Monday, May 7, 2012

How would Harper fare in a French-style run-off election?

Voters in France took part in the second round of their presidential election Sunday, choosing François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy after the two had topped the list in the country’s first round of voting. But what if Canada adopted a similar electoral system?

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

The French were choosing a president, but if Canada adopted this sort of system for our federal elections (and, yes, the French do use a run-off system for their legislative elections) things would be quite different.

The election in France was quite historic, as the Socialists haven't been in power since Mitterand and it has been a while since there was a one-term president. But what the election shows us here on this side of the Atlantic is that the power of incumbency is nevertheless strong, even when that incumbent is as disliked as a Nicolas Sarkozy.

François Hollande won the second round yesterday with 51.6% of the vote against 48.4% for Sarkozy. That is relatively close. The polls were good: Ifop released the final poll and called it at 52% to 48%.

But that represents a significant drop for Hollande. Immediately after Apr. 22's first round, Holland was leading with anything between 53% and 56% of the vote, most of the polls putting his support at 54%. In a one-on-one election, that is a pretty strong result. If we go back to mid-April, Hollande was ahead with between 55% and 58% of the vote (he was also in the 60s further back).

But Sarkozy closed the gap. Hollande represented change, which many French people wanted, but change comes with risk. Many voters appear to have flirted with the idea of that change and risk before reverting back to the devil they knew.

Though it wasn't enough to win him the election, the kind of incumbent-advantage Sarkozy had in the closing days has played a role in Canada's last seven provincial and federal elections. Incumbents are on a roll: the Conservatives federally, the Liberals in P.E.I. and Ontario, the New Democrats in Manitoba, the PCs in Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta, and the Sask. Party in Saskatchewan. That incumbency advantage even helped turn elections around for Dalton McGuinty and Alison Redford.

The incumbents could be on the rocks in Quebec and British Columbia, however, the next two provinces likely to go to the polls. But if the last year is any indication, Jean Charest and Christy Clark can't be written off just yet.

26 comments:

  1. I'm not so sure we can draw all that much from the Hollande-Sarkozy election that applies to us here ?

    The issues were and are quite different and despite Harper we aren't in the kind of "austerity" situation Europe is.

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    1. Of course, I was speaking about the incumbency advantage only.

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  2. Re Harper and French electoral system: Mildly interesting and totally irrelevant. Had we had the French system it is likely that Harper would have been PM much sooner. I doubt the Chretien Liberals would have been able to hold on so long without the first-past-the-post advantage. Some historical perspective would be useful when flying such balloons.

    Spell check: In penultimate para I think you mean "Incumbents are on a roll . . .."

    Bud Jorgensen

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    1. From my article:

      "Nevertheless, the advantages our method of voting currently gives the Conservatives (the same sort of advantages that benefited the Liberals throughout the 1990s) are clear."

      Thanks for the typo catch.

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  3. I think this is a misreading of why Hollande didn't do (even) better in the French election. It wasn't incumbency that dropped Hollande from 55-58% to just under 52%, and it wasn't that people were nervous that he represented change... it was that he didn't represent enough change. As many in France know, Hollande is most likely to make only superficial changes to the country's economic, etc. policies. Left voters were not enthused about his politics, which goes some way to explaining his lacklustre support.

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    1. Hollande has been trumpeted by conservative opinion as the worst thing that will happen to Europe for months now, so I disagree. The markets have already reacted to his win, and not positively.

      And his lacklustre support is very hard to blame on the left - add his first round support to Mélenchon and you still only get 39.7%. Hollande needed support from Bayrou and even Le Pen to win, which required him to go the centre, not the left. Had he swung even further to the left, it seems very unlikely that he would have done better than 51.6%.

      And turnout went UP from the first round to the second, so blaming a lack of enthusiasm is hard to back up.

      Sarkozy ran on his second term being different from his first, but he also ran on the same sort of "steady hand on the wheel" that Harper and McGuinty used to good effect in 2011.

      But even if the feeling was that Hollande did not represent enough change, that does point to an incumbency advantage. If Hollande and Sarkozy were the same, why risk a change?

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    2. Following on from your fourth paragraph Eric -- I find it amusing and a bit fascinating that many Liberals in Ontario proudly trumpeted that exact same "we need a strong, stable majority" message during the provincial election that they decried Harper and the Conservatives for using only months before.

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  4. I'd prefer Instant Run-off Voting over rounds, and either over first past the post. It would eliminate a lot of strategic voting crap.

    Might even get some party hardliners (note: from any party) to soften on whatever party they "hate the least". Probably wouldn't happen with many people, and probably wouldn't soften too much, but anything less than frothing hatred of all other parties is an improvement for those types I think. A guy can dream, can't he?

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    1. In theory I'd agree, though if IRV had been in place in the last election it would have had some troubling consequences. Namely, it would have exaggerated the regionalism of the results, further skewing the Conservative caucus to the West, the Liberals to Ontario and the NDP to Quebec. Not an ideal situation IMHO.

      The incentive to move towards the common ground may prove weaker than expected. There's no incentive under IRV for the top party (or top two parties) not to attack each other, as the second preferences only come into play for candidates who place third or below. Broadbent's attack on Mulcair is a good example of this in action.

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    2. Yes. Eric, would the results projected in your globe article apply if a preferential/ranked ballot system was used?

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    3. They would be similar, but not necessarily identical. This scenario advances the top two candidates in each riding, whereas a preferential system might change-up who the top two candidates are.

      For example, where second and third are close, how the votes go when the fourth party is dropped off could change the order. So instead of a Conservative/Liberal face-off, you get a Conservative/NDP contest because more Green votes go to the NDP than they would to the Liberals.

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  5. "Had we had the French system it is likely that Harper would have been PM much sooner. I doubt the Chretien Liberals would have been able to hold on so long without the first-past-the-post advantage. Some historical perspective would be useful when flying such balloons."

    Even in the 2000 election the popular vote was 41% for the Liberals vs 38% for the combined votes of the PC and Canadian Alliance Parties. And that doesn't take into account the Red Tory votes that would go to the Liberals if there were a united Conservative party led by Stephen Harper (we saw this shift happen quite a bit in the 2004 federal election when a number of Red Tory voters went Liberal). Back to the 2000 election, if you add the NDP and Bloc votes to the Liberal total you have over 50% voting for "centre-left" parties. I don't see how Conservatives would have gotten into power sooner in Canada when the Chretien Liberals were very popular in all the elections they ran in and I doubt that enough NDP voters' second choice would be right-wing conservative parties led by Stockwell Day or Stephen Harper to tip the balance against the Liberals in such hypothetical French-style electoral matchups.

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  6. Hi,

    One interesting aspect of the French legislative electoral system is that if no candidate wins the first-round vote, "those who poll in excess of 12.5% of the registered voters in the first-round vote are entered in the second round of voting. If no candidate comply such conditions, the two highest-placing candidates advance to second round" (Wikipedia: National Assembly of France).

    In most constituencies, this means a race with 2 candidates. In some constituencies, however, the second round is a 3-way race (called a "triangulaire"). What I believe happens in practice is that parties form local alliances to prevent vote-splitting. In Ontario, a triangulaire race between the Conservatives, NPD and Liberals might see the NDP or Liberal drop out of the race to try and prevent a Conservative win. In Quebec, a triangulaire race might have federalist parties rally behind one candidate against the Bloc. Across Canada, the Greens might decide to pull most of their triangulaire candidates (if they had any) in exchange for the Liberals or NDP supporting one of theirs, possibly giving the Greens a second seat.

    This phenomenon also brings parties towards the centre, and encourages party co-operation ahead of potential minority government negotiations.

    Charles

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  7. If Canada had an electoral system similar to France, or any other non-FPTP system, the merged Conservative Party would not exist today. The Canadian Alliance and PC party could not win with our fractured electoral system, especially in Ontario where the two parties were equally divided.

    However, it would be very difficult for Conservatives to win federally in Canada with a different electoral system. Even in the 1990s, Liberal support was greater than the combined Alliance/PC support. Even if the Liberals won a minority, the could be propped up by the NDP.

    In order for Conservatives to win majority support, they would need to pour water in their wine, albet Mulroney's 1984 majority. Mulroney brought in Quebec nationalists and disgruntled Liberal moderates which resulted in the 50%+ vote.

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    1. It seems to me that a run-off system would increase the probability of mergers. As you point out the near even split in Ontario would cause conservative parties to be uncompetitive in many seats. Since, only the top two finishers move to the second round having two similar parties finishing third and fourth would make little sense. Great pressure would exist for either a merger, alliance or some form of co-habitation.

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  8. One criticism that I think carries a lot of weight is that this analysis assumes that second preferences are uniformly distributed across the country, even though there's empirical evidence to the contrary. It'd be nice to see that taken into account somewhere, though I realize that'd be hard to do.

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    1. I tried to get regional information, but was unable to. I think, though, that the results would not be remarkably different.

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    2. @Eric

      What if you took the election results by ridings and ran them through the French scenario?

      That could give you a base which could then be adjusted for current polling trends.

      EM

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  9. Interesting thinking. Still, I don't really care if Harper would have gotten elect or not, he is there and we will have to wait in 2015 to do something about it.

    I'm wondering more if it wouldn't be a bit more clever to use a mix system. Run-off system doesn't appeal a lot to me, it need multiple turn, or even if you don't, their will be politics tactic starting to meddle with it. It does undermine the concept of voting for the people you think will do the best job.

    What if instead when we go voting we would vote for two things at the same time?

    1) Your riding representative. Candidate may or may not be affiliate with a national party. Here you can vote for an individual who will really take care of your local need.

    2) A general party: each party have an official list of candidate. If you have 50 seats to be filled through this method, you need 50 name (or as many as you can...). Party A won 10% of the vote, he got 5 seats, the first 5 names on it's list.

    We would conserve a one turn election (simpler imho). Give people a choice for local representative (like we theoretically have now) and the possibility to truly vote for the one they think the best. It would even out a bit the result while keeping dominance of few party. Green could have actually more that 1 MP.

    Not perfect, but it would avoid the instability of a true proportional system, while giving a chance to new or rising party. While avoiding the dilemma of a second choice.

    Good job Éric nevertheless.

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    1. The party list idea, where parties reward loyalists by putting them on the list is at odds with your statement about voting in the best people. its not mutually exclusive... but witness the number of people running in safe seats that don't deserve to win already.


      I would rather see each party nominate 3 candidates for each riding. vote the party of your choice and for the best candidate. In theroy, the best one would be selected, people like pankiw, dosangh, Martin, etc wouldn't be elected if you could both vote your ideals and still be able to choose a decent candidate.

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  10. Christy Clark is toast. There's no way she claws her way out of those lousy poll numbers. In some polls, the NDP is greater than the LP/CP combined.

    Now Jean Charest, I could easily see pulling out a win (probably a minority). Problem is, a plurality of voters there are federalist/autonomist and center-left, but there is no current party that matches that profile (like the Federal NDP). LPQ is too conservative, QS is too leftist and sovereigntist, PQ is too sovereigntist and has moved to the center as well, and the CAQ is too right-wing and not federalist. Some center-left voters may hold out the hope that after Charest resigns, that he'll be replaced by someone less conservative. We'll see though. Mulcair should really start laying the roots for a provincial party.

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    1. I always believed Quebec could find a home in the federal NDP ...somewhat delayed with the advent of the BLOC. Things appear to be moving quickly here. Is a possible provincial realignment in the cards? There is an obvious "need" for a center-left, quasi-federalist provincial party. As an "ignorant" Ontarian could that vehicle be the QLP or even the PQ, or the remnants of either? Things may become clearer after the next Quebec provincial election, and 2015 federal (unless Harper moves it up).

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    2. Maybe you are right Kain, but actually when you think that Quebec is fairly left, even compare to the other province of Canada, you understand that PQ are by no mean in the centre. QS are as left as they can go before being plainly socialist. PQ are firmly left-wing, it only happen that Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau were both convinced in the idea of independence, and right-wing in their economy. Their time are over.

      Liberals are more of a centre or left-centre. Why they don't convince the voter? Corruption, simple eh? They have a bad reputation, and that hurt them.

      The CAQ is a technocratic alternative. "La gauche efficace" of Legault. They failed to bring back all the right-wing voter of the ADQ and are now just a centre-right party. It might stay, but it probably won't.

      As for voter, I pretty much think that most people doesn't know where they are. Lot of Québécois are in favour of a more severe justice system, less State, and so on. Fairly right or centre-right if you ask me. But they don't want that their service got cut.

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  11. In this scenario, do the Liberals or the NDP lose any seats they have now?

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    1. No, this has nothing to do with seats. This has to dow with candidate for president or in Canada's case, PM. Basically, if no one gets a majority in the first ballot, the first and second candidates gets to run against each other once again in a second ballot in order to determine the PM. The French election for seats will happen in summer.

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    2. It does have to do with seats - the French use a run-off system for their legislative elections as well.

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