I imagine a prime minister being “rolled” over foreign policy issues is not common, especially when the issue is nothing more than how to vote on a symbolic United Nations General Assembly resolution. But such is the precariousness of both Julia Gillard’s grip on her party and the Israeli government’s diplomatic strategy that this is exactly what happened earlier this week.
The Australian government had planned to vote against the resolution to upgrade the status of the “nonmember state” of “Palestine” at the UN. However, Gillard’s Labor Party cabinet members forced her to change Australia’s position to abstain.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, who met Ms Gillard before cabinet, drove the push to oppose the Prime Minister…
Ms Gillard had wanted to vote no while the Left faction, which is pro-Palestinian, wanted to vote for the resolution.
The Right faction, which would usually support Ms Gillard, backed an abstention, in part due to the views of its members that the government was too pro-Israel, and also because many MPs in western Sydney, who are already fearful of losing their seats, are coming under pressure from constituents with a Middle East background.
I might note that we Jews, too, have a Middle East background,1 but presumably the SMH means Australian citizens from Arab or other Muslim countries. There just aren’t enough Jews in swing districts, apparently.2
One source said Ms Gillard was told the cabinet would support whatever final decision she took because it was bound to support the leader but the same could not be said of the caucus.
“If you want to do it, the cabinet will back you but the caucus won’t,” a source quoted one minister as telling the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the German government has also announced it will abstain. When you lose Australia and Germany, even only to abstention on something symbolic, it may be a signal that your diplomatic strategy is lacking.
Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has said he would support the Palestinian Authority’s UN gambit.
The “resistance”, so to speak, of the Palestinian organizations and their sympathizers abroad to recognize this basic fact is at the very core of the conflict. [↩]
And I do not know the views of the Australian Jewish population, but I assume its organizations would favor a no vote on the UN resolution. [↩]
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.
Writing at The Monkey Cage, Juhem Navarro-Rivera offers a detailed report on the elections just held in Puerto Rico. A few things stand out among the sorts of things we tend to emphasize here at F&V:
On Tuesday, November 6 voters in Puerto Rico narrowly voted out incumbent pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño of the Partido Nuevo Progresista in his reelection bid in favor of state Senator Alejandro García Padilla of the pro-Commonwealth Partido Popular Democrático. The margin of difference between the two candidates was less than one percent, the second-closest election since these two parties began competing against each other in 1968. At the time of this writing, the PPD is poised to win majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
Yet, despite the victory for PPD candidates at the polls, Puerto Ricans also voted on a nonbinding plebiscite to solve the political status of Puerto Rico in which a majority rejected the Commonwealth, voting to make Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union. The plebiscite consisted of two questions, the first one asked voters if they approved or not of the current political status, the second question asked voters to choose between three status options: independence, statehood, and an “enhanced commonwealth” in which the sovereignty of the island will belong to the people of Puerto Rico rather than to the U.S. Congress. As of this writing, the voters did not approve of the current Commowealth status 54% vs. 46%, while those who rejected the current status have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the statehood option (61%) while an “enhanced Commonwealth” received 33% of the vote, and 6% voted for independence.
Sometimes, elections do not provide the clearest of mandates, do they? (At least they got a clear majority in their three-part second question on the referendum!)
And as if the mixed messages were not sufficient already,
I filled out my sample ballot last night. There was not much to fill out, actually. While there are several propositions and I am voting on all of them, I will not vote in legislative general elections under California’s new top-two exclusionary electoral system. Unlike some districts around the state, I don’t have any races in which the only two candidates are of the same party, but I also can’t vote for a third party candidate. I often vote for Libertarian legislative candidates, not because I like that party, but because I don’t like the big two, the districts I live in are safe, and the only third parties that used to be on my general election ballot were Libertarian and the far-far-right American Independent. (I am willing to vote lesser of multiple evils, but not of two!)
I am not voting in the school board race because none of the candidates has anything appealing to offer. I am not voting in the hospital board because why should anyone? I am not voting in the Ramona Planning Group election for two reasons: (1) the electoral system is stupid (top-8 plurality, with 10 candidates) and (2) this board twice has unanimously voted against a solar-energy generating field in Ramona (though the County Planning Commission recently overruled the board) and none of the non-incumbents has a different position. I will vote for one of the incumbents on the Palomar Community College district board, but only because I know her (the wife of my former train conductor–how’s that for a real social network?).
Is there anything else on this ballot? Oh, yes, I will vote for President–or rather for a slate of 55 presidential electors–but not for Obama. Again, because the electoral system is stupid, but at least here I have a choice among irrelevant options. I am voting for Jill Stein. I did vote for Obama in 2008, and I think he’s been all right under difficult conditions. I look forward to another four years, given how bad is the alternative that Ohio swing voters could inflict on us. But I have a long list of grievances against the Obama government, I live in one of the safest of safe states, and I am a dissenter against the partisan duopoloy.
I wish I could vote Green for congress and have it matter. The only Green on my ballot is Jill Stein and her running mate, and they have my vote.
The following are some loosely organized thoughts about an initiative measure on California’s ballot, Proposition 37. The proposal is for a requirement to label foods sold in the state that contain–or potentially contain–genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
As someone who has grown organic, usually buys organic, and has some belief (which I can’t claim to be proven) of an allergy to some GM products, I would be inclined towards a yes vote. However, this is not an easy one for me, because there are numerous problems with the measure.
When I look at the list of supporters and opponents, I don’t really like those I’d be siding with if I voted no. If we look upon it as a battle of organized interests over distribution of rents, I’ll go with the organic industry over Monsanto and DuPont every time. But if we’re concerned about good government and sensible consumer-information provision, it’s an easy no.
This is a bad way to go about labelling. Prop 37 has zero tolerance for GM traces,1 which means the standard for commingling will be stricter for conventionally grown foods than for organic. The EU and Australia/New Zealand standards allow trace amounts, and it’s almost impossible to avoid some cross-contamination. So almost every non-organic item will bear the label, if 37 passes. What use is that? It’s better to have a standard for “GM free” (but not organic, given that organic us GM-free, within the allowed tolerance) than to label almost everything conventional as (potentially) having GMO. And, of course, there already exist third-party certifications for GMO-free, or you can buy organic. On the other hand, if you agree that our political system has been mostly deaf to calls for stricter standards–as I do–then it’s an easy yes. To me, a yes vote is more a crying out for political attention than a vote for the specific set of standards this would impose.
Fortunately, as far as I can tell. Prop 37 doesn’t have an amendment clause preventing legislative adjustment. One principle I adhere to in most propositions is vote no, whatever the seeming merits, if only a subsequent initiative can amend the proposition. Others require 2/3 votes of the legislature to amend–also bad, but not as bad. I don’t see any such clause in this one, which I think means it would be just like an ordinary statute.
I also dislike, on principle, prop 37′s clause allowing lawsuits against retailers without a “harm” standard.
Further, I dislike that dried fruits are classified as “processed” and therefore subject to labeling requirement. It won’t affect me, because I eat only organic fruits, usually grown right under my own watchful eye. But on principle, this just is non-sensical. (The “processing” designation also applies to smoking, canning, and other preparations that involve only the fruit or vegetable, which is not how I think of “processed foods” more generally.)
I will probably end up voting yes, despite my very significant reservations. It will be a political vote for me, not a policy vote. And that’s all right; as long as we have this nutty initiative process, I might as well vote to push things in a direction I favor, even if the measure is very far from perfect. If I were to learn before Tuesday that I am wrong in my belief that this could be amended by future action of the legislature, I might vote no. For sure, there will be “amendments” from the courts, but that certainly doesn’t make this initiative particularly unusual.
Much of this paragraph is based on my reading of the proposal itself (see first link above), and some of it on a report by researchers at the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at UC Davis. [↩]
The final report from the official review of New Zealand’s Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system is now posted [PDF].
I have not yet digested the entire report, but the highlights of the recommendations are: dual candidacy OK, closed lists OK, dump the one-seat threshold, lower list-vote threshold to 4%, consider fixed 60:40 ratio of electorate to list seats. If one-seat threshold abolished, also get rid of overhang provision.
All good, though I’m not sure about that last one. The report says, on p.8:
Abolishing the one electorate seat threshold would increase the chances of significant numbers of overhang seats being generated by parties that win electorate seats but do not cross the party vote threshold. Therefore, if the one electorate seat threshold is abolished, we also recommend the provision for overhang seats be abolished. Parties that win electorate seats would keep those seats. However, the size of Parliament would remain at 120 seats because no extra list seats would be allocated. This would have minimal impact on the proportionality of Parliament.
I suspect most of the voting for small-party candidates in single-seat districts (electorates) is motivated by the possibility that said party would win more than this one seat, if it had a party vote sufficient for two or more seats (but less than 5% of the vote). Without the district win granting it a chance at list seats, there is usually little incentive to vote for such a party. An exception would be the Maori Party, which is able to win several of these seats even while getting few list votes. And it is this (very big) exception that calls into question the Commission’s claim of a minimal effect of their recommendation on proportionality. Without adding seats to parliament to (partially) compensate other parties for the party that is overrepresented due to district wins, it would seem that there would be considerable potential for increased disproportionality.
The Israeli political party system may be undergoing some sort of realignment since the calling of elections for January, 2013. The biggest news at this point is the union of the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (YB) parties, a move approved with no significant dissent.
According to a radio or TV report I heard,1 the plan is for Likud and YB to divide the list positions in the same ratio of their current Knesset representation (roughly 2:1). Most of the media reports say this is a “merger” but if the parties are retaining their distinct identities–as seems to be the case–it is simply a joint list instead.
Frankly, I do not understand the logic of the joint list (or merger). The two parties would be expected coalition partners again in any case, and Likud is highly unlikely to be displaced as the largest party whether running alone or in this combine. Some analysts have said, and some early polls suggest, that the combined list could get fewer seats than the two parties running independently. This makes sense to me, as some Orthodox voters on the fence between Likud and Shas or another smaller party might be repelled by YB leader Lieberman and his support for civil marriage, among other issues. Some floating voters of the center might be scared off by Lieberman’s perceived extremism and vote for Labor or another party instead. There is already at least one potential formal splinter, to be led by outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. However, in Israel many more splinters are talked about, or even tried, than ever become relevant.
So why form a joint list? I don’t find it credible that the various parties already existing or being formed (or just talked about) on the center-left would form a joint list, though the Likud Beiteinu, as it is being called, looks like an attempt to preempt just such a threat. Of course, speaking of preemption, there are those who have claimed it makes a post-election raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities more likely. I don’t buy that; if such a raid is going to happen, the two parties don’t need to have run as one. There is no evident daylight between them on this issue, and if there were, it is hard to see how the joint list would fundamentally resolve it.
There will be greater flexibility in the slots on the Labor Party’s Knesset list reserved for specific sectoral interests such as kibbutzniks, female and Arab delegates, it was decided at a party convention Tuesday evening.
These slots will also be voted on by the entire party, not only by the small group of members belonging to the specific sector, it was also agreed.
I suppose this suggests that they are not really sectoral representatives anymore, but maybe that’s precisely the point. Ascriptive representation of these sectors would remain, but without delegating out the nomination process to the sectors that get these slots. The former system and this reform offer two competing models about how parties go about “balancing” their lists.
Throughout the campaign, you can follow polls at the Knesset Poll Tracker. I would observe that it must be hard to track polls–or to poll–when the lineup of parties remains so uncertain. But it seems pollsters ask about just about any imaginable combination.
I forget whether it was IBA TV news or Arutz Sheva radio, both of which I follow. [↩]
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