Lots of talk today about either a grand coalition or, more commonly, a new election within months.
I am not so sure. With the caveat that I really do not pretend to know what the various actors want, I want to put out the following propositions:
1. The vote was a rejection of Berlusconi if it was anything. Sure, he was not the incumbent, but his alliance had won the last election with a large plurality and wound up below 30% in this one. That’s staggering.
2. It was certainly not an endorsement of Bersani, who apparently just squeaked by to get the plurality–and hence a majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies–but whose alliance likewise is below 30%.
3. The Senate is divided, with Bersani’s alliance apparently second to Berlusconi’s, but close having a narrow plurality (see Bancki’s comment, below).
4. Notwithstanding the first point, Berlusconi came from far behind in the polls and just missed pulling off a massive upset (in more ways than one).
Given all of this, why not a Bersani-led government that would be a minority government in the Senate?
It seems as if the center-left would be reluctant to go to a new election, for fear that the very small shift of votes needed to lose its Chamber majority just might happen in a new election. The wild card in this scenario is, of course, Grillo and his 5-Star Movement. (Mario Monti’s list does not hold the balance in the Senate.) On the one hand, Grillo sees himself as the single star (pun intended) of this election, and might think he could do better in a new one. On the other hand, presumably the risk of being responsible for a Berlusconi comeback would make him hesitate to jump back into a new election campaign. Maybe he could be enticed to support a Bersani-led government on confidence and supply?
I just watched an interview on IBA-TV (from Sunday) with new legislator Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid. He said that he intends to hold weekly open office hours where any “constituent” can come with a problem.
The interviewer pointed out that he has no district like a US congress member, so he has seven million constituents. How will he handle it? Lipman said his staff has figured out procedures (e.g. prior email or phone contact) to cope with the logistics, and then he said that this office hours idea is something that has never been done before in the Knesset.
I do not know whether that is true, but if it is, it makes for a nice finding for a single-district national closed-list electoral system!
In another interview (on Arutz Sheva radio), Lipman said he would be always available for any English speakers in the country who need assistance. (See “A self-proclaimed congresmen for English-speaking immigrants” in Haaretz.) He is American-born, having made aliyah only eight years ago (and only renounced his US citizenship upon his election, as required under both country’s laws). He is the first American-born Member of the Knesset since Rabbi Meir Kahane about thirty years ago; their country of birth and rabbinic title would seem to be about all these two MKs have in common.
In the radio interview, he also spoke of wanting to serve as a representative of Beit Shemesh, the city where he lives, and which he said has had no effective representation. He also considers himself Haredi, though he looks and sounds more “Modern Orthodox”. He is one of Yesh Atid’s intended bridges to the ultra-orthodox in its pursuit of drafting more Haredim into the Israeli military. He further wants to take up the cause of obstacles imposed on Ethiopians and Russians by the rabbinic establishment: “I feel I need to take up [the1] cause and be a voice for those who were persecuted in Russia for being Jewish and are now persecuted here for being non-Jews” (from the Haaretz profile).
Lipman was elected at number 17 on the list of Yesh Atid, which won 19 seats.
He refers specifically here to Rav Chaim Amsalem who broke away from the Haredi Sephardic party Shas, but whose Am Shalem list failed to clear the threshold. [↩]
What would you call an electoral system that, under most conditions, proceeds in the following sequence:
(1) Take either the party or pre-electoral alliance that wins the most votes and give it an automatic bonus for being the largest;
(2) Then allocate the remaining seats proportionally.
With various country-specific features, that is how the Greek and Italian systems operate.
We lack a good name for it. Moreover, what seems to be the most common name given to such systems, both in the press and also by some political scientists, is “proportional”.
However, this is not an accurate name for a system that guarantees a disproportionally large share of the seats to the electoral entity that comes in first place.
So what should we call it?
It is really a hybrid of majoritarian and proportional, but of a fundamentally different sort than any mixed-member system. It aggregates votes nationwide (Greece, Italian Chamber of Deputies) or in regions (Italian Senate) and allocates a bonus or premium before any proportionality comes in to play. The name should reflect this premium on being the largest, as well as the openness to relatively small parties without regard to geographic concentration.
I had missed most of the following discussion earlier, and as it occurred in a thread on Lower Saxony, it could easily have been missed by others as well.
I am going to reproduce two comments that describe interesting ideas for coping with thresholds.
there’s no reason you couldn’t make thresholds less discontinuous, by combining them with preferential votes.
The mechanics would be a tweaked STV, with the following differences:
1. Because of large district magnitude, a full preferential vote for all candidates would be impractical. Instead voters would list parties in order of preference, with the intraparty order being fixed as in List-PR.
2. To effect a threshold of T seats, a party would not be awarded its first seat until it has accumulated T quotas.
Vasi, that sounds essentially like the NSW Legislative Council electoral system.
The election is by STV, with 21 vacancies at an election. One has the option of either voting below the line, by ranking at least 15 candidates, or voting above the line, by voting for one or more party tickets. Unlike federal Senate elections, voting for a party’s ticket does not result in a vote for a preset preference ranking of every candidate; instead, it only ranks the candidates of that party, in the order they appear on the ballot paper. Voters have the option of marking multiple parties above the line, unlike federal Senate elections. So, for instance, the Labor how-to-vote cards in the last election suggested that their supporters vote 1 Labor, 2 Greens above the line. That means they essentially ranked every Labor candidate, followed by every Greens candidate, and if all of them are elected or excluded, their ballot is exhausted.
The Australian group voting ticket essentially operates like closed-list PR, with the exception of in very large elections. The NSW Legislative Council used to use the same ticket style system that the federal Senate uses, but after the 1999 election resulted in a ballot paper the size of a tablecloth (almost 1 sq. m), and a candidate from the “Outdoor Recreation Party” got elected with 8,000 first preference votes (something like 5% of a quota), they changed the group-ticket system to the single party ticket system now in place.
Stephane Dion, the former Leader of the Official Opposition in Canada, also is advocating a version of party-preferential voting. though in ridings which would be only 3-5 seats (1 seat by AV in the territories). In a 4-seat riding, the threshold would be 25% + 1 vote. If all remaining parties are above the threshold, seats are awarded to them by largest remainder (I believe). If there are any parties remaining below the threshold, the party with the least votes is eliminated and their supporters votes transferred to their highest remaining preference. His system is OLPR, with each voter able to cast a preference vote for one candidate of his first-preference party.
I think the most proportional system possible would be party-preferential with a low threshold and a large district magnitude (the most proportional would obviously be a single national district). You could either exclude parties one-by-one (hopefully with block exclusions) until every party remaining was above the threshold, then distribute seats. Otherwise you could simply exclude all parties below the threshold and distribute their voters’ preferences to remaining parties. It avoids the huge numbers of voters wasting their votes by being below the thresold; for instance, even with a relatively low threshold of 3%, 19% of the valid votes in the May 2012 Greek election were cast for parties below the threshold. In this system, the only voters who do not have either a first preference or a transfer vote elect an MP are those who deliberately choose not to rank any parties that make it into parliament.
I also think a novel way to build a stronger government while remaining representative of votes would be to use preferential ballots, but with multiple thresholds. In a 120 seat legislature, 60 seats could be awarded to those parties above 2%, with voters below the threshold transferring to their highest placed remaining party. Then a further 30 seats could be given to those parties above 5% (including transferred votes), then a further 20 seats to those parties above 10%, and then the final 10 seats to the party which wins a majority by transfers. This means that even voters who vote below the threshold are represented, and parties with a decent amount of support have representatives in parliament, just not proportionally to their first-preference votes. You also get larger parties at the top, making a stable government more likely, but unlike supplemental member, or the Italian/Greek plurality-winner top up system, the larger bloc is distributed based on all voters’ preferences, retaining a much larger degree of proportionality than other semi-proportional systems.
I am not necessarily endorsing this concept, although I do find it very interesting. I would be interested in further discussion.
The thread has a lot of other interesting comments on the relationship of thresholds to democratic theory (particularly the last several comments posted as of 4 February). I re-posted the two comments above simply because they refer to proposals for an alternative way of coping with thresholds in electoral-system design.
In the earlier thread on my disdain for the z-word in reference to mixed-member systems, one comment (by Chris) suggested that a better term might be “Shadow MP”. The logic for this term is that this is what the district loser who wins via the list often does: “shadows” the winner as a second representative of the district. This makes sense, although the use of a term “shadow government” for the opposition in Westminster-type systems might render “shadow MP” confusing (as Alan suggested). 1
Here is a good example of actual shadowing in practice!
Jacinda Ardern (“List MP based in Auckland Central”) has her office just three houses down from that of the electorate MP, Nikki Kaye.
Kaye’s office is at the left of the photo–see the blue sign behind the parked car at the left; Ardern’s is at the red sign just beyond and to the left of the motorcyclist’s head.
Here are close-ups of the offices and signs of the two MPs.
It is interesting that in New Zealand, many legislators elected via the party list, such as Ardern, refer to themselves as “List MP for” (or “based in”) whatever the district name is. However, others simply refer to themselves on the signs at their offices as a party MP.2 Surprisingly, I did not see one sign that said “Zombie MP for…”
That is, because not all “shadow” MPs are from an opposition party; they can be from the governing party in districts won by the opposition. [↩]
The example shown at that link, Tim Groser, did contest the district as well, both in 2008 and 2011. [↩]
These were notes I received as change in Italy in 1977. Each is from a different regional bank. I do not know the full story. Did Italy not have a central bank yet at that time?
Stores would also sometimes give you subway pay-telephone tokens or even candy as change. Such was the Italian lira at the time. The euro may have its issues, but it is not as if the old currencies were always better!
Colleagues who study mixed-member systems know my disdain for the term, zombie, for candidates who lose a district contest but win a list-PR seat.
In a nutshell, what I do not like about this term is how it conveys a notion that candidates who do not enter parliament via the nominal tier (winning a district individual contest) are somehow “dead” and can enter parliament only by being resurrected through the sorcery of the party-list mechanism. Oh, the horror of it!
There is nothing illegitimate about winning via the list. Nor is it desirable to have the tiers segregated. (Some mixed-member systems ban dual nomination, I realize.) To the extent that there are benefits to mixed-member (MM) systems, they come largely from the incentive of list nominees to pay attention to a locality even if they don’t emerge on top in a local contest.1 Candidates who win via the list rather than the nominal tier were not “killed” by district voters; they have won by one of the two methods that make a mixed-member system what it is–like it or not. We need a better term than the pejorative one that’s almost becoming standard. The alleged illegitimacy of dual-nominated candidates who win via the list is an empirical question, and as analysts we should avoid terminology that presupposes illegitimacy.2
A simple replacement term for ‘zombie’ is not obvious. I’ve suggested acronyms: DNLW for dual-nominated/list winner, DNDW for dual-nominated/dstrict winner, etc. But ‘DNLW’ is not as snappy as ‘zombie’ and might struggle to win acceptance.
I have thought about taking a term from the sports pages: ‘wild card’. You have your division/district winners, and then you have those who enter the playoffs/legislature despite coming second or lower in the division/district. The latter are wild card teams/candidates. However, I am not entirely serious about this “recommendation”.
I could see using something like a series of codes for nomination (N=nominal, L=list, D=dual) and then indicate with (1, 0) whether the candidate won or lost, or in the case of dual winners, whether the win was on the Nominal or List tier:
L1: List only, won
L0: List only, lost
DL: Dual nominated, won list seat
DN: Dual nominated, won nominal-tier seat
N0: Nominal tier only, lost
N1: Nominal tier only, won
I suppose convincing analysts to adopt a scheme like this does not have a high probability of prospering. But that does not mean it would not be valuable.
My goal is to develop an easy to read scheme that is analytic, not pejorative about whether one way of running and winning is more legitimate than any other.
It seems quite clear that the issue of perceived “zombie” illegitimacy comes up a great deal in Japan (where I think the term, zombie, was first used in this context) and in New Zealand (where dual-nominees who win via the list are sometimes called by the also pejorative “back door MP”. On the other hand, in Germany, the divergent paths to parliament seem to be a non-issue. Probably the alleged illegitimacy in Japan and New Zealand is a legacy issue–that these countries had pure nominal electoral systems before adopting MM, unlike Germany. [↩]
Transplanted here from 2012 (and perviously from 2008 and originally from 2006, with many comments from the the original and subsequent years)
Something over at PoliBlog reminded me of why I pay no attention to the State of the Union address: It’s a worst-of-both-worlds form of political communication: All the pomp of a Speech from the Throne without any of the give-and-take of Question Period.
Steven takes issue with Lewis Gould’s characterization, from an essay called Ban the Bombast!:
More like an acceptance speech at a national convention than a candid review of the nation’s situation at the outset of a new year, the State of the Union has evolved into a semi-imperial speech from the throne.
Steven suggests that Gould’s “throne” characterization implies the president always get what he wants. Rather, for me, the reference reminds me precisely of what is wrong with the State of the Union address: It is not like a real throne speech at all.
“Speech from the throne” is the term used (with certain variations) in Westminister parliamentary systems. The head of state reads a statement about what “my government…” will do in the coming year. Then once it, and the dignity of the Queen (or her representative in Canada and other Commonwealth Realms) pretending that the government speaks for everyone, is over, things go back to normal. And that normal involves the head of government being hissed and booed and subjected to harsh questions in parliament.
In this respect, the State of the Union is really the worst of both worlds. The head of state stands before the people’s representatives (oh, and the senators, too) and delivers something allegedly about the nation as a whole. But then, as head of government–and therefore a partisan leader–he (i.e. the same person, unlike in Westminster systems) never sticks around to answer tough questions and subject himself to ridicule for the absurdities he has just mouthed. Instead, the opposition has to send someone to a TV/radio studio to give an equally absurd speech that hardly anyone listens to, and thus an opportunity for the sides to engage each other when people actually are paying attention is squandered.
I say dump the whole thing and in its place:
(1) go back to the head of state being kept off the floor of the separate legislative body and instead have him send a written message to congress
(2) have the head of government stick around after presenting his plans and spin and make him take questions–preferably weekly, as in Canada and the UK.
That is, keep true to the separation of powers by dumping the image of dignity and superiority that its one-way communication from the “throne” of Congress implies, or make the President jostle and spar with the very same representatives of the people he’s speaking before.
Before and after electoral reforms: the political system in search of stability and governability. Part 1
The following is a guest post by Gianluca Passarelli, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Rome, La Sapienza
“Everything must change in order to change anything.” The very famous sentence pronounced by one of the protagonists in the novel Il Gattopardo was addressed to his interlocutor, scared by the potential changes brought by the process of Italy unification in 19th century. It seems that that phrase well represents political and institutional Italian damnation. In fact, many politicians, parties and institutional actors have all acted as Tancredi–who said the famous phrase above mentioned–in order to contain, reject, modify or just ignore the push toward a much more accountable and renewed political system.
After five elections and two electoral reforms, Italy and its so-called Second Republic, symbolically born in 1993/1994, are going to the polls without any guarantee of a politically well defined government after the vote. The 2013 Italian general election presents the same problems that in the past induced both (some) political parties and the citizens to promote a reform.
The dichotomy between (in)stability of governments v. representativeness of social cleavages and political parties still remain unsolved, as well as the lack of a defined and clear overlap between political and electoral borders. Electoral competition is not based on a set of alternative coalitions or parties, but rather the electoral offerings frequently vary. As a consequence the process of accountability between the politicians and MPs to the voters is not yet accomplished. (more…)
Well, there is no sede vacante yet and will not be until the pope’s abdication takes effect on 28 February. John-Paul II issued the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis which among other things dropped the traditional requirement for a 2/3+1 majority. Benedict XVI amended that constitution to restore the 2/3 rule but restrict the election to the 2 leading candidates once certain conditions are met. They are the same conditions as allowed an election by absolute majority under John-Paul’s rules. Many people argue that Cardinal Ratzinger would not have been elected without the lower majority established by Universi Dominici Gregis.
All cardinals except those over the age of 80 can vote. In theory any male Catholic is eligible. It has been some time since a non-cardinal was elected.
The media consensus seems to be that Cardinal Turkson of Ghana is the most likely candidate among the papabili but a more ancient consensus is that whoever enters the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal. There is an equally ancient consensus that fat popes are always succeeded by thin popes. Wojtyla and Ratzinger were the first time in many conclaves that 2 popes in succession came from the same faction among the cardinals.
In the New York Times, Sam Wang has an essay under the headline, “The Great Gerrymander of 2012“. In it, he outlines the results of a method aimed at estimating the partisan seat allocation of the US House if there were no gerrymandering.
His method proceeds “by randomly picking combinations of districts from around the United States that add up to the same statewide vote total” to simulate an “unbiased” allocation. He concludes:
Democrats would have had to win the popular vote by 7 percentage points to take control of the House the way that districts are now (assuming that votes shifted by a similar percentage across all districts). That’s an 8-point increase over what they would have had to do in 2010, and a margin that happens in only about one-third of Congressional elections.
Then, rather buried within the middle of the piece is this note about 2012:
if we replace the eight partisan gerrymanders with the mock delegations from my simulations, this would lead to a seat count of 215 Democrats, 220 Republicans, give or take a few.
In other words, even without gerrymandering, the House would have experienced a plurality reversal, just a less severe one. The actual seat breakdown is currently 201D, 234R. In other words, by Wang’s calculations, gerrymandering cost the Democrats seats equivalent to about 3.2% of the House. Yes, that is a lot, but it is just short of the 3.9% that is the full difference between the party’s actual 201 and the barest of majorities (218). But, actually, the core problem derives from the electoral system itself. Or, more precisely, an electoral system designed to represent geography having to allocate a balance of power among organizations that transcend geography–national political parties.
Normally, with 435 seats and the 49.2%-48.0% breakdown of votes that we had in 2012, we should expect the largest party to have about 230 seats.1 Instead it won 201. That deficit between expectation and reality is equivalent to 6.7% of the House, suggesting that gerrymandering cost the Democrats just over half the seats that a “normally functioning” plurality system would have netted it.
However, the “norm” here refers to two (or more) national parties without too much geographic bias to where those parties’ voters reside. Only if the geographic distribution is relatively unbiased does the plurality system work for its supposed advantage in partisan systems: giving the largest party a clear edge in political power (here, the majority of the House). Add in a little bit of one big party being over-concentated, and you can get situations in which the largest party in votes is under-represented, and sometimes not even the largest party in seats.
As I have noted before, plurality reversals are inherent to the single-seat district, plurality, electoral system, and derive from inefficient geographic vote distributions of the plurality party, among other non-gerrymandering (as well as non-malaportionment) factors. Moreover, they seem to have happened more frequently in the USA than we should expect. While gerrymandering may be part of the reason for bias in US House outcomes, reversals such as occurred in 2012 can happen even with “fair” districting. Wang’s simulations show as much.
The underlying problem is, again, because all the system really does is represent geography: which party’s candidate gets the most votes here, there, and in each district? And herein lies the big transformation in the US electoral and party systems over recent decades, compared to the party system that was in place in the “classic” post-war system: it is no longer as much about local representation as it once was, and is much more about national parties with distinct and polarized positions on issues.
Looking at the relationship between districts and partisanship, John Sides, in the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog, says “Gerrymandering is not what’s wrong with American politics.” Sides turns the focus directly on partisan polarization, showing that almost without regard to district partisanship, members of one party tend to vote alike in recent congresses. The result is that when a district (or, in the Senate, a state) swings from one party to another, the voting of the district’s membership jumps clear past the median voter from one relatively polarized position to the other.
Of course, this is precisely the point Henry Droop made in 1869, and that I am fond of quoting:
As every representative is elected to represent one of these two parties, the nation, as represented in the assembly, appears to consist only of these two parties, each bent on carrying out its own programme. But, in fact, a large proportion of the electors who vote for the candidates of the one party or the other really care much more about the country being honestly and wisely governed than about the particular points at issue between the two parties; and if this moderate non-partisan section of the electors had their separate representatives in the assembly, they would be able to mediate between the opposing parties and prevent the one party from pushing their advantage too far, and the other from prolonging a factious opposition. With majority voting they can only intervene at general elections, and even then cannot punish one party for excessive partisanship, without giving a lease of uncontrolled power to their rivals.
Both the essays by Wang and by Sides, taken together, show ways in which the single-seat district, plurality, electoral system simply does not work for the USA anymore. It is one thing if we really are representing district interests, as the electoral system is designed to do. But the more partisan a political process is, the more the functioning of democracy would be improved by an electoral system that represents how people actually divide in their partisan preferences. The system does not do that. It does even less well the more one of the major parties finds its votes concentrated in some districts (e.g. Democrats in urban areas). Gerrymandering makes the problem worse still, but the problem is deeper: the uneasy combination of a geography-based electoral system and increasingly distinct national party identities.
Miguel Centellas, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi, wrote the following on his Teaching (Comparative) Politics blog. I found the piece (so to speak!) interesting and provocative. With Miguel’s permission, I am reposting it in full here.
All of what follows here is written by Miguel.
I’ve heard a lot of arguments about guns lately (and I’ve engaged in some debates). One thing always bothered me about most “pro-gun” arguments, however. See, here’s the thing: I’m not opposed to guns per se. Both my grandpa and dad were hunters (and I always wanted to go). I’ve shot guns of various kinds, enjoyed it, and was good at it (I have certificates to prove it). But growing up in Michigan, where hunting was a big deal, and where my grandpa and dad (and uncles, neighbors, etc.) went hunting, I rarely ever saw a gun. My grandpa kept his (a rifle, some shotguns, and a pearl handled .22 pistol) locked up in some remote corner of the basement. They were never in any way “readily accessible.” Someone could’ve broken into his house and he’d be helpless, his guns a flight of stairs away in a dark corner. I only ever saw my father’s gun once (a classic Mauser bolt action). That was my experience with “legal” gun ownership. It’s also what I expect of people who advocate “responsible” gun ownership.
But, recently, the arguments I hear are about self protection and the right to defend against tyranny. The arguments often come from people concerned with gun violence in society, but who believe they need guns to protect themselves become they don’t trust anyone else to do it. And the arguments also come from people distrust the government, who don’t think it represents them, and who think the police are simply the armed and brutal hand of a distant regime that seeks to put them down.
The problem is, I recognize all those arguments. Because I also grew up in a rust belt city in Michigan. So I’ve heard those arguments before. They came from gangbangers. Young, angry men who lived in fear of violence and needed weapons to protect their lives, their property, and their “turf.” They also didn’t see the government (and certainly not the police) as someone they could trust. They were cynical about governmental authority.
Ironically, in many ways, these gangbangers were ultimate libertarians (of a certain stripe). They were engaged in the free market, often selling products that were unregulated—and resisting any regulations. They took it upon themselves to protect themselves and their families—they didn’t call 911. They were self-made men (and a few women). They were rugged individualists, relying only on themselves. Gangbangers don’t have Social Security accounts. If their business fails, they don’t get government bailouts. In short, they fend for themselves in a harsh world.
Most of the gangbangers I knew in high school were regularly armed. We all knew it. But they weren’t constantly shooting up the place. If you asked them, they would always insist that their gun was for protection. It was a deterrent from being jumped or mugged or even shot at by rival gangbangers. And perhaps it worked. I remember one time in particular when my brother (who was not in a gang) was walking home from middle school and he was about to get jumped. He was saved by a classmate (who was a gangbanger) who simply walked up, asked what was going on, and unzipped his jacket to show his “piece.” The message was clear: Sam’s “my boy,” don’t try this. Sam got saved from being jumped because a 13-year-old classmate had a handgun.
So that’s my experience with guns. The people who were “responsible” gun owners kept their guns locked up and occasionally went hunting. The “criminals” used them for self protection and walked around armed.
So you can understand my recent confusion. When I argue about gun restrictions and people point to their need to walk around armed to be safe. Especially when it’s accompanied by posturing. You know what I mean, the ubiquitous picture of some guy (it’s usually a guy) posing with his Glock or AR-15 or whatever, looking tough. Because what I see is just a gangbanger posing with his piece, looking tough, and bragging about how “nobody better try to jump me!” while also denouncing a government that’s “out to get me and my kind.” It just reminds me too much of my local gangbangers. I mean, they were the only people I knew that always bragged about their guns and wanted everyone to know they were “carrying.” They see themselves as “patriots.” I just see another gangbanger.
In recent weeks there has been considerable attention to proposals by some Republican politicians to change the allocation of presidential electoral votes from statewide winner-take-all to congressional districts–at least in states where doing so would help Republicans. If this method had been used for all electoral votes in presidential contests from 1968 to 2008, what would its impact have been?
I happen to have district-level presidential votes for each of these elections (but not, yet, for 20121 ). The graph below plots both the actual and hypothetical2 electoral vote percentages for each party against the popular vote. Red for Republican, blue for Democrat. The solid symbols indicate the actual percentage of electoral votes obtained, while the open symbols indicate the hypothetical allocation by congressional district. The plotted curves are local regression (lowess) curves for each party under each condition (solid for actual, dashed for hypothetical).
The exercise shows how any discussion of shifting to this method of allocation should be talked about for what it is: a GOP-biased proposal. Note that, under the actual allocation, the two curves are close to one another, at least through the part of the graph where it really matters–the relatively close elections. There does appear to be a slight Republican bias in the actual method, as that party’s line crosses over 50% of the electoral votes at almost exactly 50% of the (two-party) popular vote, while the curve for Democrats crosses over at just over 50% of the popular vote. In other words, the data plot predicts the Democrat needs a bigger vote lead to get the electoral vote majority. But the effect appears very small, consistent with what Thomas, King, Gelman, and Katz find.
However, under the hypothetical congressional-district allocation, there is a clear Republican bias. The Republican curve crosses over 50% of the electoral vote well to the left of the 50% popular-vote line, while that for Democrats does not break over 50% of the electoral vote until the party has a clear majority of the popular (two-party) vote.
The 2012 result is shown in the graph for the actual allocation, though I did not have the district data readily available. The 2012 result closely matches the fitted curve for the actual result. If it also matched the fitted curve for district allocation, the electoral-college result would have been very close indeed.3
Only in the case of landslides in the popular vote does the congressional-district method result in greater “proportionality”, as indicated by the flatter curve for congressional-district allocation. Otherwise, there is no sense in which the Republican proposal is “proportional“; rather, it is a partisan power grab. It is a power grab especially when employed only in states where the Republican candidate tends to have a better geographical spread of the votes in the state; it is a power grab even if employed for all electors, as assumed in the hypothetical allocations shown here.
Let’s turn to individual elections. Below is the change for the Republican candidate in electoral votes if the congressional-district method had been used instead of the actual statewide winner-take-all:
As we already saw from the graph, in landslide years, the Republican wins fewer electors via congressional districts. The only electoral-college landslides we have had during this time have been by the Republican candidate: 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988. All of these but 1980 were also huge wins in the popular vote. In every election since 1992, the Republican gains regardless of whether he wins or loses. He also gained in 1976.4
In 2004, despite its being a very close election, Bush would have won 317 electoral votes with a district plan, against the actual 286. His total also would have been better in 2000: 286 vs. the “actual” 271. Had Florida’s electors been awarded properly in 2000 under statewide allocation, Bush’s total would have been only 246, meaning that the congressional-district plan would have netted him 40 extra electors, despite losing the popular vote. That’s even more than his 31-elector gain in 2004, when he actually won the popular vote.5
Of course, an objection to any simulation such as this is that we do not know how campaign strategy might have changed under different rules. That is certainly true; if each House district actually would have awarded an electoral vote, campaigns would have targeted the marginal districts, some of which would have swung the other way. In other words, the votes themselves could have been different.
We can get a broad understanding of the opportunities for potentially swinging electoral votes by considering how often a district is marginal in the presidential contest.
There are 4,782 observations6. There have been 730 the entire time that were decided by less than 5 percentage points (15.26%).
Of course, this varies a great deal by year, as shown below (number in parentheses indicates winner’s margin under a congressional-district allocation):
Obviously, 1976 could have been swung by district-focused campaigning: there were many more close districts than the margin (two electors!) that Carter would have won by under a district-based allocation. Not surprisingly, 2000 is another year when districts within the margin of 5% outnumbered the overall electoral-vote margin under the hypothetical allocation. In 2008 there are as many close districts as the electoral-vote margin, and in 1992 the two figures are within a few districts of one another. Looking only at these four elections, we can see which party had the greater number of marginal district wins.
year Rep Dem
1976 62 40
1992 46 57
2000 27 35
2008 37 27
This suggests that Bush’s district-based win in 2000 would have been relatively secure, as he had fewer close races to defend against the Gore campaign’s (hypothetical) district-swing efforts. And there would have been little risk of the Republican swinging the 1992 or 2008 outcome, though the Republican could have made the race closer. But 1976 really would have been a complete toss-up, depending on how various individual district contests turned out.
We might think that the candidate who trails in the popular vote would have more marginal districts to defend, but this is not true in either 1992 or 2000.
All in all, it is clear that congressional-district allocation of electors benefits one party more than the other, and that in a close election, the Republican candidate would be likely to have an advantage. The Republican might even be able to win with less than 49% of the two-party vote.
It is easy to see why Republicans might like a district-based electoral college. It is much harder to see why anyone would think it was a democratic (small or large d) improvement over the current method, bad though that may be.
I am actually somewhat happy that some Republicans have opened the issue of electoral-vote allocation. The country needs this conversation. However, what it needs is not one party pushing a plan that would be blatantly distorting in its favor. It needs the Democrats to engage the conversation, and come out in favor of the National Popular Vote plan, which would remove partisan bias from presidential elections.
As is standard for such proposals, I assume that the winner of the statewide plurality of the popular vote would be awarded two electors, in addition to a number corresponding to the number of individual House districts won. Two small states, Maine and Nebraska, are the only two states to have used such an allocation in at least some of the years analyzed. [↩]
Andrew Gelman suggests that Romney might have won, given the “huge” distortion of congressional-district allocation. [↩]
In 1968, both major-party candidates lose electoral votes, as George Wallace obtains 56 under the congressional-district allocation, against the 46 he actually won. [↩]
It might have been a slightly bigger change in 2000, as I am missing three districts that year: AR3, IN10 and LA2. For two of these, congressional votes are also missing; IN10, is a very safe Dem district in 2000 House race. [↩]
would be 435*11=4,785, if not for the missing districts [↩]
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