The Tory backbench rumour mill suggests that Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, is dusting down the rules about how a “confidence and supply” arrangement would work.
If this were done, it would mean the cabinet would become a minority government, but the LibDems would agree not to vote in favor of a no-confidence motion. They would also commit to supporting (or at least not defeating the government over) the budget. In exchange, they would continue to be consulted on policy, but would forfeit their voice around the cabinet table.
Confidence and supply agreements, which have become the norm over the past decade in New Zealand as well as being common in other multiparty parliamentary systems, give the support party more flexibility while also preserving stability.
I have wondered since the election over a year ago why this was not the arrangement negotiated between the parties. Of course, the LibDems wanted ministerial positions and the greater policy influence that comes with them. But it was also apparent at the time that Conservative leader and PM David Cameron preferred a formal coalition over a minority government. Perhaps he still does, but as the next election draws nearer, both parties will have electoral interests in differentiating themselves. A confidence and supply agreement would make that easier.
If this change were made to the current UK governing arrangement, it would not change a provision of the original coalition agreement by which the parties agreed to legislate fixed election dates.
Ending the Coalition would not mean an immediate general election. A Bill is going through Parliament that should ensure it takes place in May 2015, which suits both parties.
It was supposed to be done on the 28th of May, but there was no chance they were going to make it. So yesterday’s announcement just acknowledges the inevitable.
The assembly, by two thirds vote, will simply amend the interim constitution to extend its own term–not for the first time. The previous deadline was 28 May 2010.
I wonder how common it is for constituent assemblies to miss their deadlines. It would make sense to require elections for a new constituent assembly if the current one fails to meet deadlines for its primary function, which is (obviously) to draft a constitution. On the other hand, when you are the constituent body, your word is sovereign (exceptions for some cases that are under international supervision, such as Namibia in 1990) and you can do whatever you want, more or less by definition.
The world’s longest-ruling democratically elected Communist parties have been voted out of office as results of four key Indian state legislative elections were released today.
As has been widely anticipated since at least the dust-up in the central government over the Left Front’s resistance to the Indo-US nuclear agreement, the West Bengal result shows a crushing defeat in the Left’s most important stronghold. In the 2009 national Lok Sabha (parliament) elections, an alliance headed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) dominated the state. In 2009, as well as in these state elections, the TMC was in a pre-electoral alliance with the federal ruling party, the Indian National Congress (INC). TMC’s leader, Mamata Banerjee, is the federal Railways Minister in the coalition cabinet of the INC-led United Progressive Alliance.
The TMC-INC alliance has won 226 seats out of 294. The TMC itself won 184. The various parties of the Left Front, which has ruled the state for 34 years, will have only 60.
In Kerala, another long-time Left stronghold in the southwest, the result was close between the United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the INC, and the Left Democratic Front. Projections of seats kept swinging between the two fronts, but in the end the UDF emerged with 72 seats out of 140. Of these 72, the INC will have 38 and the Kerala Muslim League 20. (Several smaller pre-poll allies split the rest.) The Communist Party of India (Marxist)1 will have the most seats in the Kerala assembly of any single party, 45, but it does not matter, given that the pre-poll UDF won a majority.
Another southern state, Tamil Nadu, saw a setback for Congress, as one of the main Dravidian parties displaced the other. The AIADMK and its pre-poll allies (which include left parties as junior partners) defeated the Congress-allied DMK. The outgoing government was a DMK minority cabinet, backed by the INC.
In Assam, in the northeast, Congress scored a big reelection victory. It will have 76 of the assembly’s 126 seats. The opposition regional party, Asam Gana Parishad (AGP), and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were unable to conclude a pre-poll alliance to challenge the INC.
The run-up to the elections saw some interesting brinksmanship between the INC and its allies. The AIADMK and, especially the TMC, held out for many more districts than the INC was initially willing to concede. Because these are pre-electoral alliances to contest single-seat districts (decided by FPTP), the key to how many seats each alliance partner wins lies in how many winnable districts it gets to contest. The TMC forced the INC to back down, leaving the latter with far fewer seats than it originally demanded as a bottom line, and thereby underscoring how dependent the INC is on its state-based partners. In the dealing, however, the TMC had to trade off an attempt to expand its base of operation further into neighboring Assam.2
The Congress Party seems to be steadily rebuilding its strength in recent years, but it remains reliant on regional parties to do so in some key states. Its main rival for power nationally, the BJP, was scarcely a factor in these states (other than contributing to vote-splitting in Assam).
All eyes have already shifted to the next huge prize, Uttar Pradesh, which has state elections next year. Neither Congress nor the BJP currently has much a foothold there, and the main competition is between two state parties that have declined to join national alliances. The intrigue is already getting intense, with protests and counter-protests over state government land acquisition for development projects,3 and Rahul Gandhi’s midnight ride.
Yes, that is it’s name; the parenthetical term being needed to distinguish it from various other Communist Parties in India that perhaps are not Marxist enough, in some folks’ eyes. [↩]
Like many an Indian regional party, TMC harbors aspirations of becoming a “national” party; in fact, its full name is the All-India Trinamool Congress. Similarly, the “AI” in the AIADMK name in Tamil Nadu also means “All India.” [↩]
Similar conflicts fueled the TNC-INC opposition to the Left in West Bengal [↩]
Problems in the two main governing partners to the National Party of New Zealand PM John Key.
The right-wing ACT party has had a leadership change. The new leader is the former National Party leader, Don Brash.
The Maori Party is unhappy about the shift in ACT (largely because when Brash headed the Nats, the latter party wanted to abolish the separate Maori constituencies. Meanwhile, the Maori Party has suffered a split, and may face competition in Maori electorates.
New Zealand has a general election, as well as a referendum on the electoral system,1 on 26 November.
Which will not, however, affect the Maori seats directly. [↩]
I highly recommend a post by Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Stephen Crone of Democratic Audit, writing at the LSE blog, on trends in British opinion regarding proportionality.
A short summary would be that public support for the principles of proportionality or “fairness” vs. “effective government” has been quite stable over the past three decades. However, results of polls that specifically reference a possible shift to a PR system have been more volatile. There was a sharp, but temporary, uptick in support for a PR system according to polling in 2009, yet in 2010 there was a sharp increase in opposition to PR.
In other words, while underlying democratic values may not have changed, the public has become more polarized about the issue of adopting of a proportional representation system.
In reviewing the extensive entries about the recent UK electoral system referendum, which had been posted at the LSE blog on British politics over the past year, I was struck by Professor Patrick Dunleavy’s claim that the Supplementary Vote would have been a fairer system to propose. The Supplementary Vote (SV) is another form of “instant runoff,” and thus bears considerable affinity to the Alternative Vote (AV)–the option that actually was put up against the status quo in last week’s referendum (and was defeated resoundingly).
Under SV, voters are allowed to give just two preferences. If no candidate has a majority of first-preference votes, then all candidates in the contest other than those with the top two totals of first preferences are eliminated. Second choices are then redistributed among the top two, and the candidate with the most votes at this stage is elected.
This procedure differs from AV in at least two fundamental respects. First of all, under AV the voter may (or if we are talking about the Australian House of Representatives, must) rank all the candidates, not just two. Second, AV is a sequential elimination method. Rather than eliminating all but the initial top two, it eliminates the weakest candidate at each stage of the count, up until a winner has been determined. AV thus emulates, in one “instant” act of ballot-marking, the sequential processes used in many political parties and legislative institutions to choose a leader, rather than the two-round majority rules used to elect many national presidents, as does SV.1
SV is used to elect the London mayor and those of some other English cities; it is used nowhere to elect legislators that I know of.
The London form of AV also has the great advantage that it creates a run-off between the top two candidates in a local constituency – only one of them can win.
I must admit to having a hard time understanding why this is a virtue for a ranked-ballot method. If the race has two clear front-runners and one or more also-rans, fine. The two systems would produce the same result, and such a result would be “fair” by almost any standard, I should think. However, if there is uncertainty about the top two as the election day looms, SV poses a real problem for voters. Not only must they know their two top preferences (easy enough), but they must also think strategically about them (potentially a challenge). If one’s first preference is likely to place third or lower, then one must be careful that one’s second preference will clear the initial top two. Otherwise, the second preference will not be counted, as it will have been wasted on an eliminated candidate. By contrast, under AV, if your second preferred candidate has been eliminated, the counters look to your third (and so on).
But isn’t SV a truer (instant) runoff, inasmuch as it is a top-two system? Here is where the instant-ness ceases to be an advantage. In an actual two-round system of majority runoff, the top two choices of the electorate as a whole are revealed before the voters must give their second preference (i.e. before voters whose initial choice was eliminated in the first round decide which of the two remaining candidates to support in the runoff). The risk of a relatively more extreme candidate winning would be greater under SV than under either AV or two-round majority: if more moderate voters lost their second preferences by tending to have cast them on the third-place candidate, relatively more extreme voters may elect, by less than 50%, their preferred candidate. I have no idea how common this would be in practice, but it seems it would be a not implausible effect of SV. In an actual second round, under this scenario, the voters can “update” and vote for the less extreme of the remaining candidates in the runoff. 2
Given the substantial number of UK constituencies in which there is a close race between second and third, SV would seem to be clearly less fair than AV to voters confronted with strategic choices about estimating which two candidates are the top two of the electorate at large. (By the way, it is also the case that in presidential elections by two-round majority, the gap between the second and third candidates tends systematically to be less than that between the top two, suggesting that SV would indeed be a poor choice for these elections.)
I fail to see why a case could be made that SV is fairer, especially in any setting in which the “Duvergerian” tendencies of an existing FPTP (plurality) system have already broken down–which are pretty much the only situations in which it would be considered in the first place.
Intermediate variants are also possible. For instance in some US jurisdictions that have adopted forms of instant runoff, voter preferences are restricted to the top three. The counting process in these jurisdictions typically otherwise follows the AV approach, rather than that of SV (as far as I know; there may be exceptions).
There is also the so-called Contingent Vote, which allows voters to express more than two preferences, but shares with SV the immediate elimination of all but the top two candidates if none has a majority. Thus the Supplementary Vote and the Contingent Vote arguably have more in common with one another than either has with the Alternative Vote, although the Contingent Vote is less likely to waste votes of those who gave their second preference to an already eliminated candidate. (A form of the Contingent Vote seems to be what Sri Lanka uses to elect its president.) [↩]
I recall this point being addressed somewhere in the political science literature; apologies for not having a citation. [↩]
In the Scottish Parliament elections, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has won a majority of seats on around 45% of the votes.
As Thomas Lundberg, writing in the Herald Scotland, says, the result defies those who designed the system to thwart the SNP.
The electoral system is mixed-member proportional (MMP), but with relatively modest-sized compensation districts (rather than a single PR tier). The underlying issue, from a compensation perspective, is that the SNP performed extraordinarily well in the single-seat races.
It has been an interesting week for election-watchers, especially those of us interested in the dynamics of competition in single-seat districts. Canada had its election, with historic shifts in voting patterns, on Monday. Tomorrow the UK votes on whether to retain FPTP or move to the Alternative Vote (AV). And, just to make things even more interesting, voters in parts of the UK–Scotland and Wales–will be voting in MMP elections tomorrow as well. 1 Quite a week–and tomorrow is quite a day–for electoral systems!
Here I will offer some observations about why I do not like either FPTP or AV (except from a researcher’s standpoint, for which they are terrific!)
The problem with FPTP is that it is fundamentally a system to elect a local representative in a world in which–at least for Canada and the UK–a general election is mostly a contest among national parties. That’s fine if there are just two parties of any significance. You still get the tension between hundreds of local contests and the clash of national parties. But if most districts are two-party contests, notwithstanding some number of “safe” seats for one party or the other, the system works, on its own terms: A series of local playings of the national contest between government and alternative government.
However, decades ago in Canada and the UK, the voters (and the party elites) largely stopped playing this game. Third parties have become more and more significant, and not only regionally. There seems to be a widespread view, even in the academy, that national multipartism masks local two-partism–that most districts feature two “serious” candidates, just not necessarily the same two in all parts of the country. That may have been true at one time, but it ceased being so some time ago. Now many British and Canadian districts feature a strong third party, and can be won with barely a third of the vote. Or even less. Canada’s election could be a step back to a more two-party pattern, given the collapse of the Bloc and the poor performance of the Liberals, but the latter may well be back. So it is far too early to say.
Sometimes voters in a given district even “tacitly” coordinate to send a minor party to parliament, not because it is best positioned to represent the specifically local interests of the district’s voters, but because the small party has invested in winning this one district that happens to have a demographic base consisting of the type of voters the party appeals to. I am thinking especially of Elizabeth May’s move across Canada to Saanich and Gulf Islands, which she won for a Green party that invested everything there. Caroline Lucas and the UK Greens last year are another such case, although Lucas at least had represented the same locale in other offices previously. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with this strategy and outcome. Not at all! It just is another piece of evidence that voters and elites not playing the FPTP game.2 The contest in such a district becomes not about local representation, per se, nor about voting for the current or a potential governing party, but about voting for a fringe national party.
Then there is the whole micro-targeting strategy. To the extent that a party tailors its message to ever-smaller subsets of its constituency in swing districts, it, too, is not playing the FPTP game as we (used to) know it. It ceases to be a national campaign, speaking to broad swaths of citizens collectively, and becomes instead a disaggregated message to relatively small blocs of voters who just happen to live in swing districts. Again, not necessarily about local concerns, per se, but about ever-narrower demographic slices.
OK, so British voters can put a stop to all of this by voting for AV, right? Not so fast.
The best argument that the pro-AV camp in this referendum seems to have come up with is that your MP will “work harder” and will have to earn a majority of the district’s voters. I assume MPs tend to work pretty hard as it is, and to the extent that many of them already are pretty close to the median voter in their district (even when winning 40% or less), it is not clear that they have to work any harder under AV. Moreover, given that the proposed version of AV for the UK would allow voters to give only one or as few preferences as they wish,3it is simply not true that the system will guarantee endorsement of every MP by a majority of voters.
Fundamentally, it seems that the argument for AV in an existing FPTP system where two-party competition is no longer the norm is a reactionary one.4 It puts the emphasis back on who wins the district and by what share of the vote. Yet FPTP parliamentary democracies have mostly gone well beyond that, as I started out with in my overview of the problem with FPTP.5 If significant percentages of voters are routinely voting for parties that have little hope of winning their district, but instead will be a clear third or fourth place finisher, it says they don’t really care about who represents the district. They care about national politics. And the two Green examples mentioned above suggest voters are capable of coordinating when what they care about national politics is electing a nationally small party with what are perceived to be fresh ideas. In neither case is AV necessary, and in the main, it’s not helpful if it is trying to put the genie back in the bottle and return to the good old days of majority winners in each district (as a presumed ideal).
And I would think that AV would be a micro-targeters dream. (Is there evidence for that in Australia, or am I out of line here?)
My take on AV would be different if the system could make a large difference in the way national politics works. And in style maybe it would do so, although I suspect that claims about reducing negative campaigning are exaggerated. (Candidates still have an incentive to see that certain contenders are eliminated from the count before others.) Fundamentally, most UK elections would have had the same basic shape of partisan forces in parliament with AV as they had under FPTP. So you get a reactionary effect at the district level without a clear corresponding progressive effect at the national level.
I guess it is clear how I’d be voting tomorrow if I had the privilege. Not because I like the status quo. And not because the political scientist in me wouldn’t love to see how AV would work if adopted in the UK context. But because I am not convinced AV is a real improvement on FPTP.
If FPTP is broken, as I believe it is in the UK (and arguably Canada, even if less this week than it seemed before), the only solution worth the effort is MMP or STV or another proportional system. If only the voters could have the chance to plump for PR…
Plus voting for many English local councls; are these all FPTP? There could have also been STV races on tap, in Scottish municipalities, but these are no longer concurrent with the Scottish Parliament elections. [↩]
If enough of this sort of thing happens to subvert FPTP, it’s fine by me! [↩]
Which is fine; I do not like the Australian requirement to rank every candidate. [↩]
But not in the horrifically specious way that William Hague and Margaret Beckett claim in a cross-party no-on-AV article in The Telegraph: that it would take Britain back to the days of the rotten borough by undermining one person, one vote. [↩]
India, the largest FPTP parliamentary democracy by far, is at least partially an exception to this point. More to come on that, as Indian district patterns are an ongoing research topic of mine. [↩]
What if we had a FPTP parliamentary system in which there were three national parties, and their vote percentages in any given election were:
We would have to call that fairly typical FPTP stuff. Not your ideal Duvergerian pattern, to be sure, but nothing remarkable in the real world of FPTP elections. Now let’s suppose their seat percentages were:
Pretty unremarkable, too, right?
Yes and no. On the one hand, this is what we should expect with FPTP: the two biggest parties with higher percentages of seats than votes, and the third party with significantly lower seats than votes.
Of the 211 FPTP elections in my database, there are 23 in which the largest party won from 38% to 42% of the vote (regardless of other parties’ percentages and excluding four plurality reversals). Of those 23 elections,* what’s the average seat percentage for the largest party? 54.35%. (The median is 52.63%, and the range is 36.15% to 69.09%.) So a large party winning around 40% of the votes and 54% of the seats is totally unremarkable.
Yet in another sense, the largest party in this Canadian election, the Conservatives, is under-represented–relative to a norm of FPTP expectations. Here I am speaking of the expectation set by the seat-vote equation,** which takes a distribution of the top three parties (plus “others”) and computes a “normal” output of seats for a given voting population and assembly size. Here is what the seat-vote equation thinks the seat distribution should look like, given the actual vote percentages:
We’ll call that 1 “other” seat the Green winner, given that the Greens indeed did win their first elected seat. The seat-vote equation does not do well with regional parties. Fortunately for the equation, the regional party in this election almost disappeared (4 seats for the BQ, down from 50).
So the Liberals did quite a bit better than can be expected for the national third party. As a result, the Conservatives are under-represented, relative to FPTP “norm,” with 18 fewer seats than the equation’s estimate.
For all those who think the Liberals’ run as a viable party is over, be cautious. The British experience tells us that a Liberal party can survive for a good long time between the big parties of left and right. The party’s over-shooting of the seat-vote equation estimate underscores the extent to which it retains an efficient regional distribution on which it could build to win back seats in the future. In percentage terms, it is about where the British Liberal Democrats are in seats. This is a big shift, to be sure, but it is premature to write the party off, or to assume it will merge with the NDP.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether the NDP can survive as a major national left-wing party; first it will have to reconcile its now dominant Quebec wing with the NDP constituencies in the rest of the country. If it can’t, the Liberals will resume relevance, whether or not they surge back to “major party” status again anytime soon.
For all those advocates of proportional representation in Canada, this election is bad news. The first past the post system functioned about as expected, notwithstanding the under-inflation of the governing party’s plurality.
* The elections are: BC 1963, BC 1972, BC 1991, CA 1963, CA 1965, CA 1972, CA 1993, CA 1997, CA 2000 (the last majority government in Canada before this election), MB 1986, MB 1988, NS 1999, NS 2006, ON 1977, QC 1976, SK 1975, UK 1975, UK 1992, UK 2001, IN 1967, IN 1977, IN 1989.
** For details, click the words, seat-vote equation in the “Planted in” line above. There was an entry on election day applying the equation to the EKOS final projection, and many previous entries applying it to various past elections.
First it seemed boring. Canada was sleepwalking to yet another Conservative minority, with hardly any change in the four represented parties’ seat totals. Then it got exciting. The NDP was surging, and there was talk of Prime Minister Layton, winning a majority with the backing the remnant of the Liberals, joining to defeat outgoing PM Harper’s Throne Speech.
Then they had the election. Boring. Just another two-and-a-half (or should that be two-and-a-third?) party system under FPTP. Positively British, or at least the way Britain used to be. Two big parties, one of the left, the other of the right, one of which has a comfortable majority. Plus a small third liberal party squeezed between the big two. A few scattered “others.”
The pollsters and prognosticators generally got the NDP right: around 30% of the votes and 100 seats seemed to be the consensus. However, they missed the extent of the Liberal-Conservative swing. The Tories won almost 40% of the vote, when more like 35% was expected. The Liberals failed to make it to 20%. More importantly, the Conservatives will have 167 seats, when most projections had them in the 145-150 range (where 155 is a majority). The Liberals are reduced to just 34 seats, the Bloc Quebecois to 4 (yes, four). The Greens picked up their first seat. (See overall results at CBC.)
I have hesitated until now to run the seat-vote equation on the polls for Canada’s current election, because the campaign has been so unpredictable and regional and riding-level factors are likely to be decisive. Then again, maybe this is Canada’s most nationalized election in two decades or so…
(Most other vote projections do not differ much from this.)
Disclaimer and background: The seat-vote equation is NOT a seat predictor. This is not a “projection”; you can find those elsewhere. The seat-vote equation simply tells us what the main parties’ seat totals “should have been” for a given votes distribution, based on “mechanical” features of the electoral system–how many districts there are in relation to the number of voters. It offers no insight into district-level factors. It has missed some past Canadian elections badly; in fact, I assembled the database specifically to see which elections were so out of line with how FPTP works that electoral reform might be put on the agenda. There have been many of those over the years in Canadian provinces, although at the national level Canada’s FPTP has not been prone to “anomalous” results, but rather has tended to be relatively proportional compared to other FPTP systems. (The seat-vote equation performed either admirably or terribly in the UK 2010, depending on your criteria.)*
With that disclaimer and background out of the way, what does it say the seats “should be” if we use the above votes?
Of course, the BQ is not going to win only one seat, and the Greens just might won one, as well. I said it was not a projection!
The seat-vote equation does not like parties that win seats despite having quite small national vote shares. It is right about the Greens getting 0 or 1 seat on their ~6%, but not about the BQ, despite the latter also being on only 6%. Regional concentration, or its absence, matters in FPTP.
Nonetheless, and for whatever it might be worth, the estimates for the Conservatives, NDP, and Liberals are well within the range of the EKOS seat projections. To be precise, the CPC and NDP numbers are near the upper end of the EKOS projections, and at least one of them will need to be nearer the lower end (130, 103, and 36, respectively, at EKOS) to make room for 10-20 BQ seats.
But, yes, a third straight Conservative plurality–possibly reduced from what it was in the dissolved parliament–and an NDP total around 100-125 really could happen. And if those were the top two parties’ seat totals, it would mean that Canada 2011, far from being any sort of anomalous FPTP election, would be in line with what the seat-vote equation says “should be” the outcome, given these expected votes.
* For more on the seat-vote equation, just click those words in the “Planted in” line above. I have been writing about the equation and various elections, especially Canadian federal and provincial elections, since 2006. The first entry in the series provides the most detail about the equation’s application. If you want the full explanation, please see:
Matthew S. Shugart, “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in To Keep or Change First Past the Post, ed. By André Blais. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
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