Charles, at Political Arithmetik, has two new reviews of the generic party polling in advance of the congressional elections. At least two striking findings for me are: (1) the range of variation in these polls is substantial, and (2) so far, at least, the recent increase in presidential approval is having little or not effect on poll-respondents’ congressional partisan preference.
With caveats about the variability, Democrats still enjoy more than a ten-point advantage.
Click on “US vote ’06″ above to see the previous discussion of these polls and the difficulty of translating them into actual votes for actual candidates, and into an ultimate seat distribution.
Indeed, idolatry can have rather serious consequences. The core of Prof. Eidelberg’s criticism is hardly novel; in fact, as he notes, it goes all the way back to the state’s first Prime Minister:
Ben-Gurion saw that by making the country a single electoral district, political parties would have to compete for Knesset seats on the basis of proportional representation (PR); and that, given a low electoral threshold, an absurd profusion of parties would emerge that would: (1) fragment the Knesset; (2) splinter the cabinet into rival party leaders; (3) hinder the pursuit of coherent and resolute national policies; and (4) enable elected officials to ignore public opinion with impunity.
The claim that elected officials face no retribution for violating public opinion could be subjected to empirical testing, and probably refutation. However, that is not my intention here. Obviously, Israel’s party system is fragmented, its cabinets often comprise political opposites and can be unstable, and the closed lists mean that individual MKs have little direct accountability to voters.
The solutions Prof. Eidelberg proposes are not a move to a disproportional system such as FPTP, but rather the introduction of regional districting within a PR system. He specifically mentions MMP, two-tier list PR (as in Denmark and Sweden), and STV. However, would any of these systems overcome the core problems Prof. Eidelberg sees with the current system?
If we assume that either MMP or a two-tier list system would have national compensation, the degree of proportionality would be unchanged from the current system. It takes somewhat of a leap of faith to believe that either system would result in a reduction in the number of parties. In fact, I am aware of studies that have shown that even a pure FPTP system would not sgnificantly change the number of parties, because, while the seat allocation is carried out nationwide, the main parties in fact have distinct regional constituencies. (Labor is strong in Tel Aviv and Haifa, Likud and the religious parties have their base in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Arab parties in Nazareth, etc.)
Given the regionalized distirbution of party support within Israel, the use of either STV or any districted PR that was based on relatively small (and perhaps variably sized) multi-seat districts without nationwide compensation would result in disproportional allocation of political power–something Prof. Eidelberg indicates in the piece he does not wish to countenance.
Whatever criticisms one can make about the Israeli electoral system–and there are many–we should not lose sight of the fact that sometimes countries have chosen and maintained the electoral systems that are most compatible with the actual social and political divisions that democracy must somehow reconcile. I have read many pieces on electoral reform in Israel–Prof. Eidelberg’s worthwhile piece being merely the most recent–but I have yet to find one that convinced me that any fundamental electoral reform would produce a more manageable system for the country. MMP or two-tier PR–with national compensation in either case–might have the salutary effect of enhencing accountability of MKs to constituents, but it would probably have little effect on interparty fragmentation or intra-cabinet rivalries.
It is certainly a debate worth continuing, however.
I have done some reading of his Foundation’s website, and I will say that I find his substantive political positions absolutely repugnant. (In fact, they are quite openly racist.) Nevertheless, the debate on the electoral system is a core issue of F&V, and I will leave it here; I ask any potential commentators to confine discussion to the electoral system alone.
As part of his continuing observations on the campaign for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Pithlord has some misgivings about the selection process and “party democracy” more generally.
He notes that leadership election processes in which party members vote have a normative problem:
our choices for high office are limited to those chosen by self-selected partisans. Further, once selected, there is rarely a legitimized way of deposing the leader.
He suggests that the prime minister should be the “the person with the confidence of a majority of the House, not the person selected” by whatever procedures a political party may choose. The discussion continues in his comment thread.
The leadership selection processes used by parties in parliamentary systems is something I have thought about far less than I should have, so I hope readers will have some thoughts on the matter.
Note that none of the leadership selection processes that I know of in parliamentary parties is a “primary” election in the sense that we understand the term “primary” in the USA, where any voter is entitled to vote in such an election (with various provisions on when, if at all, in advance of the election a voter must declare a party affiliation). Additionally, primaries in most US states are administered by state electoral authorities and regulated by public law, whereas internal leadership elections elsewhere (including most parliamentary systems) are administered and regulated by the party itself.
Nonetheless, the more open a party is about who may vote in its own leadership selection, the more the process resembles a “primary.” One of the questions raised in the comment thread to the Pithlord’s remarks is whether moving towards public-law regulation of party elections is a good idea. In a parliamentary system–where the head of government is dependent upon the confidence of elected representatives–is a public process of choosing that leader over the heads of those representatives compatible with the logic upon which the system is based?
On September 19, the St. Louis Cardinals had a seven game lead on the Cincinnati Reds and eight and a half on the Houston Astros. Today, the Astros are only two and a half out (and the Reds three and a half).
Are we witnessing one of the historic collapses of all time? Or will the Cards hang on? With only six games to go, the odds still heavily favor St. Louis. But a while ago they seemed like a lock. Can’t say that today.
UPDATE: Weren’t those games of 27 September stunning?
Fall is here, according to the calendar, and it feels like it, too. It was pleasantly cool and partly cloudy today. And, sundown tonight marks the start of the year 5767 on the Jewish calendar. There is a tradition at Rosh Hashanah of “first fruits,” in which one should celebrate the season with fruits that are just ripening as the new year begins–preferably different fruits on each of the two nights of the holiday.
Fortunately, there are pretty much always at least two new fruits available at Ladera Frutal.
This season, in addition to apples (a very traditional new year’s first fruit), we are just now getting the Asian pears, such as these Hosui pears, some of which weigh over a pound now. (This photo was taken almost a month ago, right before I put the bird netting over these trees.)
This tree is planted in a cluster of four pears. The tree in the foreground is ‘Red Bartlett’ and it also has one pear, visible near the right side of the photo. The Seckel pear is not clearly visible here, but also has a lot of fruit this year. (The fourth one is a Comice, which has yet to fruit.)
The quince has a heavy crop this year.
Quinces are a very old fruit that is not so well known in this country, unfortunately. This one is a rare Russian import known as ‘Aromatnaya.’ Although, like all quinces, it is best cooked (lamb stew with quince!!), this variety is tender and sweet enough to eat fresh, and what great flavor! Soon, we’ll be making some quince jelly (or, rather Merry will–division of labor between farmer and processor, and all that).
Another first-fruit treat this season is the jujube, seen here with its ripening fruit. (In the foreground is a stalk of Raja Puri bananas that blew down in some recent gust; the fruit is now hanging in the breezeway to ripen.)
The jujube is a lesser known fruit on this side of the Pacific, but is much prized in China. Its flavor is often said to be something of an amalgam of apple and date, which ought make it an ideal Rosh Hashana first fruit. This variety goes by the really sexy name of GA 866, and is said to have a remarkably high sugar content. I don’t know, because I have not tasted one yet. I am saving that for tonight.
I don’t know how many times I have heard in the last several weeks that the wild card has worked out just like Bud, in all his brilliance, intended. If we just confine our evaluation to how many teams are at least theoretically in a race in the final six weeks or so of a season, that’s probably right. Teams like the Marlins and Braves would have been buried long ago if not for the wild card. They are buried now, as they deserve to be, but they–especially the Marlins–were in the hunt until quite recently.
However, the implication upon which this common argument for the wild card is based rests on a flawed assumption: That races are better when mediocre teams are involved.* In the NL, until the Phillies and Padres began to pull away from the pack in the last week and a half–the Padres have actually overtaken the West division lead, leaving the Dodgers, for now, in the Wild Card lead–the teams in the hunt were all struggling to stay above .500.
What if there were no wild card, and we were back to the two-division alignment in each league? Of course, the records of the various teams are partly endogenous to the division alignment, in that the schedule varies by division and management strategies in acquisition and deployment of personnel vary according to what the available “prizes” are. Still, we have to hold something constant, and we’ll hold constant the records across this experiment.
What if the various teams, with their records as of the start of play on 22 September, were the same as they actually are, but we had two division winners instead of three plus a wild card?
We’d have some pretty interesting races!
The NL East would have been over long ago, just as it was in the real alignment of 2006. In the West, the Padres and Dodgers would be battling it out for a winner-advances, loser-goes-home race. Under the actual alignment, there is a strong chance that both will advance, although the Phillies have kept things interesting in the West by remaining close to the Wild Card. The letdown in a wild-card race involving teams from different divisions is that such teams seldom play each other down the stretch, as the Dodgers and Padres have done just recently, and as the various contending teams in the AL Central also have done recently.
If the NL had its two divisions on a sensible geographic basis like its current three, and unlike the real two-division alignment in place from 1969 through 1993, the Cardinals (and the lowly Cubs) would be in the West (and the Braves and Reds in the East). Then we’d have a tight three-team race for the NL West. Instead, other than a brief period in mid-August, the Cardinals have been in control of their division most of the second half.
Now for the AL. With a two-division format, the Yankees and Tigers would be undergoing a thriller, with the teams at this moment separated by 1.5 games, and the Yankees only recently having pulled into the lead. The West would be led by the Twins, who would have just caught the A’s after a summer-long pursuit, and with just one game currently separating the two teams.
Back in the real world, except for the uncertainty as to which of three teams–Dodgers, Padres, and Phillies–will be left out, the playoff teams have all been settled within the past week or more. The only other decisions yet to be made in the final week ahead are about seeding. The top position in the NL is obviously going to the Mets. But the number two could still be either the West winner or the Cardinals. In the AL, any of the four teams heading for the postseason could still be the top seed, as only three games in the standings separate the Yankees from the A’s. Seeding is anything but trivial. The Angels’ stunning capture of the home-field advantage against the Yankees in the final weekend in 2005 may have been crucial to their Division Series win. But the battle over home-field advantage and first-round matchups is not quite as thrilling a a winner-take-all race down to the wire.
So, which format would have made for the more compelling races in 2006?
* There is another argument for it–its counter-medicrity potential. The argument that the wild card prevents goods teams from being excluded when worse teams win a division is a good one, but by no means the as common in popular media discourse as the empower-the-mediocre one .
Paul Davies has a brilliant post (followed by some brilliant commentary) up at Make My Votes Count, in which he suggets something very much contrary to the conventional wisdom: Except in the very short run, a hung parliament could be bad for the Liberal Democrats, as could a coalition government. Even proportional representation could be bad for the long-term interests of Britain’s third party.
As Joe Patterson notes in a comment to Paul’s post, a key advantage of PR would be that it would, finally, allow us to know where the real centre of British politics lies–most likely not with the marginal voter in the marginal constituencies, which all three major parties currently fight over.
In fact, as I have argued repeatedly here at F&V, the empowering of the center (or the centre) is what makes PR the most democratic family of electoral system. Yet most of the time, advocates and opponents of PR alike speak of it as a system that empowers minority parties.
The new military government of Thailand is tightening restrictions on political parties, assuming all legislative authority, and claiming it will be a year before elections are held again under a new constitution.
Thailand’s suspended constitution had been in place only sine 1997, when it was enacted with broad national consensus and much international acclaim in the wake of the currency crisis. Among the world’s constitutions, it would rank pretty high as a modern democratic document. Among the problems of Thai democracy–and there are many–the constitution would rank pretty low.
The main opposition Democrats deny that there is a need for a new constitution, but the military’s restrictions include all parties, not just that of the ousted leader.
It remains early in the process, but this is beginning to seem less like Poder Moderador (being an arbiter, a la Brazilian and most Latin American coups before the 1960s) and more institutional (i.e., bent on changing the regime and not merely the government). That is not to say that we are looking at 15-20 years of military rule (as was the case in much of South America), but the Thai military seemingly has adopted a transformative mission. If so, it is likely to be in power for more than the avdertised one year.
Note: I do not plan to continue regular updates on the military junta, until such time as a constitutional or electoral process is again underway.
According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 54% of Palestinians are “dissatisfied with the overall performance of the Hamas government and 42% are satisfied.” “The public exhibits a total consensus (84%) that the situation of the Palestinians today is bad or very bad.” Yet, “the percentage of those who say that they would vote for [Hamas] if new elections are held today remains essentially unchanged, standing at 38% compared to 39% three months ago.” *
Given that, in the party-preference portion of the legislative election in the Palestinian territories in January, Hamas obtained under 45% of the vote, these results show remarkably stable support for the party in a context of overall dissatisfaction. Obviously, Palestinians are not holding their ruling party responsible for their condition. One need not look too far to see why: “a majority (67%) does not think that Hamas should accept the demand of the donor community to recognize Israel and only 30% believe it should.”
The poll also shows support for Fatah at 41%, which is almost precisely what it obtained in the election. Support for President Mahmoud Abbas stands at 55%, essentially unchanged over the past three months.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has not fared so well in public opinion. A poll by by Yedioth Ahronoth and the Dahaf Institute shows only 7% (yes, seven percent) of Israelis support Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as “as the right person to lead them.” The highest ranking Israeli politicians in this survey are as follows:
Current Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz comes in at 1% (yes, one percent).**
* The poll was conducted in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during September 14-16, 2006. Total size of the sample is 1270 adults interviewed face to face in 127 randomly selected locations. Margin of error is 3%.
** The survey findings are based on the responses of 499 people out of a representative sample of the adult population in Israel, and they will be published in full by Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday. The maximal sampling error is 4.5 percent.
Hungary experienced its “longest and darkest night” since the fall of communism when violent protests were sparked by anger over the revelation of remarks, taped before April’s elections, in which the prime minister admitted falsifying budget statistics. The PM’s alliance was reelected narrowly.
Until now, Hungary had seemed to be one of the most stable of the post-communist democracies. However, given the revelations, people have a right to be angry and to demand the resignation of the PM and other high officials, though not violently. Parliament, including the opposition, has passed a resolution condemning the violence, and the PM has ordered police to use “to use all means to restore order.”
Local elections are scheduled in two weeks’ time and the ruling socialist-liberal coalition is trailing the conservative opposition party Fidesz in polls.
Military leaders in Thailand say they have overthrown the country’s Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra… Parliament and the constitution have been suspended.
…in a broadcast on all Thai television channels, the leadership of the armed forces said it had taken control of Bangkok, declared nationwide martial law and ordered all troops to return to their bases.
“We ask for the co-operation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience,” the announcement said. [BBC]
Yeah, that’s the thing about coups. They are so inconvenient.
Elections are (had been) scheduled for October. The last elections were boycotted by all the opposition, and subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court. Thaksin has been on and off about whether he would accept demands from the opposition–and even from within his own party–that he retire from active politics. In other words, political instability has been in the air for a while in Thailand. Still, it has been fifteen years since the last coup attempt (in a country where coups and attempted coups previously had been common). And, once again, the king–who has already shown his skills not only as mediator, but also as political analyst–may be called upon again to be the arbiter.
Even the first inning was unusual. The Padres’ first two batters made outs, then the team scored 4 runs. The Dodgers tied it over their first three innings. They were just getting warmed up.
Ahead, 6-5, at the end of eight, the Padres seemingly put it away with three in the top of the ninth, only to have the first two Dodger hitters hit homers. Trevor Time! Hoffman’s first two pitches were also hit for homers. Yes, four straight batters, four straight homers! Tie game.
But the dramatics were still not over. The Padres scored in the top of the 10th, only to see the Dodgers come back with two in the bottom half–on only one homer, this time.
A team that hardly ever hits home runs hit four in a row, and five in two innings, when staring defeat squarely in the eye.
And, incidentally, it was a battle for first place in the NL West. Really, that is pretty much incidental, as most likely both of these teams are going to the playoffs, taking a lot of the urgency out of a four-game series that the teams split. Maybe they will play again with the pennant really on the line in mid-October. Now that would be fun. In the meantime, as much as I hate to say this, GO GIANTS AND PHILLES!, keep the pressure on.
Dodgers now lead the West by 1/2 game, and are 2 games ahead of the Phillies, the team closest to denying one of these western teams a playoff spot. The Giants are now 4 1/2 out in the West, 4 in the Wild Card, and pretty much done after their 20-8 drubbing by the Rockies.
Well, so the party that appointed an Independent Commission that recommended MMP, scheduled a referendum for May, 2008, then called yesterday’s election, was reelected. Yes, it was. The voters rewarded it with a plurality of the vote (47.7% to 47%), and a higher share than in 2003.
Folks, we have here a reversed plurality. A spurious majority. A wrong winner. And right smack dab in the middle of an electoral reform debate. Well, not much of a debate; as I noted in previous posts on this campaign, the Commission on Legislative Democracy and its recommendations, and the favorable government response to them, and the scheduled referendum were mentioned only in the platform of the third party (no seats, over 5% of the vote).
So, the Conservatives had committed to a referendum that would make future reversed pluralities impossible. The Liberals are in power only because of an electoral system that makes reversed pluralities possible. Will the referendum go ahead?
This was not New Brunswick’s first anomalous outcome. Will it be its last?
Pardon my glee, but I just love real-time experiments for my theories.
* The new district boundaries may have had an effect, as changing demographics meant that “two rural seats were lost and two urban seats were created,” according to the CBC.
How refreshing that districts are not drawn by the incumbents, but by an independent boundaries commission, such that the incumbent government can actually lose districts. I mean, that is almost, well, democratic. Voters get to pick their legislators, rather than vice versa. But of course, they still can only do so within the confines that the line-makers create for them–a reminder of the limits of fair redistricting.
Of course, any electoral system that assigns political power to parties but does so according to regional distributions has an inherent tendency to produce votes-to-seats anomalies. Districting, even the fairest, can’t prevent anomalies in single-seat district systems. Only an electoral system that distributes power among parties based on the parties’ actual voting strength can do that.
Update: Check out the comment thread on the NB election at Idealistic Pragmatist. It is interesting in that the comments encapsulate the various threads of my ongoing work on electoral reform in first-past-the-post systems.
One commentator says that the reversed plurality is no big deal because the Tories gained most of their votes in districts they already held. This could be considered the inherent-conditions argument, in that it defends the system against normative charges of “anomaly” by reference to the way FPTP works: a series of self-contained regionally circumscribed contests. (The logical extension would be that those votes deserved to be wasted, because they simply weren’t needed in the districts where they happened to have been cast. Such an argument, of course, conveniently ignores the fact that the aggregation of these races determines who controls the agenda of the body so elected; in a parliamentary system, that means the majority party–in seats, the aggregated votes being irrrelevant–monopolizes the government itself.)
Another comment suggests that the Liberals would have no interest in continuing with the referendum because–as I alluded to above–they just benefited from the status quo system. This is the outcome-contingency argument: the party in power weighs its position on electoral reform based upon calculations of which electoral system will benefit it. If it is better off under FPTP, it will cancel the referendum to prevent PR from being adopted.
And another notes that it would be quite an act of “chutzpah” for the new government to call off the referendum, inplying they might not be willing to do it. This is the act-contingency argument: the party in power will weigh its position with respect to electoral reform according to its calculation of the political cost of appearing to stand in the way of reform (whether or not it actually wants the reform).
Credit where credit is due: The whole outcome/act contingency argument is my adaptation from occasional F&V propagator Mike. The inherent vs. contingent concept is my adaptation of the late Harry Eckstein’s clasification of explanations of revolution.
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