the model of the National Popular Vote for the presidency).
I can’t say that I feel good about either of these votes. And I welcome arguments in the comments. Who knows, maybe some readers will persuade me to vote otherwise. But for now, I am voting to retain a bad existing commission (NO on 27), but not to extend its mandate to include House seats (NO on 20).
Shortly after the 2008 election, I reviewed just how uncompetitive California’s districts were. The bigger issue here is that, redistricting commission or not, it simply will not be easy to create more competitive districts. The problem of lack of competition is deeper than the process by which we draw districts for our electoral system of first-past-the-post.
A dimension of comparison that scholars of political parties have not paid enough attention to–and that means me, too–is the presence and impact of direct election of big-city mayors in countries that are parliamentary at higher levels of government (national, state/provincial, etc.).
The election results show a victory by Rob Ford, with 47% in a multi-candidate field.
Like many a presidential candidate, he won by emphasizing himself, personally, as an agent of change. And even though he has served on the city council, he is an “outsider” in the sense of not having allies, as the Globe and Mail commented the day after the election:
Before he ran for mayor, Mr. Ford was an isolated city councillor who often failed to understand the issues he was ranting about at city council. As a candidate, he ran on a series of simplistic slogans that say nothing about the real problems of a grown-up city.
Certainly, not the sort of leader who could become “PM” of the city, were the city to have a parliamentary system like the province of Ontario or Canada at the federal level.
The election is by first-past-the-post, and it had many of the classic dynamics of FPTP in a multi-candidate field. The second-place candidate, George Smitherman, had 35.6%, and Joe Pantalone was third with 11.7%. The fourth candidate, Rocco Rossi, dropped out of the campaign, saying:
Despite my efforts to focus this race around issues and ideas that I feel matter, it has become clear that the majority of Torontonians have parked their support with one of two candidates: Mr. Smitherman or Mr. Ford.
All federal MPs from Toronto are currently Liberal or NDP. Yet the voters of the city have taken advantage of the direct election to choose a right-wing mayor.
With direct election, the process of selecting the mayor of Toronto could hardly be more different than the selection of the premier of the province or the PM of Canada. The federal parties may be “taking notes” on the Ford campaign, but the lessons will go only so far, given that the differences in executive type that structure their campaigns.
Some other parliamentary democracies also have directly elected mayors of large cities, including Japan and the U.K. There may well be a literature about this “presidentialism embedded in parliamentarism” that I have missed.
The eastern Canadian province of Canada has a history of anomalous results from its FPTP electoral system. Yet, despite the province’s record (of which I have written before–click “N.B.” above), a referendum planned on an MMP system was canceled three years ago–just after a spurious alternation! (In 2006, the incumbent Conservatives won a plurality of the vote, but the opposition Liberals won a majority of seats.)
In this year’s vote, the Conservatives won the vote by a wide margin, 48.9% to 34.4%. This translated into over three quarters of the seats for the plurality party. Meanwhile, the NDP won over 10% and the Greens 4.5%, but neither of these parties won a seat.
Campaigning is in the final stages in advance of the Trinidad and Tobago general election of Monday, 24 May. The race is expected to be tight. This is a “snap” election called by PM Patrick Manning, leader of the Peoples National Party (PNM). Will he be sorry for having called it early?
In my work on “systemic failure” and reform in FPTP systems,* I concluded by drawing up a “watch list” of jurisdictions where recent results suggested the electoral system was inherently prone to producing anomalies, based on deviations of actual outcomes from what the Seat-Vote Equation would expect. T&T was on my Watch List. In the case of T&T, the inherent tendency towards unexpected outcomes derives from a frequent over-representation of the second-largest party, relative to expectations based on “normal” performance of FPTP systems.
For instance, in 1995 and 2001, the top two parties tied in seats due to the second party performing considerably better in seats that would be normally expected. In 1995 the PNM was the largest party but it won a lower percentage of seats (47.2%) than of votes (48.8%); in 2001 the United National Congress (UNC) was first in votes by a respectable margin (49.9% to 46.5%) yet each party won half the seats. Either of these elections could have resulted in a spurious majority (or “wrong winner”).
This will be the country’s fifth election since 2000. The 2001 election had been called very early: in 2000 the UNC had won a very narrow majority of both votes and seats (51.7% and 52.7%, respectively). It fell to 49.9% of votes and half the seats in 2001, and then another election was called in 2002. This one produced alternation to the PNM, with majorities of both seats and votes (55.6% 50.9%, respectively). The party was reelected in 2007, and despite a fall in its votes (to 45.9%) its seats increased (to 63.4%). A third party, the Congress of the People (COP), won over 22% of the vote but no seats.
The underlying problem in T&T stems from two common sources of poor FPTP performance: small assembly size and regionalism. The assembly size was stuck on 36 for many elections (at least as far back as 1966). That is very small for a country with now over 650,000 votes cast in the last two elections (and around a million eligible). By the Cube Root Rule, a country this size should have an assembly of 100-125 members. This problem was “addressed” in 2007 when the assembly was finally increased–all the way to 41.
The nature of regionalism can be seen by looking at the maps from recent elections at Psephos. As is common under FPTP, each party has strongholds and only a few seats change hands at any given election. The UNC dominates most of the center and southeast of Trinidad, whereas the PNM wins nearly every seat in Port of Spain and on Tobago. The partisan division mirrors the division between citizens of Indian or African descent, with the governing PNM relying on the latter group.
In this election, the UNC and COP have joined forces as the core components of a five-party pre-election coalition known as the People’s Partnership. It might seem that such a coalescence of the opposition would make a dramatic difference in the votes-seats conversion to the opposition’s advantage, but it may not. A quick and not-very-systematic perusal of the district-by-district results in 2007 shows only a few districts where the PNM won with less than 50% and where the combined UNC-COP vote would have meant PNM defeat. Most PNM districts were in fact won with majorities, whereas it was the UNC that often won with less than 50%. Still, if the race really is close, even a relative few seats could tip the result. A few seats could result in an over-representation of the Peoples Partnership even if it second in votes–and could even contribute to a spurious majority.
About the campaign, the Jamaica Observer (second link above) notes:
Music in the nation famed for calypso has played a key role in campaigning.
One PNM video shows red-clad crowds dancing at rallies in front of a smiling Manning, with slogans such as “free education” sliding across the screen to a catchy tune.
On the other side, a People’s Partnership campaign song contains the lyrics: “Allegations here, allegations there,” and shows pictures of flashy high-rise buildings alongside hospitals without beds.
“I can’t vote for that!” rings out the chorus.
Trinidad and Tobago would be better served by some form of proportional representation and has earned its place on the Watch List.
How under-represented was the Conservative Party on 6 May? Oh sure, I know that the party was over-represented, relative to its vote share. But that’s what FPTP is supposed to do. In fact, it is supposed to do so sufficiently to give a “decisive” result. At least that’s what David Cameron said throughout the campaign in defense of the current electoral system. So, relative to the expectation of a substantial boost from FPTP, how under-represented was the largest party in the recent UK election?
By running the seat-vote equation on the actual voting result, we can get an idea of the answer to this question. The Conservatives won 307 seats, for 47.2%, on 36.1% of the vote. Labour came second with 258 seats, for 39.7%, on 29% of the vote. For these top two vote percentages, the seat-vote equation says the largest party “should have won” 51.4% of the seats and the second “should have won” 31.5%. (The Liberal Democrats presumably “should have” won the greater part of the remaining 17%, rather than the mere 9% that they have to show for their 23% of the vote.*)
For the largest party, obviously the deviation between an expectation of 51.4% and an actual result of 47.2% is minor, aside from the rather important detail of these percentages straddling the magic 50% (plus 1) marker.
The outcome of the election continues in a striking way the over-representation of Labour. Note that their 29% of the vote could have been expected to result in just over 30% of the seats, but instead they are close to 40%. The bias of the system in favor of Labour, whereby that party wins more seats than the Tories for any given vote share, is well known. It is likely not, however, a product solely of the current district boundaries, as Cameron and other Conservatives are fond of saying. Districting plans come and go, but this bias has been in place for some time.
We can see the differential treatment of the parties by looking at the advantage ratios (%seats/%votes). In this election, Labour had A=1.37, which is the best result for a second-place party in the UK in my data-set (which goes back to 1959). For the Conservatives, A=1.31. While this is a relatively low A for the largest party, in the UK context it is not low–for a first party branded as “Conservative.” Even when the Conservatives were winning substantial seat majorities from 1979 through 1992, their A surpassed 1.25 only in 1983 (1.44) and 1987 (1.37), while in the “Thatcher landslide” of 1979 it was only 1.22. (In 1992 it was 1.23.) Labour, on the other hand, enjoyed advantage ratios of 1.47 or greater in each of the three recent elections when it was the largest party.
These figures suggest that the Conservatives might have a hard time finding a FPTP districting plan** that would really work for them, unless they can again be confident of surpassing 38% or so of the vote. Meanwhile, Labour is benefiting rather handsomely from FPTP, though the 2010 outcome in particular suggests that the bulk of that advantage is coming at the expense of Britain’s rather large third party instead of the Conservatives.
* Various fourth and lower-ranked parties won around 4% of the seats, owing to concentration of the relative few votes won by any one of them, despite combining for 11.9% of the vote. We can discount them for present purposes and just call them “others.” (Which is not to say that some of them might not prove relevant in the coming parliament, of course.)
** That is, without major gerrymandering on a scale not practiced in the UK, unlike the USA.
Of 210 elections in my database (20 jurisdictions, the most recent 6-17 elections in each jurisdiction as of 2006), how many saw the first party with less than 37% of the vote and the third with more than 22%?
Just four: Nova Scotia 1998 and 2003, Ontario 1975, and the last (2005) UK election. Quebec 2007 would add a fifth (and I am not aware of any others since 2006–till now.)
A related question is: how often has the third party been over 22% of the vote, yet under 10% of seats (as the LibDems almost certainly will be in the final result)? The answer is eight out of twenty three, but only one of those in which the first party was under 37%. That case was UK 2005. And among the larger set of severely under-represented third parties despite 22% (or more) of the vote, we also find the 1983 and 1987 UK elections.
Normally, that is, when a third party has as large a share of votes as the LibDems have won in the last two elections, that party has sufficient regional support to win a substantial share of seats. The UK, on the other hand, is unusual among FPTP systems in featuring a persistent third party that has relatively little in the way of regional strongholds. It has much of southwest England and a good presence in Scotland, but otherwise continues to run no better than second place in most of the country. And second just does not cut it under FPTP.
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