Author Archives: David
Parties sometimes act like parties, Middle East edition
In his paper, Candidate Recruitment and Former Rebel Parties, John Ishiyama examined the transformation of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from rebel group to political party. Ishiyama argued while those who study post-conflict environments view rebel-to-party organizations as distinct from traditional parties, they should actually act the same when they try to enter parliament. His research showed that the UCPN (Maoist) ran its most loyal candidates in safe districts while it ran more mainstream candidates in tougher districts. Ishiyama’s methodology was interesting, but it’s still unclear if his relationship is endogenous. As he only has one election to base data off of, we do not know that his independent variable (margin of victory per district) was driving his dependent variable (candidate ran) or vice versa. While still in progress, Ishiyama’s paper is a novel contribution to the literature examining the behavior of rebel movements as they transition to political parties.
Ishiyama’s paper is important, however, because it argues that the internal structure of an organization can be less important than the institutional rules it feels it has to play by. Both of these things, of course, are important, but I’m sympathetic to the idea that we don’t pay enough attention the latter, especially with regards to political party activity. I believe that with regards to studying political parties, “party” should be a verb as well as a noun. Organizations choose to “party” when they want certain benefits from the government. This is an important way to look at things because it could have implications for how we expect parties to behave. Several months ago, Eric Trager wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, that effectively argued the hierarchical structure of the Muslim Brotherhood would prevent it from moderating in a way we should expect from a political party. This isn’t a bad prediction, but I don’t think we can assume this will happen. Buried in this France 24 story about Ennahda, is a tidbit that the Islamist party had very different campaign messages depending on what part of the country it was running in. While this probably seems banal to an American citizen, this behavior for a party shouldn’t be common if we assume a party’s internal structure and ideology are the most important predictors of how they will act. (Not sure of Ennahda’s structure but its ideology could suggest low flexibly).
I wonder if anybody who was on the ground in Egypt could provide insight into differing campaign messages with regards to the FJP. It would also be interesting to see if FJP MPs who were elected in the nominal tier of seats behave differently than those elected on the list tier. It would be nice if such votes are recorded and somebody would be able to collect this data.
Institutions are still important, even in America
I try not to venture into American politics much on this blog but there is one thing that’s really bothered me that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. I know this is somewhat outdated, as Rick Perry is yesterday’s news, but why did no one challenge him on the idea that he would cut Congress’ pay in half?
“The idea that [a congressman or woman] makes three times what the average family makes is really obscene,” he said. “[They] need to have their salaries cut in half, they need to spend half as much on their budget, and they need to be in Washington half the time.”
It is somewhat depressing that in no debate, no member of the media, or no other candidate, bothered to ask Perry where in the Constitution the president has the authority to determine congressional pay. If someone did, Perry’s famous three branches of government mishap would have have become his second most embarrassing debate moment. That’s because the president does not determine congressional pay. Congress does. The president is not the boss of congress, even though people only seem to hold the former accountable. It’s this same lack of knowledge of how American institutions work that leads otherwise smart people to speculate how a third party president could really change things.
Electoral Choice and Ballot Complexity: Effects on Turnout
Work has been a little hectic lately, so the blogging has been light of late. I do plan on resuming a more consistent schedule soon, however. Before diving back in the Egypt numbers, however, I wanted to highlight two very good papers I saw presented at APSA several months ago.
When advising on electoral system design, election assistance practitioners often recommend that developing countries implement simple systems that their voters will be able to understand. While the theory behind this is sound, I’ve always wondered if we were overestimating the impact of ballot complexity. After all, I’m sure many Americans aren’t aware that many of their city council races are MNTV, while their congressional race is FPTP, yet our system still functions. In two papers that actually attempt to answer this question, Aina Gallego of Stanford University and Saul Cunow of UCSD both looked at what impact various electoral variables have on voter turnout. Aina argued that increases in ballot complexity, while not impacting educated voters, has a negative effect on turnout rates of less educated citizens. Aina used two strategies to test her hypothesis. For the first, she conducted a field experiment where she sent several fake ballot questions to a random group of Spanish citizens. The control group was given a straightforward ballot containing descriptions of candidates and which party they belonged to, and then asked to vote for one. The second group was given the same list, but was asked to vote for up to five. The second group had a 12 percent drop in responses from low-educated citizens. For her second strategy, she ran a cross-national regression of electoral system design by turnout among various demographics and found that controlling for other factors, increased preference votes were associated with a decrease in turnout.
I had two problems with Aina’s methodology. The first is her field experiment failed to simulate a realistic ballot structure that any voter would encounter. The second is her classification of voting system type was binary (ability to cast preference votes or not) and did not account for the many rules that would significantly impact the level of ballot complexity within preference voting systems. This could include the option of voting across multiple parties, the ability to rank candidates, and the ability to punish candidates on a given party list. Also, her theory is based on the cognitive perceptions of voters before they decide to vote, not on what they actually experience in the voting booth. Invalid ballots are evidence of voters who were unable to handle the ballot, but showed up anyway. Therefore, I would suggest a more realistic measure would be district magnitude, as an increase in candidate choice would, by her theory, intimidate the voter and make them less likely to turnout. Despite these shortcomings, her paper provided a new look at a concept that has been assumed, but never rigorously tested.
Related, Saul Cunow conducted a field experiment in Brazil and found that there is a curvilinear relationship between the number of candidates on a ballot and turnout. That is, at low levels of candidate choice, turnout is low as voters feel they have little options. As the number of choices increases, turnout increases, due to the more choices. After the number of potential candidates increases past a certain level, however, turnout decreases as people are confused by the number of choices and have a harder time distinguishing between them. Saul also finds that the presence of party labels does not reduce the probability of abstention among higher numbers of candidates.
Both are good papers and you should read them.
Bad election managment
From Al Masry Al Youm:
Disabled citizens faced difficulties while voting in this week’s round of parliamentary elections, a number of rights groups have said.
There were no sign language interpreters to help the deaf and the majority of polling stations were located on upper floors, making it difficult for voters in wheelchairs, the Egyptian Coalition for the Disabled in Alexandria said.
[…]Heba Hagras, an Egyptian Bloc candidate who has a disability, also said no facilities were available for those with special needs. Hagras said she found it difficult to go up to the polling stations in her wheelchair. She said one supervising judge refused to leave the voting station to help her.
Mohamed Mokhtar, who also uses a wheelchair, said his polling station was on the third floor and the scrambling of voters made it even more difficult to reach the ballot box.
There are a lot of people with disabilities in Egypt. This is embarrassing.
Compulsory voting in Egypt
Something I’ve heard surprisingly little about with all the election coverage is how Egyptians are responding to the High Election Commission’s (HEC) announcement that the government fully plans on enforcing the country’s mandatory voting requirements. I did find this from the Daily News Egypt.
“We do not have a polling station specifically for senior citizens so we have to take permission from other voters in the queue to go to the front because we cannot stand for too long,” said a voter who preferred to remain anonymous at one of Tora’s polling stations.
“Some of those senior citizens came to vote because they are afraid of the LE 500 fine if they fail to vote,” Fathy said, adding that they do not even know the candidates they will vote for and are asking others about their selected candidates.
The law requiring eligible voters to participate existed in the past, but was never enforced. The HEC, however, has publicly stated that it intends to levy a LE 500 (Approximately 83 USD) fine on any eligible voter who does not cast a ballot. (I can’t find out if this applies to both the first and second round). While LE 500 could be easily paid by richer Egyptians, it is the equivalent of many months’ salary for the large lower class. This raises serious concerns over the ethicacy of such a law that will disproportionately hurt lower economic classes. Given the unconsolidated nature of the political party system, it seems unfair to force voters to choose somebody, when it is more than possible that nobody represents their views. Turnout for the March referendum was only 41 percent of eligible voters, indicating a large number of Egyptians are not political engaged.
I could speculate on the effects of compulsorily voting in Egypt, but it wouldn’t be much more than that. I do think the greatest threat it could pose to the election process would be dramatically increasing the number of invalid ballots. From what I’ve gathered, both the ballots for the nominal and list tier of seats need to be filled out correctly for an elector’s votes to count. Given the high illiteracy rate, confusing ballot design, and the fact that mandatory voting is most likely to bring out apathetic voters, I could see how this would cause problems. Of course a well organized party could take advantage of this by providing voters with information on how to cast a ballot. Anthony Downs’ model is put to the test.
Hopefully somebody did an exit poll and asked how big of a factor this was in turning out voters. Until we have final turnout numbers, however, there isn’t much we can go on.
Andrew Reynolds on Egypt
Andrew Reynolds has a good op-ed in the New York Times on Egypt’s electoral system. Reynolds is one of the world’s top scholars on electoral systems, so I’m happy to see the Times give him space to discuss this topic.
While advising civil society groups and political parties on election issues earlier this year in Cairo, I found that the voices of Egyptians who were at the forefront of the revolution were stifled during the secretive election-planning process.
On countless occasions, political parties went to the ruling military council to object to drafts of the electoral law and were brushed off with piecemeal changes. Civic groups concerned about the representation of women and minorities were not even given a seat at the table. And the United Nations, which played a major role in assisting Tunisia with its election, was denied access to election planners in Cairo.
This is all, true, but I actually disagree with this point:
Unlike in Tunisia, which successfully used a simple across-the-board proportional system to include many voices in the country’s legislative assembly, Egypt’s multilayered system is likely to marginalize new progressive, secular and liberal groups that lack grass-roots networks across the country.
The sidelining of smaller Islamic and secular parties would damage citizens’ faith in the democratic process, and the exclusion of the minority Coptic Christians from significant representation in Parliament could be catastrophic.
As I’ve mentioned, Egypt’s system really favors small parties almost as much as Tunisia’s did. Yes, the nominal tier is a mess, but the list tier of seats is pretty forgiving of party fragmentation. In fact, Egypt’s list tier of seats, at 332 seats, is larger than the entire Tunisian Constituent Assembly, with 217 seats. Average district magnitude is even slightly larger in Egypt. It’s true that liberal and secular parties will be marginalized, but only because of their own actions. You can only blame the system for so much.
That being said, read the article. Also, is you are looking for the best online repository of worldwide ballot samples, check out Reynolds’ collection.
How not to run a development program
The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, has adopted the “oh f- it, I don’t even care anymore. Let’s just throw laptops out of a freaking helicopter.” theory of development.
“The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has devised a bizarre plan for deploying its new XO-3 tablet. The organization plans to drop the touchscreen computers from helicopters near remote villages in developing countries. The devices will then be abandoned and left for the villagers to find, distribute, support, and use on their own.
OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte is optimistic that the portable devices—which will be stocked with electronic books—will empower children to learn to read without any external support or instruction. The strange scheme reflects the OLPC project’s roots in constructivist education theory, which emphasizes self-directed learning.”
There are so many problems with this idea, I don’t know where to begin. For starters, I’m wondering how the tablets won’t break when falling out of a helicopter. I suppose the local kids could just order new parts online with their tabl – oh wait.
Now I could be wrong, this plan could turn out to be a great success. Of course, we will never know, because its implementers (shockingly) don’t seem to have any plan to really measure progress.
“We’ll take tablets and drop them out of helicopters into villages that have no electricity and school, then go back a year later and see if the kids can read,” Negroponte told The Register. He reportedly cited Professor Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment as the basis for his belief that dropping the tablets will encourage self-directed literacy.
I know not every intervention can be measured by Randomized Control Trials, but shouldn’t there be any attempt to develop some way to observe a causal mechanism? (Okay, where the tablets land may be “random”, but that doesn’t count). Seeing what a society is like one year later is about the worst way one can evaluate any program. Are they worried about spillover effects, or the other billion variables that exist in a society that might have some impact on literary during the year? How would they know what an increase in literacy looks like if they aren’t willing to measure a baseline sample? It’s true that the villagers may find the tablets to “distribute, support, and use on their own.” It’s also true that the tablets might start a civil war Maybe the parents will be so busy playing Angry Birds, they will fall short on their other duties, and agricultural output will decrease, leading to mass death. None of these scenarios are likely, but neither is making everybody literate by chucking electronics out a window. So, what if OLCP comes back and they find that everybody in the village is dead? Would they be willing to attribute that to the computers? If not, they shouldn’t assume the same causality they are willing to claim if the kids can read.
With that being said, if OLPC is looking for part-time help, I would be more than willing to fly the helicopter.
Egypt’s election law favors small parties, fractured parliament
Although it’s difficult to predict many aspects of Egypt’s upcoming election, most observers assume that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will win a plurality of seats, while the smaller, divided liberal parties will perform poorly. This is most likely true. What is not true, however, is the often-stated proposition that this is partially because the country’s electoral system works to the Brotherhood’s advantage. There are some good reasons people have said this. Under previous versions of the electoral law, I’ve made the same argument. As the rules stand now, however, this is not completely true. The details of the new electoral system, specifically the seat allocation method in the proportional tier, will give actually give a boost to the fractured liberal parties, while depriving the Brotherhood of a majority they would obtain in more commonly used electoral systems. The reason for this is due to the formula used to calculate who wins the two-thirds of seats in the proportional representation tier.
No proportional representation system can perfectly award seats in one-to-one relation to vote shares. There are various systems for allocating seats proportionally but broadly speaking, they all fall into two categories: the largest remainder method (which Egypt uses), and the highest average method. For the largest remainder method, each seat in a legislature corresponds to a raw number of votes, equal to a quota, and a party’s seat share depends on the number of quotas it wins in an election. How that quota is calculated varies based on the system, but under the simplest method, the Hare quota, total votes are divided by N (total) seats to create a quota used for allocation. After this number is calculated, parties are awarded seats for every time they reach that quota. However, after the quota is reached a certain number of times, there are bound to be some seats left over, as well as remainder votes that didn’t contribute to a full quota. Parties’ remainder votes are then tallied and used to determine who will get the remaining seats.
For the upcoming elections, it appears Egypt will use a Hare quota. Despite its recent use in Tunisia, the Hare quota is a somewhat unpopular method. Figure one shows that the largest remainder method, and the Hare quota specifically, isn’t nearly as common as the highest average method of seat allocation. I bring this up because it’s notable the government chose a less common system.
Hare quotas may be less popular because, while being easier to understand, they are slightly less proportional than other systems. In general, Hare quota’s favor smaller parties, and produce more fractured parliaments. In the case of Egypt, it will benefit smaller parties. To illustrate this, let’s look at how the Hare quota will play out. In Figure two, I made a very crude estimate of a hypothetical vote distribution in one of Cairo’s four districts (with a district magnitude of ten). For vote totals, I divided how well each party was doing in the most recent public opinion survey by the total voters. My total voters was calculated by taking how many Cairo voters participated in the March referendum and dividing by four (the number of districts in Cairo). The problem with this, of course, is that I’m using a national poll and placing it at a district level. Unless somebody is willing to provide me with crosstabs, however, this is the best I can do. First the Hare quota is calculated (576,640/N (10)), which equals 57,664. This is the number of votes a party needs to get one seat in the first distribution. After this, however, we still have five more seats to allocate. So the remainders are then ordered from highest to lowest, and the five parties with the highest remainders are given one extra seat.
Freedom and Justice gets four seats, Al-Wafd gets two, and the remaining four seats go to the next four parties. Note that in this scenario, Freedom and Justice isn’t being specifically disadvantaged; they are actually receiving the number of seats they deserve. It’s just that smaller parties, are getting more seats than we would expect if the system was perfectly proportional.
Now let’s look at how the exact same scenario would turn out if we used the much more common, highest average method. Specifically, the D’Hondt system, which is the most common method used across the world. Figure three below shows how this works. Party votes are first divided by 1, then 2, then 3, and so on until they reach N number of seats in the district. So in our Cairo district, they would keep dividing untill they reached ten. This produces the chart we see below. After this, the N (in this case, ten) highest distributions are found, and each one awards that party a seat. As we can see below, this method give Freedom and Justice six seats in total, Al-Wafd three, and Al-Nour one. In this case, Freedom and Justice overperforms, while the other parties generally get what should be expected.
Figure three (Click to enlarge)
It should also be noted that this method would favor Freedom and Justice even more in smaller Egyptian districts. Under the D’Hondt method, a decrease in districts magnitude can decrease the number of parties who win a seat. If, for example, this was a rural district in Masa Matruh Governorate, with four seats, then Freedom and Justice would get three seats and Wafd one.
There are several interpretations of why the SCAF would choose the largest remainder method. The first is that they were simply using the system closest to what was used the last time Egypt had PR elections, in the 1980s. (1) This would seem plausible. A second interpretation is that this is an attempt to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they knew would be the largest party. (Perhaps the Tunisian transitional authority made the same calculation with regards to weakening Enahda’s seat total). A third interpretation is that the SCAF wants to reduce the number of wasted votes (votes cast for a party that doesn’t enter parliament). A high number of wasted votes could jeopardize the legitimacy of the election in the eyes of many Egyptians. A fourth, very cynically theory that I don’t actually believe, is that the SCAF is intentionally trying to create a parliament that is as fractured and weak as possible. The SCAF’s reluctance to abolish the nominal tier of seats, which most people predict will be won predominately by independents; the low .5% threshold for entering parliament; and the Hare quota, are all rules that will favor a greater quantity of small parties, and MPs with no party affiliation. This could create a parliament that is weak and ineffective, either creating a strong president, or weakening the public’s trust in democratic institutions. An extreme cynic could argue that both of these would benefit the SCAF.
I’m more inclined to believe in the first explanation, and think that a large number of wasted votes is greater threat to the legitimacy of the election than a fractured parliament. Regardless of why these rules were chosen, however, it’s important to realize the implications they will have.
(1) In 1984 and 1987, Egypt used a modified Hare Quota, where seats that could not be awarded on the basis of full quotas were awarded to whichever party had at least half a quota. When no party achieved this cutoff, such seats were awarded to the nationally most popular party. This was a very unproportional way to allocate remainders, and served to boost the seat total of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
Direct democracy returns to Greece
It appears that Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has decided to call a referendum on the European debt plan as opposed to working a solution through parliament. The politics of referendums aren’t discussed enough in my opinion but luckily, political science can help us predict voting behavior in direct democracy.
Vote choice in referendums is unique in advanced democracies because it allows voters to weigh an issue directly, sometimes without concern for party loyalties. The model of political parties described by Bawn et al. shows that voters primarily take cues on most issues from elite signalling within political parties. So should this method of issue support carry over into plebiscites? In Referendums on European Integration, Simon Hug and Pascal Sciarini, discuss how different variables about a referendum affect vote choice. Examining data from fourteen European integration referendums, the authors claim that issue saliency determines voting behavior. In important “first-tier” elections, voters make a decision by weighing the actual issue. On less important “second-tier” elections, voters may base their decision on their assessment of the ruling party. This comes in the form of voting against the wishes of the government if one is dissatisfied, and voting in favor if one is supportive. I think Hug and Sciarini would agree the Greek vote represents a “first-tier issue.” We should expect then, that confidence in the government should have minimal impact on voter preference.
Hug and Sciarini’s model has been tested recently, when Iceland faced a somewhat similar situation, twice in the past two years. You can read the details here, but the basic story is that twice the Icelandic government attempted to push a loan repayment deal through plebiscite, and twice voters rejected the deal, known as the “Icesave Bill.” In that situation, the ruling coalition of the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Left-Green Movement came to power after Iceland’s financial collapse that triggered the need for the referendum. While most voters approved of the new government, the public push by the SDA was not enough to convince voters to cast “yes” ballots.
Gender quotas and the status of women in the new Tunisia
Bloomberg has a good article about some of the difficulties women are facing in Tunisia’s new political climate. I wanted to highlight a point made by one Tunisian candidate:
“We shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” said Ahmed Brahim, who runs the PDM or Modernist Democratic Pole, the only party where women head half the lists. Women’s rights in Tunisia “are fragile because they are associated with an authoritarian state.”
I think this is an important point. We (the development community) often push for gender quotas in less-than-democratic countries. While I’m for these efforts, I think we need to do a better job of not just acknowledging their limitations, but potential drawbacks as well. The main goal of more female representation in parliament is to obviously have women included in the decision-making process. This isn’t really relevant in non-democracies, however, as parliament isn’t deciding very much. One of the justifications used then, is that the presence of female legislatures will provide positive images of women performing competently in important positions. This should have a positive impact on the populations’ general image of women. I agree with this intention, but what if something else could happen as well?
Parliaments in authoritarian, or semi-authoritarian states aren’t viewed with much confidence. (Really, legislative bodies in democracies often suffer from low approval as well) Could it be possible then, that gender quotas actually decrease the perception of women’s capabilities? If the average citizens sees parliament as corrupt of just part of the regime, I don’t see how women parliamentarians will bolster their standing in society.