From the past week or so, a couple of reports from the North [San Diego] County Times have looked at the turnout and regional patterns within the CA-50 House district special election.
The final tally shows the turnout was 39% of registered voters. That may not sound like much, but it is actually quite high for a special House election. Turnout apparently was higher in the coastal communinities, which are precisely the areas in which Democratic candidate Francine Busby was strongest.
In many midterm elections, when the party in control of the House changes (as in 1994), or when it defies the usual midterm-loss phenomenon and picks up seats (as in 1998 and 2002), turnout is typically one of the decisive factors. Is the 50th district turnout pattern significant? Does it show an energized Democratic party and unenthusiastic Republicans? Or will it be an aberation? The answer to these questions will go a long way towards determining which party is in control of the US House as of next January.
A second report shows a map of the top three candidates’ support in various communities.* It shows that Busby won majorities in the coastal communities of Encinitas (a small subset of which is Cardiff, where she is an elected school board member) and Del Mar, as well as in the slightly inland sprawl-town of Del Mar Heights. The three top candidates ran almost even in the wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, where 24% of the vote was far below Busby’s overall district share (44%). In the inland communities Busby ran slightly below (or, in the case of Escondido, well behind, at 35%) of her district overall share.
*I was going to post it, but it is rather small and blurry. It was a lot easier to read in the print version than on-line.
This graph (click image for a larger version) shows, with the dark line, the number of US House seats that were won “marginally” in any given election from 1946 through 2004.
This takes a rather generous definition of what is “marginal”: Any seat that the party holding it won with no more than 60% of the two-party vote. The grey line is the number of seats the “out” party would have to win in the next election for control of the House to shift.
The trend shows clearly the decline in the number of relatively close seats in recent years, although it also shows that the current low number of marginal seats is not exactly unprecedented. There were 75 seats won with 60% or less in 2004, but there were 66 such seats in 1988. Following the 1988 election, there was a sharp uptick in the number of marginal seats, and when Republicans finally took the House in 1994, there were 162 seats that had been won at the previous election with less than 60%. The number of marginal seats has declined steadily since the Republicans took control.
While the low number of marginal seats in the current House is bad news for Democrats’ hopes of retaking the chamber, the good news for them is that the majority they are fighting against is much narrower than that which the Republicans faced heading into the 1994 election. In 1992, Democrats had won 258 seats and Republicans 176, meaning the out party needed to win of at least forty-two new seats. They got fifty four. (Actually, they took 58 seats from Democrats, but 4 other seats swung in the reverse direction.)
In 2006, Democrats need a net swing of only fifteen to retake the House (counting Bernie Sanders’ seat in their column, and assuming they hold it as he vacates it for his Senate bid).
If we break the marginal seats down into those held by the current majority versus those held by the “out” party, we see that the Democrats’ order is a bit taller than was the Republicans’ was in 1994, though this “tall order” is somewhat compensated for by the narrowness of the current Republican majority (noted above).
Despite the “sweep” pulled off by the out party in 1994, the Republicans actually won less than half the “marginal” seats. There were 90 seats that Democrats had won with 60% or less of the two-party vote in 1992, and Republicans won 40 of these. (They also won 18 seats that the Democrats had won with more than 60%.)
The national two-party vote swing from 1992 to 1994 was just over six percentage points. If swings were relatively uniform, we would expect nearly all the seats that Democrats held with less than 55% of the two-party vote to have swung. But even these more-marginal seats–46 in all–swung at a less than 50% rate: Republicans won 22 of them. This underscores the extent to which House elections in the USA are fundamentally not national partisan contests to the degree they tend to be in parliamentary systems: Even in a year branded by pundits as a “revolution,” the erstwhile “in” party kept a majority of its marginal seats. (I hope to post some parliamentary-election swings for comparison at some point.)
As for 2006, of the 75 seats won with less than 60% of the two-party vote in 2004, forty-seven of them are held by the “in” party (Republican) and 28 by the “outs.” When we look at the seats won last time with 55% or less, the two parties are defending an equal number of such close seats: ten each.
If the Democrats in 2006 were to win just over a third of the seats that the Republicans won in 2004 with 60% or less, they would retake control, provided they did not lose any seats of their own.
With Democrats running about 8-10 points ahead in most recent generic partisan polls and with the Democratic candidate having gained eight points in a (previously) very safe Republican district in the recent special election in California, an alternation in the majority party is feasible. But, given the low number of marginal seats being defended by the majority, the Democrats can’t be any less successful than the Republicans were in 1994 at nationalizing the election. And these data show Republicans were less successful at that task than the conventional wisdom might lead one to believe. Nationalizing congressional elections in the USA is just very hard to do.
Jonathan Edelstein has an excellent post today that extends the discussion of the violence that has broken out, and concludes with a very good F&V sort of institutional pondering:
I wonder, though, if it might not also be advisable to switch to a presidential or semi-presidential system. In the absence of any real national parties, presidential elections would be a way for the voters to exercise direct influence at the national level, and would establish a chief executive chosen by a national majority (or at least plurality) rather than under-the-table parliamentary bargaining. I have yet to encounter a parliamentary system that works well without strong national parties, and giving the Solomons voters some level of nationwide choice might reduce both the perception and reality of powerlessness. Changing the culture of political violence and ethnic suspicion will take longer, but enfranchisement is a necessary beginning.
The academic proponents of parliamentary systems tend to assume that strong parties follow logically from parliamentarism. The Solomons and Papua New Guinea are two cases that show that the relationship is not necessarily causal. Certainly, parliamentary systems do not work well if strong party systems do not emerge. But would adding a directly elected presidency–of whatever nonceremonial powers–help? That is indeed a question to ponder.
El Tiempo reports a new poll out today, and it continues to look as though President Alvaro Uribe will win reelection without necessity of a runoff. He has 57% support, with Carlos Gaviria (Polo DemocrÃ¡tico) at 13.3% and Horacio Serpa (Liberal) at 10%. The poll is based on a sample of 700 voters in five major cities. I am always skeptical of polls based only on several cities, but, if anything, a more broadly representative sample would probably show Uribe farther ahead.
It was one of those plays that is sure to be shown over and over again, as well it should be. So if you have missed it, you will have other opportunities.1 And it is not to be missed. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, of the Chicago White Sox, made a play on Saturday that is one of the best I have ever seen.
He was falling down while charging a dribbling grounder behind the pitcher’s mound on one of those “do-or-die” chances. Somehow–and I have not a clue how–he managed to throw underneath and across his body a perfect strike to first to get the runner.
In fact, you can click and watch right now! And, OK, so the throw was a high “strike” and the batter-runner was Bengie Molina. Still an amazing play. [↩]
After hardly getting any rain all winter, we’ve had a very wet spring, with a series of storms–a few quite big–passing through in March and the first half of April.
The wet spring followed a winter with quite good chilling accumulation (despite some warm spells along the way that made a doubter of me). The Mesch Mesch Amrah black “apricot” (actually a plumcot) is always one of the harbingers of spring. It had a good bloom, and the early signs of a good fruit set. But the wet weather did it in, and nearly all the fruitlets aborted by the end of March.
Most of the real apricots, on the other hand, have set better than I have ever seen before!
I am not sure now which apricot this is (shame on me, I know). It could be ‘Earli Autumn,’ ‘Autumn Glo,’ or ‘Blenheim.’ It does not matter,* because all of them (and also ‘Newcastle’) look like this. Look closely (especially on the large photo, which you can open in a new window by clicking the image) and you will see several very dense clusters of fruitlets!
The ‘Moorpark’ (as I have said before, my favorite) is still blooming. Fortunately, there have been some good sunny breaks between storms (inlcuding an 85-degree day on Friday), and it looks like it is setting.
Just today I noticed that the ‘Canadian White Blenheim’ had some blooms and several flower buds that are swelling. I have waited a long time to taste a true white-fleshed apricot. Could this be the year? (more…)
Eight states, at least, have applied to move forward their contests for the selection of delegates for the 2008 Democratic party presidential nomination, in response to the party’s efforts to put states that are more racially diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire up front.
As a Californian (and also a non-Democrat*), two concepts immediately spring to mind with respect to “reforming” our broken nominating (and electing) process: deck chairs, sinking ship.
*And, as if anyone ever doubted, but just for the record, non-Republican.
The possibility that apples might have been in that part of the world at that time in history did not seem right. However, it could be so. On the apple and its ancient cultivation beyond its probable origins well to the north of the Biblical lands, see the history at Vegparadise:
Some historians report the apple’s origins were rooted in Southwestern Asia, just south of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Others note that apple seeds found in Anatolia were carbon dated 6500 BCE. Archeologists even found a fossilized imprint of an apple seed from the Neolithic period in England.
And so maybe apples really are traditional to the Exodus experience after all, as the link Vasi provide above suggests. Vegparadise again:
In the 13th century BCE, Ramses II ordered cultivated varieties of apples planted in the Nile delta.
I would not have expected apples to have been grown in that region, given the climate. This offers more evidence that apples–even old varieties–do not have a significant chilling requirement! (The Nile delta would not get much winter chill, and while the climate certainly has shifted and the region was not always desert, it was also not temperate, but rather probably tropical around Ramses time. By the time of the Exodus, it had probably largely completed its transformation to desert.)
Even if apples were known to the ancient Egyptians and Israelites, there is still no way there would have been fresh apples to eat at the original Passover, assuming the first one really took place in springtime.
This discussion inevitably leads to the question of what Eve’s fruit of temptation might have been. I would guess pomegranate. The Vegparadise page agrees, but also suggests maybe quince. Quince seems unlikely, given its non-Middle East origins, but if apples could grow in the Nile delta, quince certainly could grow in the Tigirs delta, as they have quite low chilling requirements. However, quince are almost certainly also from much farther to the north, so presumably human traders would have been required to bring quince into the region. That somehow does not quite fit with the whole Genesis/Adam & Eve story, does it?
See Jonathan’s update on the prime ministerial vote, which put the former party back in power, despite its poor showing in the election. What was that I was saying (below) about it being hard in the Solomons for voters to throw out the “bums”? It is hard enough at the individual district level. Harder still at the aggregate government level when the cabinet-formation process is all about post-election bargaining and so many outcomes are possible, depending on the way the many non-party MPs break.
I do not follow Solomon Islands politics (can’t follow them all!), but from the little I know, I can surmise that the political process is similar to that of its larger neighbor, Papua New Guinea. Like PNG, the Solomons are one of the plurality-in-single-seat-districts systems that defy even the most relaxed and generalized versions of Duverger’s Law: No two-party system nationally; not even two-party competition at the district level. In fact, hardly a party system at all.
A look at the 2001 results shows a PNG-like fragmentation: Many districts won by very narrow pluralities, often by independent candidates. So, government-formation is all about post-election coalitions and PM candidates providing patronage to individual MPs and their constituents.
It is not as though the defeat of about half the incumbents in the 2006 election was a great sweep of “throw the bums out.” Election outcomes in many districts are almost random, given the numbers of candidates running and the narrow margins. And it is not as if voters in most cases could know on which opposition candidate they should coordinate if they had a collective “will” to oust their incumbent. Nor is there any obvious connection between the district vote and the government outcome, in the absence of broad national parties.
In 2001, by my count (not to be taken as definitive, but it should not be off by much), 12 of 50 districts were won with less than 25% of the vote (one by under 14%!). Another 10 were won by between 25% and 33%. Only ten were won with more than 50%, and nearly all of those were by huge margins, and hence were not meaningfully contested.
In 2001, 26 incumbents were defeated and 19 reelected (the other districts apparently were open seats). In one district, the incumbent obtained only 9.3% of the vote, although that was good enough for third place (against a winner who ‘ran away’ with the race with his 35.5). Obviously, if you do not like incumbency advantage, you will like Solomon Islands elections, where turnover is extremely high.
Twenty two of the 50 seats were won in 2001 by independents, and the largest party won 12 seats. (The BBC story linked above says 20, but I assume this counts independents or candidates of other parties who joined the leading party post-election, but pre-government-formation.)
These patterns are all quite similar to what is seen in PNG elections.
In few places is politics more “local” than in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Max Cameron has an excellent discussion of the alliance possibilities in the Peruvian congress, now that the results are coming into somewhat clearer focus. (Rici has been updating these results in the comments to an earlier post, as well as at Max’s blog.)
It is worth noting here that alliance-building is particularly important in Peru, and not just in the generic sense (present in any presidential system) of needing to form majorities to pass statutes or constitutional amendments needed to implement a separately elected president’s program of policy change. In Peru, the need for alliances goes a step farther: Peru, uniquely in South America, has a semi-presidential system.
In a semi-presidential system, there is a prime minister who heads the cabinet and may be removed by a vote of no-confidence passed by the legislative majority. Peru’s variant also allows the president to fire a prime minister–even against the wishes of the parliamentary coalition (unlike the French or Romanian or Haitian versions, for example). And Peru has several other significant executive powers lodged in the presidency rather than in the cabinet. Nonetheless, the cabinet and its PM are important in Peru, and a president who lacks a reliable alliance in the legislature will find it hard to govern.
Actual votes of no confidence have been relatively rare in Peru. But presidential firing of PMs or reshuffling of cabinets in anticipation of congressional alliances shifting have been very common.
Even Alberto Fujimori built (and later rebuilt) governing alliances after winning the 1990 runoff and facing a divided legislature. The difference with Fujimori is that he was also at the time building an alliance with the military, with whom he overthrew the democratic regime in 1992. Presumably that part of Peruvian history will not repeat itself.
This need for multiparty alliances is one reason why a possible second presidency for Alan GarcÃa would be quite different from his last, disastrous, turn in power. Then (1985-90) he was the leader of the majority party. Now he would not be. Check out Max’s considerations of how alliances might be built under either Humala or GarcÃa, and the role that the Fujimorista party (which made a comeback) might play.
It is good to know that all fruits are kosher for Pesach (Passover). Alas, beer is not.
But a question I have for anyone knowledgeable out there is:
How can apples be a traditional ingredient in the Ashkenazi versions of charoset? Apples, after all, are a fall fruit, and Pesach comes in spring in the northern hemisphere.
Now, the Sephardi traditions use dates and figs, which are well known in the Middle East (as apples were not, historically, despite various mis-translations). Dates and figs thus make sense (although figs are not ripe in spring, either, so I assume, like dates, one uses them dried). But apples–fresh apples–in spring?
The JPost, citing Al-Jazeera, reports that the Hamas government of Palestine is prepared to recognize Israel within the 1967 borders.
May it be so.
It is worth noting that the 1967 borders would mean many more settlements dismantled by Israel than in the Kadima plan.* But that plan was predicated on unilateral moves by Israel in the presumed absence of any movement on the Palestinian side. If Hamas really is about to make this announcement, one might actually dare to be optimistic.
Mr Berlusconi’s government had pushed through an electoral reform last year which brought back full proportional representation.
Let’s get this straight. When an electoral system allows a bloc of parties to join together and take a guaranteed minimum of 55% of the seats–even if the alliance has won less than a majority of the votes–it is not proportional representation!
It is not that pre-election coalitions do not occur in clearly PR systems. They do. (Think of the UIA and Kurdish fronts in Iraq, each of which contains several component parties; there are various examples in Israel and other pure PR systems.) And it is not that majorities are never manufactured in PR systems. It does not happen often, but it happens in some cases, and the leading bloc in this case had very close to 50% of the votes anyway.
But the Italian system, v. 2006, provides very powerful incentives for large pre-election coalitions, because–especially in the lower house, where the bonus is calculated nationwide–it gives a very high premium for having the plurality of votes.
It is not a plurality system by any conventional definition. But it is just as clearly not PR.
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