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.
A very good overview of the outcome of the Israeli election is provided by The Times of Israel.
I agree completely with two big take-home points here:
(1) All the hand wringing (my term, not the author’s) about divisions on the center-left was misplaced. The separate parties hoovered up more votes than a unified effort at creating an alternative bloc could have;
(2) The more costly divisions were on the right, due to two parties that fell below the threshold: Otzma L’Yisrael and Am Shalem.
I would add that, thanks to proportional representation and parliamentary government, Israelis will get what they appear to have collectively chosen: a continuation of Netanyahu, but balanced by a larger and more assertive centrist wing of the government.
It is also noteworthy how badly the Labor Party failed to reestablish itself under Shelly Yachimovich’s leadership. She and the party tried to position themselves as some sort of blend of centrist on security and social democratic on economics. The party was supposedly set to become a viable governing alternative–if not in this election, than after a rebuilding phase as the main opposition. The party will indeed be the main opposition, assuming Yesh Atid’s likely entry into the cabinet, but 15 seats is a very weak position.
Meretz doubled its seat total, probably as a result of otherwise Labor voters disgusted that the “new” Labor seemed to want to pretend the settlements and two-state issues would just go away. At one point, Yachimovich said something like “everyone knows my position” on these issues. That’s not likely good enough for someone calling herself a candidate for PM. I can’t imagine it will be long before there is another leadership change in Labor.
With a just a few days till the Israeli election, it is time to analyze the impact of the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu on the campaign. The presentation of a joint list was announced in late October. There is no question that this will be the list with the most seats–by far–and thus Binyamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. But can we assess how well the two parties’ merger decision has worked out thus far?
First, to what extent have the two parties campaigned as a unit?
Quite a bit. The photo above is from my TV screen during a news broadcast by DW-TV (carried on Link TV) regarding the Israeli campaign’s final week. It shows pamphlets lying on a table at a mall, one of which shows the two leaders, Netanyahu of Likud and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, side by side. Lieberman was the Foreign Minister until he had to step down in mid-December due to legal proceedings. (The legal charges have been pending for some time; there was no great surprise here.) Even the pamphlet that shows only the Prime Minister has both parties’ names at the bottom.
Here is another that shows an information booth, with a sign above it that has both parties’ names. The parties clearly retain their distinct identity, despite their having presented a joint list; they clearly have a joint campaign as well.
Second, how did they construct their merged list? Likud held a primary, which resulted in a dramatic shift in the list’s overall complexion towards the hard-line, pro-settler elements on the right. (More on this later.)
The Yisrael Beiteinu list is ranked by its leadership–meaning mainly Lieberman himself. Subsequently, the two parties combined their lists. (more…)
This campaign advertisement by Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) has been ruled a violation of Israel’s campaign laws.
The ad, showing Likud leader and PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet, says “Strong together, choosing Bennet”. Bayit Yehudi is mainly a Judean/Samarian (West Bank) settlers’ party, and is competing for votes on the Israeli right with Likud. The two are almost certain to go into coalition together after the election.
However, the ad was banned on the grounds that it gives the impression the two parties are cooperating in the campaign and committed to working together after the election. As there is no such mutual declaration, the ad was deemed misleading. (My account and the ad image are based on an IBA news segment from Friday, 18 July.)
Relations between Bennet and Netanyahu are known to be strained. When asked about that recently, Bennet suggested that their tensions are nothing that 15 seats could not overcome.
Bennet has been the sensation of this campaign, with his party originally thought to be likely to win 7-9 seats but polling in the 15-18 range in recent weeks. Some polls have shown it second, after the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance. More likely it will finish third, behind Labor.
The election is Tuesday.
The ad is photographed by me from a news broadcast of Israel Broadcast Authority, carried in the USA by World Harvest Television.
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 following post is by Professor Michael Thies of UCLA. [Corrected since initial posting.]
One weirdness of MMP is what to do when a party wins more seats in single-seat districts than its PR vote share would have earned. A few “overhang seats” are easy enough to deal with, but I wondered how last month’s Japanese election results would have looked under MMP (with the dubious assumption that nothing else changes).
If we simplify and assume nationwide PR, and use the PR vote shares that each party actually earned in the 16 December election (1st column of the table below) for all 480 seats, the 2nd column shows the seats “earned.”
If this were Germany, with overhang seats, the LDP would get to keep all 237 SMD seats (not 294 combined total that it actually received, because it would get no PR seats), and the legislature would have to grow to 584 seats. Of course, if overhangs were not part of the rule, the LDP would have 27.6 percent of the seats instead of the 61.3% they do have. This way, LDP-Kom would be well short of a majority (133+57)/480 = 39.6% w/o overhangs, and with a slim majority with overhangs: (237+57)/584 = 50.3%.
From the thread on Russia, it seems there is discussion of adding (or should I say grafting) a small list tier on to the French two-round system for National Assembly elections.
In that thread, DC says:
The French are planning to add a national PR tier (15% of the seats in the lower house of parliament). This appears to be parallel rather than compensatory, with two ballots. However it is constantly referred to as the “German model”, which demonstrates journalistic ignorance about PR is nor confined to Anglo-Saxon countries.
The French PR tier is supposed to help “inclusivity”. Currently small parties (that don’t make a deal with a large party) can be completely shut out of national politics. Rather than alienate those voters who never see their interests represented in parliament, the French state would rather coopt them by allowing them some representation, but not very much. It appears that completely revamping the electoral method was outside the mandate of the commission in any case, so any reforms were bound to be minimal.
Should the proposal be implemented, the most meaningful effect will almost certainly be the Front National gaining a dozen or two seats in parliament. Will that increase their legitimacy and power? Force them to compromise? It’s hard to know!
I think the point of it is that the PS and the UMP will no longer be obliged (or at least will be less obliged) to court smaller parties at district level.
So called “useful voting” will probably see lots of French voters split their ballot between the district and PR levels, as we saw in Japan, thus a small party seeking representation will not waste a lot of resources at local level unless they have a solid existing base (the PCF, or the PRG, for example).
Any meaningful fair representation will see the FN in parliament-its basically unavoidable. I’m sure a large part of the reason the PR component of this reform is so niggardly is an attempt to avoid a situation where the FN would systematically be the third or fourth party, potentially holding the balance of power.
It could be worse-they could have tried to impose the awful system for regional elections (two-round list PR with “winners” bonus) at a a national level, which was apparently a proposal at one point.
A return of the Russian Federation electoral system to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, also known as a “parallel” system) is underway. Essentially, it would return the county to the system used until ten years ago, when it was replaced by a single national district (450 seats), closed lists. Under the new-old MMM system, half the seats would continue to be elected in a nationwide closed-list contest, while the other half would consist of single-seat districts (plurality rule).
But while the prospect of individual candidacies suggests a liberalizing of a political system often criticized as heavily tilted in favor of Putin and the governing authorities, history shows that they can actually have the opposite effect.
This is because individuals endorsed by the majority party tend to have an advantage in name recognition and resources in local races, and because candidates who run as independents can often be enticed to join the majority party when the new Parliament is formed, using perks offered by the presidential administration.
The article cites the similar experience of Ukraine, which also has followed the path of MMM > nationwide PR > MMM:
In 2007, under a system of proportional voting for party lists, the Party of Regions won 175 seats with 34.4 percent of the vote. In 2012, the Party of Regions won only 30 percent in proportional voting but now holds 209 seats thanks to victories in individual districts by its own nominees or by independents who joined the faction later.
Finally, the article quotes a Russian election monitor, Arkady Lubaryev, saying his organization would have preferred a “mixed closed system” like that of Germany, rather than the “mixed open” system being proposed. I have never seen this terminology, and it makes no sense to me (raising the risk of confusing open/closed with the type of party list used). I will stick to MMP and MMM, or compensatory and not respectively.
While I still think MMM has its uses, the more I follow developments concerning that system, the more I think it is generally the worst of both worlds.1 It allows establishment parties to over-perform their party label popularity, while also complicating the strategy of opposition forces, which face the contradictory pulls of incentives to coordinate in the single-seat districts with incentives to run separately due to the proportional tier. The 2012 election in Japan suggests that country may be headed down a similar path after a brief period of two-bloc competition and alternation.
I might add that my co-edited book on mixed-member systems (2001) has an oft-overlooked question mark on its “best of both worlds” subtitle, and that I always thought the affirmative answer to that question was more plausible with MMP than with MMM. [↩]
Following up on our earlier review of the 2012 Japanese House of Representatives election, the graph below shows the patterns of two-party competition in the nominal tier, consisting of 300 single-seat districts, won by plurality. The graph plots a district’s winner’s vote percentage (vertical axis) against that of its runner-up (horizontal axis), showing the four most common district dyads. If a district featured two parties getting all of the votes, its marker would be on the diagonal line where the top two vote shares sum to 100%. There are no districts on this pure two-party line, though it is immediately obvious that almost all of those that are were close to it were won by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) second.
Click the image for a larger version
As if we needed more evidence of the slaughter suffered by the DPJ, the graph makes clear how much worse it could have been. (more…)
You do not have to read Japanese to know that this means landslide. (This is the single-seat districts only; but even with the list-PR seats added in, the LDP and is ally, Komeito, have crossed the two-thirds mark.)
Shinzo Abe will get a second stint as Prime Minister.
It is an even bigger victory than the LDP’s most recent prior House of Representatives win in 2005. And this despite not having the hair factor so clearly in its favor.
I wonder how many election alternations have been as undeserving as this one. For that matter, how many proved as disastrous as the last one? The DPJ, winning big in 2009, proved utterly incompetent (even allowing for the rather bad hand it was dealt), and as various commentators have noted, it was not so much that the LDP won today’s election as that the DPJ simply folded.
There were various new parties that were at one point looking like they might break the LDP/DPJ dominance. But, largely due to the majoritarian elements of the mixed-member system Japan uses, there just wasn’t much chance of a breakthrough.
In the week since the US elections, several sources have suggested that there was a spurious majority in the House, with the Democratic Party winning a majority–or more likely, a plurality–of the votes, despite the Republican Party having held its majority of the seats.
It is not the first time there has been a spurious majority in the US House, but it is quite likely that this one is getting more attention1 than those in the past, presumably because of the greater salience now of national partisan identities.
Ballot Access News lists three other cases over the past 100 years: 1914, 1942, and 1952. Sources disagree, but there may have been one other between 1952 and 2012. Data I compiled some years ago showed a spurious majority in 1996, if we go by The Clerk of the House. However, if we go by the Federal Election Commission, we had one in 2000, but not in 1996. And I understand that Vital Statistics on Congress shows no such event in either 1996 or 2000. A post at The Monkey Cage cites political scientist Matthew Green as including 1996 (but not 2000) among the cases.
Normally, in democracies, we more or less know how many votes each party gets. In fact, it’s all over the news media on election night and thereafter. But the USA is different. “Exceptional,” some say. In any case, I am going to go with the figure of five spurious majorities in the past century: 1914, 1942, 1952, 2012, plus 1996 (and we will assume 2000 was not one).
How does the rate of five (or, if you like, four) spurious majorities in 50 elections compare with the wider world of plurality elections? I certainly do not claim to have the universe of plurality elections at my fingertips. However, I did collect a dataset of 210 plurality elections–not including the USA–for a book chapter some years ago,2 so we have a good basis of comparison.
Out of 210 elections, there are 10 cases of the second party in votes winning a majority of seats. There are another 9 cases of reversals of the leading parties, but where no one won over 50% of seats. So reversals leading to spurious majority are 4.8% of all these elections; including minority situations reversals are 9%. The US rate would be 10%, apparently.
But in theory, a reversal should be much less common with only two parties of any significance. Sure enough: the mean effective number (N) of seat-winning parties in the spurious majorities in my data is just under 2.5, with only one under 2.2 (Belize, 1993, N=2.003, in case you were wondering). So the incidence in the US is indeed high–given that N by seats has never been higher than 2.08 in US elections since 1914,3 and that even without this N restriction, the rate of spurious majorities in the US is still higher than in my dataset overall.
I might also note that a spurious majority should be rare with large assembly size (S). While the US assembly is small for the country’s population, it is still large in absolute sense. Indeed, no spurious majority in my dataset of national and subnational elections from parliamentary systems has happened with S>125!
So, put in comparative context, the US House exhibits an unusually high rate of spurious majorities! Yes, evidently the USA is exceptional.4
As to why this would happen, some of the popular commentary is focusing on gerrymandering (the politically biased delimitation of districts). This is quite likely part of the story, particularly in some sates.5
However, one does not need gerrymandering to get a spurious majority. As political scientists Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden have pointed out (PDF), there can be an “unintentional gerrymander,” too, which results when one party has its votes less optimally distributed than the other. The plurality system, in single-seat districts, does not tote up party votes and then allocate seats in the aggregate. It only matters in how many of those districts you had the lead–of at least one vote. Thus a party that runs up big margins in some of its districts will tend to augment its total in its “votes” column at a faster rate than it augments its total in the “seats” column. This is quite likely the problem Democrats face, which would have contributed to its losing the seat majority despite its (apparent) plurality of the votes.
Consider the following graph, which shows the distribution (via kernel densities) of vote percentages for the winning candidates of each major party in 2008 and 2010.
Click image for larger version
We see that in the 2008 concurrent election, the Democrats (solid blue curve) have a very long and higher tail of the distribution in the 70%-100% range. In other words, compared to Republicans the same year, they had more districts in which they “wasted” votes by accumulating many more in the district than needed to win it. Republicans, by contrast, tended that year to win more of their races by relatively tighter margins–though their peak is still around 60%, not 50%. I want to stress, the point here is not to suggest that 2008 saw a spurious majority. It did not. Rather, the point is that even in a year when Democrats won both the vote plurality and seat majority, they had a less-than optimal distribution, in the sense of being more likely to win by big margins than were Republicans.
Now, compare the 2010 midterm election, in which Republicans won a majority of seats (and at least a plurality of votes). Note how the Republican (dashed red) distribution becomes relatively bimodal. Their main peak shifts right (in more ways than one!) as they accumulate more votes in already safe seats, but they develop a secondary peak right around 50%, allowing them to pick up many seats narrowly. That the peak for winning Democrats’ votes moved so much closer to 50% suggests how much worse the “shellacking” could have been! Yet even in the 2010 election, the tail on the safe-seats side of the distribution still shows more Democratic votes wasted in ultra-safe seats than is the case for Republicans.6
I look forward to producing a similar graph for the 2012 winners’ distribution, but will await more complete results. A lot of ballots remain to be counted and certified. The completed count is not likely to reverse the Democrats’ plurality of the vote, however.
Given higher Democratic turnout in the concurrent election of 2012 than in the 2010 midterm election, it is likely that the distributions will look more like 2008 than like 2010, except with the Republicans retaining enough of those relatively close wins to have held on to their seat majority.
Finally, a pet peeve, and a plea to my fellow political scientists: Let’s not pretend there are only two parties in America. Since 1990, it has become uncommon, actually, for one party to win more than half the House votes. Yet my colleagues who study US elections and Congress continue to speak of “majority”, by which they mean more than half the mythical “two-party vote”. In fact, in 1992 and every election from 1996 through at least 2004, neither major party won 50% of the House votes. I have not ever aggregated the 2006 vote. In 2008, Democrats won 54.2% of the House vote, Republicans 43.1%, and “others” 2.7%. I am not sure about 2010 or 2012. It is striking, however, that the last election of the Democratic House majority and all the 1995-2007 period of Republican majorities, except for the first election in that sequence (1994), saw third-party or independent votes high enough that neither party was winning half the votes.
Assuming spurious majorities are not a “good” thing, what could we do about it? Democrats, if they are developing a systematic tendency to be victims of the “unintentional gerrymander”, would have an objective interest in some sort of proportional representation system–perhaps even as much as that unrepresented “other” vote would have.
Matthew Soberg 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. [↩]
The original version of this statement, that “N is almost never more than 2.2 here” rather exaggerated House fragmentation! [↩]
Spurious majorities are even more common in the Senate, where no Republican seat majority since at least 1952 has been based on a plurality of votes cast. But that is another story. [↩]
For instance, see the map of Pennsylvania at the Think Progress link in the first footnote. [↩]
It is interesting to note that 2010 was very rare in not having any districts uncontested by either major party. [↩]
Vanuatu, one of the last cases of the Single Non-Transferable Vote, held general elections earlier this month.
Jon Fraenkel of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, sends along the following tidbit about the challenges of vote distribution under SNTV:
Ralph Regenvanu, a reformist MP elected last time out as an independent but this time around seeking to establish a political party, contested the 6-seat Port Vila constituency and tried to get a running mate elected, but apparently failed to divert votes away from himself to that running mate, so a load got ‘wasted’, and his colleague failed.
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