Monday, January 16, 2006

Why Preferential systems beat run-off ballots

Or: how Chirac stole his election

So, Finland's going into run-off mode for their Presidential elections? (via Nosemonkey)

OK, that makes two countries that should know better saddled with a system of election that's almost as bad, and much more expensive than, Simple Majority (ie the UK/US system, First Past The Post/FPTP). Why do they do it? Well, in the French case, it's because, well, the French political parties don't get on, at all. And there are lots of them. And they keep merging, splitting, forming federations and then breaking up again. So when De Gaulle came to power, he implemented a system that encouraged them to at least try to get on, but also ensures that, unlike Simple Majority, the eventually elected person has more than 50% support and therefore genuinely represents their district. Sound good? The advantage of the British system (ie, small number of parties, clearly defined) but without the disadvantage (ie MPs with less than 50% support, 4-way marginals, etc).

Well, no. If you're going to have a run-off system (with multiple ballots), then you need to do what the Tories do with their leadership elections; keep eliminating people until there's only 2 left, then they have a final contest. Not bad for low cost elections, but bloody expensive for big ones, and if they're on a national scale? Forget it. So, why not have a compromise? Have an election, then if no one candidate gets 50%, eliminate all but the top two, who will then run off again. So, two rounds of voting total, allow as much representation and choice in the first round, then ensure that in the second round, the winner has genuine support. Great. The result of this?

Jacques Chirac.

That's right, our 'friend' Jacques (who I've yet to see anyone say anything nice about) is in power almost entirely because of a stuped electoral system. Y'see, unlike FPTP, this system allows fragmentation, because, well, you can always vote for a strong candidate in the second round, but show support for your preferred candidate in the first. Theoretically, it encourages parties to work together, but, well, sometimes things go wrong. I give you, the French Presidential Election of 2002.

President: 21 april and 5 may 2002 71.6 resp. 79.7%)% %

Jacques Chirac - Rally for the Republic19.982.2
Jean-Marie le Pen - National Front16.917.8
Lionel Jospin - Socialist Party16.2-
François Bayrou -Union for the French Democracy6.8-
Arlette Laguiller - Workers' Struggle5.7-
Jean-Pierre Chevènement - Republican Pole5.3-
Noël Mamère - The Greens5.2-
Olivier Besancenot - Revolutionary Communist League4.2-
Jean Saint-Josse -Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Tradition4.2-
Alain Madelin - Liberal Democracy3.9-
Robert Hue - French Communist Party3.4-
Bruno Mégret - Republican National Movement2.3-
Christiane Taubira - Left Radical Party2.3-
Corinne Lepage - Citizenship Action Participation for the 21st Century1.9-
Christine Boutin - Forum of Social Republicans1.2-
Daniel Gluckstein - Workers' Party0.5-

Just look at all those parties!

You see what's happened? The French Left has fragmented, and the top two candidates both have less than 20% of the vote each. So now they go to a run off, and, of course, Le Pen (politely described as a 'fascist', 'racist', 'extremist' etc, and, well, less politely in terms such as 'rapid lunatic' and 'french') gets hammered in the run off. All well and good?

"Vote for a Crook, not a Fascist"

Yup, the French left was forced to hold their noses (not literally, unfortunately, it was suggested but it would have been illegal) and go in and vote for a man they despised, who's likely to be facing corruption charges when he leaves office after his time as Paris mayor, in order to defeat a man they (and, indeed most people) hate with a passion. Wonderful.

So, let's look at those numbers again. Chirac got 19.88%, standing for the mainstream French right (then the RPR), next up is Le Pen (16.86%). OK, they're the top two for the run off. Hmm, Blair's under attack in the UK for getting less then 40% of the popular vote in 2005, but Chirac and his opponent in the second round got less than 40% between them. Let's have a look further down.

Jospin, French Socialists, 16.18%. Silly socialists not running a good campaign. Well, at the time, he was Prime Minister, so an against the incumbent vote obviously had an effect. Next? The UDF, the Ken Clarkes of France, Euro Federalist but broadly right wing, 6.84%. You can pretty much add their votes to Chirac's, they sit with his party in the current Assembly and, well, a lot of them left to join his new party anyway. (Gotta love the French; what party are you in? "what week is it?") Next, Worker's Struggle on 5.72%. Yup, Trotskyists get 5.72% of the vote. Before you laugh, do remember that Labour got 27% in 1983, on what Benn described as a "truly socialist manifesto", so there are likely more 'real' socialists out there than we tend to acknowledge given our electoral system and NuLab's stealing the "centre ground". I digress. This lot would, probably, hold their nose for Jospin, and some of them probably should have voted for Jospin, doubt any would go for Le Pen.

So, we now have Chirac with 26.72%, Jospin with 21.90% and Le Pen with 16.86%

Next up, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who, um, had been a socialist minister before declaring himself a 'miracle of the republic', followed by the Greens, who were allied with the Socialists at the time, so we'll give them both to Jospin (37.89%). Communist Revolutionary League? Wild stab in the dark, let's give them to Jospin as well, shall we? 35.85% Democratie Libérale? Well, they've now merged with Chirac's party, so that one's easy, Chirac goes up to 30.63% Jospin leads by nearly 5% now. French Communist Party. Hmm, stab in the dark, but I think they're on the left. Jospin goes to 39.22%. Mouvement National Republicain. Um, they're the bunch that split from Le Pen's party after a little tiff, so we'll give them to him, Le Pen now on 19.2%.

I've left one out it's Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Tradition (yup, that's right, the French have their very own Countryside Alliance, only this lot run for office). They're 'of the right', so I'm giving them to Chirac, but it's possiible some may be LePenistas, can't tell, but given his vote went down in the second round, I don't think so; let's face it, I'd never heard of them before researching this lot. So, Chirac goes up to 34.86%

Chirac 34.86%, Jospin 39.22%, Le Pen 19.2%

Parti Radicale de Gauche, wild stab in the dark, Jospin, he climbs to 41.54%. Um, I have no idea about Corinne Lepage - Citizenship Action Participation for the 21st Century, and the only sources I can find are in French. Ah well, that's 1.9% unaccounted for. The next one, guess what? Forum of Social Republicans? Now, as far as I can see, part of Chirac's new party. Chirac 36.05% Parti de Travelleurs? More trotskyists, Jospin climbs to 42.01.

Final tally, Le Pen 19.20% Chirac 36.05%, Jospin 42.01%

Now, of course, this is just an abstraction, but it appears to me that Jospin is in the lead now, a party of the Left. Now, it's reasonably well established that the supposed "Far Right" aren't really right wing economically, the National Socialists were called that for a reason. So saying that Le Pen's vote would go to Chirac is wrong. Impossible to actually predict or analyse. Let's call it 50/50. Jospin now gets 51.61%

So, what is the point Mat, apart from boring us with numbers? Well, essentially, it's an exercise in how Chirac stole an election because the French Left let him (splitters) and no one expected Le Pen to do as well as he did.

Delayed run off elections where you dump more than one candidate at the same time encourage diversity in candidate base, but allow for daft result. Now, if, alternately, you number candidates in order of preference (what the Americans seem to like to call Instant Run Off, but the rest of the world calls Alternative Vote), you still get diversity in candidates (for when they just can't get on), but voters don't waste their vote, or risk splitting the vote to let the 'other' guy in.

It's this system the LibDems use to elect the party leader, the Australians use it for election to the lower house and many would like to see it implemented as soon as possible for Westminster. I'm actually within that number; AV now, to follow up with full STV with multi-member constituencies later once the boundaries are sorted out.

The moral of this story?

If changing your electoral system, don't copy the French; it can work (seems to be ok in Finland). The next time someone complains about the French govt, remember that even the French didn't want him in office. Oh, and while excessive party loyalty and partizanship is silly, split after split after split makes things even worse.

Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys? Nah, just Chirac staying in office for as long as he can to take advantage of Presidential immunity.

NB; I've referenced Wikipedia throughout, I'm aware of its foibles, but most of it I can backup elsewhere (or, indeed, you can if you feel the need); it's not always accurate, but it is comprehensive on most topics. If my maths is wrong, let me know, the cold has killed my concentration.


snooo said...

What I know about French politics you could fill a typical Sun editorial with, but didn't the French left broadly get in line (minus some of the Socialists) for the EU NO campaign?

Just wondered how that might pan for elections in the future...

eulogist said...

f you're going to have a run-off system, then you need to do what the Tories do with their leadership elections; keep eliminating people until there's only 2 left, then they have a final contest. Not bad for low cost elections, but bloody expensive for big ones, and if they're on a national scale? Forget it.

Wrong. Voters need to fill in only one ballot paper once if you let them fill in a list of names in the order of their preference. In the first round, each voter's vote would go to his first preference. In the next rounds this would continue to be so as long as this candidate is not eliminated. In that case, his vote goes to number two on his list, and so on.

This is system is called Instant-Run-Off. It is in fact the single-seat variety of the STV-system used in Ireland for parliamentary elections. I believe the LibDems want to introduce STV (Single Transferable Vote) in Britain as well.

With Instant-Run-Off the outcome of the French 2002 elections would probably have been as you describe.

eulogist said...

Sorry, should have read your piece more carefully... ;-)

MatGB said...

Snoo; it's very hard to tell, some of the socialists were opposed because it 'watered down' EU social provision, was too 'market oriented' and 'anglo saxon'.

The point that the stuff they objected to in the constitution on free markets, etc, was mostly stuff being copied across from previous treaties was, from what I could see, bypassed.

Very hard to read, I know the mechanics of how it works, but the party politics throws me completely, I ought to learn more but, well, it's the French. ;-)

@ Eulogist? Yes, I know, yes, you should, and I think you agree with the entire point of the post; well done...

Phil said...

it's pretty well established that the supposed "Far Right" aren't really right wing economically, the National Socialists were called that for a reason

This is a good post, but it'd be better if you cut out the line I've just quoted - the first half is highly debatable and the second is rubbish. (I've studied Nazi Germany at postgrad level; the idea that there was anything socialist about National Socialism doesn't get much mileage.)

MatGB said...

Phil, I'm going to keep it in, slightly edited, but I'll add a lazy link to Political Compass; I don't, actually, disagree with their analysis on this one, especially over welfare provisions; the BNP want to nationalise a few things for a start.

As to the second bit, the Brownshirts et al may have been a sop, but the early N-S movement did have elements that appealed to socialist sensibilities even if it wasn't truely socialist. Again, I'll clarify a little, I plan to refer to this post a bit in the future.

Anonymous said...

So-called Instant Runoff Voting is what they use in Australia and PNG; IRV is what they called it when they used it in some wacky elections in British Columbia, IIRC. Almost all Australian lower houses are elected by this system, with the upper house elected by PR, except in Tasmania where, crazily, the situation is reversed. (In the interests of those with no sense of humour, I have removed the remark I was going to post about inbreeding, headcounts and exit polls).

The sad point about the 2002 French presidential election is that it shows up a problem with STV/AV: the order in which candidates are eliminated affects the outcome. This is a very minor effect in practice, but it is a stick the detractors of single-seat constituencies use to beat AV.

The scary point about that election is that one voter in three opted for an extremist (and that's just if you count the communists, trots and Front National and its splinter; you get an even bigger figure counting the souverainistes, the greens, and the hunting and fishing lot). About the only happy thing about the result is that the Christian Democratic parties which infest democratic politics in Germany, the UK, Benelux and Australia are nowhere to be seen.