In recent weeks there has been considerable attention to proposals by some Republican politicians to change the allocation of presidential electoral votes from statewide winner-take-all to congressional districts–at least in states where doing so would help Republicans. If this method had been used for all electoral votes in presidential contests from 1968 to 2008, what would its impact have been?
I happen to have district-level presidential votes for each of these elections (but not, yet, for 20121 ). The graph below plots both the actual and hypothetical2 electoral vote percentages for each party against the popular vote. Red for Republican, blue for Democrat. The solid symbols indicate the actual percentage of electoral votes obtained, while the open symbols indicate the hypothetical allocation by congressional district. The plotted curves are local regression (lowess) curves for each party under each condition (solid for actual, dashed for hypothetical).
The exercise shows how any discussion of shifting to this method of allocation should be talked about for what it is: a GOP-biased proposal. Note that, under the actual allocation, the two curves are close to one another, at least through the part of the graph where it really matters–the relatively close elections. There does appear to be a slight Republican bias in the actual method, as that party’s line crosses over 50% of the electoral votes at almost exactly 50% of the (two-party) popular vote, while the curve for Democrats crosses over at just over 50% of the popular vote. In other words, the data plot predicts the Democrat needs a bigger vote lead to get the electoral vote majority. But the effect appears very small, consistent with what Thomas, King, Gelman, and Katz find.
However, under the hypothetical congressional-district allocation, there is a clear Republican bias. The Republican curve crosses over 50% of the electoral vote well to the left of the 50% popular-vote line, while that for Democrats does not break over 50% of the electoral vote until the party has a clear majority of the popular (two-party) vote.
The 2012 result is shown in the graph for the actual allocation, though I did not have the district data readily available. The 2012 result closely matches the fitted curve for the actual result. If it also matched the fitted curve for district allocation, the electoral-college result would have been very close indeed.3
Only in the case of landslides in the popular vote does the congressional-district method result in greater “proportionality”, as indicated by the flatter curve for congressional-district allocation. Otherwise, there is no sense in which the Republican proposal is “proportional“; rather, it is a partisan power grab. It is a power grab especially when employed only in states where the Republican candidate tends to have a better geographical spread of the votes in the state; it is a power grab even if employed for all electors, as assumed in the hypothetical allocations shown here.
Let’s turn to individual elections. Below is the change for the Republican candidate in electoral votes if the congressional-district method had been used instead of the actual statewide winner-take-all:
As we already saw from the graph, in landslide years, the Republican wins fewer electors via congressional districts. The only electoral-college landslides we have had during this time have been by the Republican candidate: 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988. All of these but 1980 were also huge wins in the popular vote. In every election since 1992, the Republican gains regardless of whether he wins or loses. He also gained in 1976.4
In 2004, despite its being a very close election, Bush would have won 317 electoral votes with a district plan, against the actual 286. His total also would have been better in 2000: 286 vs. the “actual” 271. Had Florida’s electors been awarded properly in 2000 under statewide allocation, Bush’s total would have been only 246, meaning that the congressional-district plan would have netted him 40 extra electors, despite losing the popular vote. That’s even more than his 31-elector gain in 2004, when he actually won the popular vote.5
Of course, an objection to any simulation such as this is that we do not know how campaign strategy might have changed under different rules. That is certainly true; if each House district actually would have awarded an electoral vote, campaigns would have targeted the marginal districts, some of which would have swung the other way. In other words, the votes themselves could have been different.
We can get a broad understanding of the opportunities for potentially swinging electoral votes by considering how often a district is marginal in the presidential contest.
There are 4,782 observations6. There have been 730 the entire time that were decided by less than 5 percentage points (15.26%).
Of course, this varies a great deal by year, as shown below (number in parentheses indicates winner’s margin under a congressional-district allocation):
Obviously, 1976 could have been swung by district-focused campaigning: there were many more close districts than the margin (two electors!) that Carter would have won by under a district-based allocation. Not surprisingly, 2000 is another year when districts within the margin of 5% outnumbered the overall electoral-vote margin under the hypothetical allocation. In 2008 there are as many close districts as the electoral-vote margin, and in 1992 the two figures are within a few districts of one another. Looking only at these four elections, we can see which party had the greater number of marginal district wins.
year Rep Dem
1976 62 40
1992 46 57
2000 27 35
2008 37 27
This suggests that Bush’s district-based win in 2000 would have been relatively secure, as he had fewer close races to defend against the Gore campaign’s (hypothetical) district-swing efforts. And there would have been little risk of the Republican swinging the 1992 or 2008 outcome, though the Republican could have made the race closer. But 1976 really would have been a complete toss-up, depending on how various individual district contests turned out.
We might think that the candidate who trails in the popular vote would have more marginal districts to defend, but this is not true in either 1992 or 2000.
All in all, it is clear that congressional-district allocation of electors benefits one party more than the other, and that in a close election, the Republican candidate would be likely to have an advantage. The Republican might even be able to win with less than 49% of the two-party vote.
It is easy to see why Republicans might like a district-based electoral college. It is much harder to see why anyone would think it was a democratic (small or large d) improvement over the current method, bad though that may be.
I am actually somewhat happy that some Republicans have opened the issue of electoral-vote allocation. The country needs this conversation. However, what it needs is not one party pushing a plan that would be blatantly distorting in its favor. It needs the Democrats to engage the conversation, and come out in favor of the National Popular Vote plan, which would remove partisan bias from presidential elections.
As is standard for such proposals, I assume that the winner of the statewide plurality of the popular vote would be awarded two electors, in addition to a number corresponding to the number of individual House districts won. Two small states, Maine and Nebraska, are the only two states to have used such an allocation in at least some of the years analyzed. [↩]
Andrew Gelman suggests that Romney might have won, given the “huge” distortion of congressional-district allocation. [↩]
In 1968, both major-party candidates lose electoral votes, as George Wallace obtains 56 under the congressional-district allocation, against the 46 he actually won. [↩]
It might have been a slightly bigger change in 2000, as I am missing three districts that year: AR3, IN10 and LA2. For two of these, congressional votes are also missing; IN10, is a very safe Dem district in 2000 House race. [↩]
would be 435*11=4,785, if not for the missing districts [↩]
Sent to The Los Angeles Times today, in response to an article that inaccurately refers to Republican proposals for several state’s allocation of electoral votes as “proportional systems”:
The LA Times refers today (Jan. 27) to Republican proposals in several states to replace statewide winner-take-all allocation of presidential electors with “a proportional system”.
These proposals are NOT proportional; they are still winner-take-all, but in each congressional district. As noted elsewhere in the article, had a district plan been in effect in 2012 Mitt Romney might have won 9 of Virginia’s 13 electors.
This means Barack Obama, who won 51.2% of the statewide vote, would have had barely 30% of the electors! This does not meet any standard of proportionality.
Even the House of Representatives, which is obviously allocated based on congressional districts, is not proportional: Democrats won the most House votes in 2012, but Republicans won a majority of seats.
Proportional representation is used by most of the world’s democracies. It produces allocations of political power that mirror how people actually vote. By contrast, the Republicans are proposing a house of mirrors to distort the vote for partisan advantage.
It appears the runoff in Egypt’s presidential election will be between two candidates who combined for less than half the votes cast–out of a turnout of well under half the voters.
Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party polled around 26% in the two-day first round. Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, came second with 23% when 90% of the votes had been counted. (The Guardian)
It would seem that one would not want to wait until the week of a presidential election–or worse still, between rounds of said election–to define the powers of the president-to-be. But then there is Egypt.
I believe it is unusual for a president to be elected before a constitution–even a provisional one–has been enacted. Normally, there is a constituent assembly, during which time a provisional government remains in place, as in Tunisia currently, or else a constitution is negotiated prior to any elections (as with several Eastern European and African transitions of the 1990s). In fact, the only other examples that come to mind of presidential elections preceding a determination of presidential powers are Nicaragua (1984) and Romania (1990). At least in the latter case, the the first president was elected to only a two-year term (as was the concurrently elected constituent assembly).
Meanwhile, apparently the voter turnout in this week’s first round of the presidential elation was only 50% or even just 40%. Either figure would be really, really low for a first presidential election in a transition to democracy–or an alleged such transition.
This is not the first time that the Egyptian transition has prompted me to fret over issues of sequencing or turnout.
Socialist presidential candidate Hollande has won the presidency of France, with 51.9%. That’s closer than expected, but a majority is a majority.
It is only the second time in the Fifth Republic (i.e. since direct elections began in 1965) that power has shifted from the right to the left, and also only the second time an incumbent has been defeated in a reelection bid.
One might conclude that the only way the Socialists can win is for voters to be tired of the incumbent conservative. Or when they have a candidate named Francois.
Now on quickly to the legislative elections. As happened in 1981, in the honeymoon elections following Mitterrand’s win, I would expect a large Socialist majority and premier, plus a broad left cabinet, to result.
The first round of the French presidential election was Sunday. As expected, the Socialist Francois Hollande edged out incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. These two will square off in the second round on 6 May.
The results show that Hollande obtained 28.6%, Sarkozy 27.2%. In third place was Marine Le Pen of the National Front, 17.9%, and in fourth was left-wing Jean-Luc Melenchon, 11.1%. Centrist Francois Bayrou took 9.1%.
Most polling indicates that Hollande will win the runoff. If he does, he will be the first French Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand, who also won the position by defeating an incumbent (Valery Giscard d’Estaing, in 1981).
Hollande has won the clear backing of Melenchon, while Le Pen said that Sarkozy was a “loser” who does not “deserve” her supporters’ backing in the runoff.
The National Front candidate’s support was even higher in this election than it was in 2002, when Marine’s father, Jean-Marie, made it into the runoff. That year Le Pen had 16.9%, but the Socialist candidate (then-premier Leonel Jospin) slipped to third place due to severe fragmentation on the left.
For much of the Fifth Republic, the French party system divided neatly into two blocs, which allowed the first round to function as a de-facto intra-bloc primary. However, the party system is much more fragmented today. One wonders whether a two-round majority system still serves the country well, given the current shape of competition. Would a one-round, but multiple-preference, system such as the alternative vote make more sense now?
Regional data on Sunday’s first round are available at the Guardian. They show one department, Gard (in the south), where Marine Le Pen won the plurality–barely, as all three leading candidates were clustered near 25%.
Once the presidential election is complete, the country will go right into its National Assembly elections, which are also held in two rounds (10-17 June, but by majority-plurality, rather than two-round majority).
Trouble is brewing in two (erstwhile) democratic states among the former French Soudan.
Mali experienced a military coup last week, apparently ending a 20-year experience of democracy–and just about a month before new presidential elections were due. There was no sign of the incumbent attempting to stay on for a third term (which would violate the current constitution). Meanwhile, today Senegal has its presidential runoff, and the incumbent is seeking a third term under dubious constitutionality.
These events are distressing because both countries had emerged recently as apparently functioning democracies. The Malian situation may be “collateral damage” from the NATO war in Libya. Touareg rebels, some of whom were among Qaddafi’s mercenaries, have been making gains in the country’s remote east. Evidently, at least part of the military was unsatisfied with the president’s handling of the internal war. Still, they might have waited to see what a newly elected president’s policy would be.
As for Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade had overseen a constitutional change limiting the president to two terms. He is not the first president ever to make the claim that such a change does not apply to him, because his first term was before the constitution was changed. Most of the others have not gotten away with a third term, but this runoff is said to be close. He just might pull it off on election day, but at what cost to the country’s democracy?
Various news reports have suggested that Wade enters the runoff in a weak position, having won just under 35% of the vote in the first round. Supposedly the other candidates are all endorsing his remaining opponent, former Prime Minister Macky Sall. I would not be so sure. Sall was more than 8 points behind in the first round, and if Wade vs. Opposition were the dominant cleavage, one might have expected the anti-Wade forces to have coordinated on fewer than thirteen (!) candidates, the top two of which managed to combine for less than 40% in the first round. Of course, given a two-round majority system, one need not expect a single opposition candidate, but such a high degree of fragmentation does not bode well–even assuming the election is completely fair. (See first-round results at Psephos.)
Mali has a premier-presidential system; Senegal is president-parliamentary. If Mali’s democracy is not quickly restored, then it will no longer be true–as stated by Samuels and Shugart (2010, p.260)–that no premier-presidential system has ever broken down once meeting the thresholds for democracy that the authors established for inclusion of cases in our study.
Among my cherished cartographic possessions is a National Geographic map of Africa from around 1960 that shows these two countries as one, in the Mali Federation. The federation did not last, and the unit initially called Soudan split and became the independent state of Mali.
This map also showed a Union of Central African Republics (French Congo, Chad, and in between them, Ubangi-Shari, later the Central African Republic (singular)). This “union” was even shorter lived.
I have generally been keeping away from the circus that is the US Republican Party’s presidential nominating process, 2012.
However, this one is right up the F&V alley.
Michigan is not allocating its delegates proportionally, notwithstanding what various news accounts I have heard and read say.
According to Frontloading HQ, the most reliable source on such matters, Michigan would have had 59 delegates, had it not violated rules on the scheduling of state contests. Those 59 would have been allocated thus:
42 congressional district delegates (3 in each of the 14 congressional districts in the Great Lakes state): allocated winner-take-all based on the congressional district vote.
14 at-large delegates: allocated proportionally to candidates surpassing 15% of the statewide vote.
3 automatic delegates: free to choose whomever.
Due to the national party penalty, the state expects to have only 30:
28 congressional district delegates (2 per each of the 14 districts): allocated winner-take-all based on the vote in the congressional district.
2 at-large delegates: allocated winner-take-all.
0 automatic delegates: Penalized states lose their automatic delegates.
Notwithstanding the 14 (23.7% of the total) statewide delegates that would have been allocated sort-of proportionally1, neither plan could be called a “proportional” allocation.
The contest looks like it is going to be very close between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. If it were really proportional, the two leading candidates might be expected to emerge with about equal numbers of delegates. However, given that it is in fact a system in which the winner of each congressional district will take 2 delegates (and the runner up none), the allocation will come down to the regional distribution of candidates’ support. One of them could get nearly all the delegates, if the regional distribution is relatively even. Or the split could be nearly equal. Or the one with the second highest vote share could even emerge with substantially more delegates than the statewide plurality winner.
A disproportional result is increased in probability by the malapportionment inherent in using plurality allocation in congressional districts. The districts are apportioned based on overall population, yet they would be highly unequal in Republican voters–a quirk that is contained in the primary rules of many states.
The candidate who is stronger among Republicans who live in districts with more Democrats will be advantaged. It is not clear to me which candidate that might be.
“Sort of”, because there is nothing proportional about a 15% threshold. [↩]
In Finland’s presidential election this past weekend, the two leading candidates were Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party and Pekka Haavisto of the Green League.
Niinistö won 37.0%, Haavisto 18.8%. The third-place candidate was Paavo Väyrynen of the Centre Party (KESK), with 17.5%. The Social Democratic Party had an embarrassing result, with its candidate getting only 6.7%, behind the candidate of the True Finns (9.4%). See Robert Elgie’s blog for more.
The Social Democrats currently hold the presidency, having won 46.3% in the first round in the 2006 presidential election, and then 19.1% in the 2011 parliamentary election, so this year’s result is a spectacular fall for the party.
Both runoff candidates’ parties are in the current governing coalition, as are the Social Democrats.
Robert asks the same question I was wondering when I heard of the Finnish result on the news: Is this the first time a Green has qualified for a presidential runoff anywhere? At first I thought so, but then I remembered Colombia’s precedent.
In the run-up to the 2010 Colombian presidential election, polling suggested Antanas Mockus, the Green candidate would not only make the runoff, but might win it. Mockus did indeed finish second in the first round, with a higher percentage (21.5%) than Haavisto just won, but Juan Manuel Santos (46.6%) went on to win the runoff easily.
As Helsingin Sanomat notes, Haavisto would need the support of 71% of the 45% of voters who voted for a now-eliminated candidate in order to win. Despite some labor-union endorsements, that seems like a tall order.
Finland’s constitutional structure is permier-presidential, meaning that the cabinet depends on the exclusive confidence of the parliamentary majority. The presidency was reduced in power by a constitutional reform in 2000.
In elections Saturday, the Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT), was reelected with 51.8% of the vote. Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came second with 45.6%, and James Soong of the People First Party won 2.8%.
The election is by plurality, so it was not especially close.
These were the first concurrent elections in Taiwan, the electoral cycle having been modified recently. As is to be expected with concurrent elections, the presidential and legislative votes were quite similar. The KMT-led alliance won 51.5% of the legislative votes, and will continue to control a majority of seats, with 67 of 113. (This is a decline from 85 at the previous, non-concurrent, election of 2008.)
These elections feature an unusual example of two parties competing in presidential elections but allied in concurrent legislative elections. Soong’s People First Party is part of the Pan Blue alliance, and whereas Sung himself managed only 2.8% of the vote, his party contributed 5.5% of the Pan Blue legislative vote.
Taiwan’s electoral system is mixed-member majoritarian (or parallel), with 79 district races decided by plurality, and 34 nationwide seats elected by proportional representation. People First won one single-seat contest, and 2 list seats. I assume the parties in alliance run common candidacies in the single-seat districts (and hence that the KMT stood down in the one contest won by the PFP, and the PFP did not contest many other districts), but that they run separate party lists. I hope someone can confirm that.
The only other case I know of where two parties competed in a presidential election but were allied in a concurrent legislative election would be Chile, 2005. At the time of the Chilean example of this sort of unusual alliance behavior, I remarked that the electoral rules of Chile made it advantageous for the parties to remain in their legislative alliance even after they chose to compete in the presidential race. In Chile, these rules are two-seat D’Hondt open lists. Taiwan’s MMM provides similar, if distinct, incentives to cooperate.
What is more surprising about the Taiwanese case is that by running separate presidential candidates, the alliance risked splitting the vote, given the use of plurality rule. In Chile, on the other hand, the presidency is elected through majority runoff. That Soong’s vote for president, where a split of the alliance vote was risky, was so much lower than his party’s legislative votes can be scored as a victory for Duverger.
Ireland has its presidential election today. The president is elected by an “instant runoff”–specifically, the same Single Transferable Vote system that is used for the Irish parliament, but given a single seat, the quota for election is 50%+1. Of course, this means it’s the Alterative Vote, electing the first candidate to reach a majority on either first preferences or transferred lower preferences of voters whose higher-preferred candidates have been eliminated from the count.
TODAY, FOR only the second time since 1938, a presidential election will ultimately be determined by the second, third and fourth preferences cast by voters…
This year, unless the polls are seriously wrong, no candidate is likely to be within 10 percentage points of a simple majority on the first count. The election, with seven in the race spread out the way they appear to be, is certain to go to a second, probably a third, and possibly even fourth or fifth counts.
The Irish presidency is weak, within a premier-presidential system that is almost parliamentary. Yet I wonder if the current political upheaval could lead to a president asserting more influence for the office.
Update: It looks like Fonseca is winning. If confirmed, it will mean a legislature with a majority from one party and a president from another party. This may seem odd to Americans, but such a situation is quite rare around the world.
As Robert Elgie noted at his blog on 10 August, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the candidate of the main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MFD), won the plurality in the first round, with around 37%. Manuel Inocêncio Sousa, candidate of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) won 33%. Aristides Lima, an independent breakaway from the PAICV, picked up around 25%.
Cape Verde has a history of very close presidential elections, as well as both an electoral system (variable-magnitude “PR”) and electoral cycle that have shown a pronounced bias for the PAICV in the past. (See my summary of the 2006 elections.) The country is among the relatively few to use a “counter-honeymoon” cycle whereby legislative elections regularly precede presidential by a short time period. The legislature was elected in February–a much longer gap between elections than in the past, but still counter-honeymoon–and the PAICV won a majority.
Natalia C. Del Cogliano has a very interesting post at The Monkey Cage about Argentina’s “Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primaries.”
Voters were able to select presidential candidates from across party lines, hence the “open” and “simultaneous” parts. However, this was not much of a primary: each party had only one presidential (pre-)candidate! In other words, this turned out to be nothing more than an early dry-run of the general election. (President Cristina F. de Kirchner won just over half the votes cast, with no other candidate even close.)
For other offices besides the presidency, there was intra-party competition.
As for all Argentine elections, voting was obligatory.
In the face of protests, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade has backed down over a proposal to change the method of presidential elections.
Instead of a majority-runoff system, Wade wanted to change to allowing 25% to suffice for a first round victory. As the Euronews story comments:
His rivals saw this as a ploy virtually guaranteeing his re-election next February, as the opposition is currently fragmented.
I guess so!
The adjusting of presidential victory thresholds reminds me of the Sandinista ploy in Nicaragua in 2006. The lowering of the threshold there was far less drastic that Wade’s gambit, and paid off–just barely–for Daniel Ortega’s return to the presidency.
Does the old man (he’s 85) in Senegal think he can’t win even 40%? Or 35%? Or 30%?…
Senegal has been generally classed as a democracy for the 11 years that Wade has been president.
Peruvians vote today in a presidential runoff that is being described as the country’s most “polarizing” ever.
What a bad choice: the daughter for the former president-turned-dictator over the “populist” and “leftist” (perhaps “Chavista”) former army officer. That would be Keiko (daughter of Alberto) Fujimori vs. Ollanta Humala. Polls suggest the race is tight.
The polarization is, of course, exacerbated by the electoral system, this being the runoff between two candidates who managed to combine for only about 55% the vote in the first round.
The legislature was elected concurrently with the first round in April. (We had a lengthy and information discussion here at that time.) The fragmentation of the legislature elected then reflects the fragmentation of the first-round field. That is, whoever wins today will face a deeply divided legislature. However, if it is Humala, he will have a larger base of co-partisan legislators than Fujimori would have. Partly that is because he came in first in the first round (31.7%-23.5%), and partly that is because his rural support and the legislative electoral system combined to over-represent his party to a significant degree. Peru has many small-magnitude districts in rural areas, and thus his party, Gana Peru (Peru Wins), has 36.2% of the seats despite only 25.3% of the legislative votes. (Note how much weaker, however, his party was than was Ollanta himself: 25% of the votes vs. 31%.) Fujimori’s party, Fuerza 2011, has 28.4% of seats on 23.0% of votes.
What a volatile combination: a polarized presidential race, and a fragmented congress!
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