Jan 232015

Everyone is angry/worried/excited/happy (delete as appropriate) about the prospect of Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the radical left-wing Syriza party, becoming Prime Minister of Greece, while the man himself has begun to treat the election as a mere formality. But is such an outcome even likely? The most recent polls have given Syriza a lead of two to ten percentage points over the centre-right New Democracy party, which is currently governing in a coalition with the (much reduced) centre-left Pasok.

Τσίπρας photoPhoto by 0neiros

While the number of undecided voters is still very high (in the range of ten per cent), the pattern is very consistent: ND has not been leading in a single poll taken since last May. Being the strongest party is significant, as it would give Syriza the 50 seat bonus that is still enshrined in Greek electoral law.

Party Percent Seats
Syriza 32.5 95+50
New Democracy 26.5 77
Potami 5.8 17
Golden Dawn 5 15
KKE 5 15
Pasok 4.4 13
Independent Greeks 3.4 10
Social Democrats 3 9

(based on latest GOP poll)

But even so, it is unclear if Syriza reaches the 151 seats that are required to form a government. The results of the last GPO poll translate into just 95 + 50 seats for Syriza. That’s with the newly formed Social Democratic party of former PM Papandreou scraping past the three per cent threshold. But even if the Social Democrats don’t make it, Syriza would need 34 per cent (about the highest level of support they have so far achieved in the polls) to win 151 seats. Only if the slightly erratic Independent Greeks also poll less than three per cent, 32 per cent of the vPhoto by 0neiros ote will be enough to give Syriza an outright majority of the seats (tactical voting, anyone?).

Otherwise, they will have to find a coalition partner. The communists (KKE) have firmly ruled out the prospect of any cooperation with Syriza, while Tsipras has declared that he does not want to work with the left-liberal (?) Potami. As of now, other coalitions look even less likely, so this may well end in a hung parliament.

Apr 052014

The first round of the French local elections created quite a stir, but the second round of the French local elections was not a bad day for the anoraks either. While the initial focus was on the not totally unexpected success of the Front National, most of my correspondents agree that the real news is the annihilation of the governing Parti socialiste. Amongst the many posts, here are the ones I find most interesting:

marine le pen photoPhoto by Mashthetics

  1. Over at the LSE blog, Jocelyn Evans and Gilles Ivaldi, the grand seigneurs of Front National blogging, argue just that: The shock of Sunday’s French municipal elections was the Socialist defeat (this is actually reblogged from their own 500signatures site). The Guardian agrees.
  2. For Art Goldhammer, it is the end of municipal socialism.
  3. Part of the fallout was the appointment of Manuel Valls as new French PM. John Gaffney thinks that this was a desperate move that will come back to haunt Hollande.
  4. But Art Goldhammer links to a source claiming that Hollande actually has been wanting Valls to be PM for a long time.
  5. And here is an “interview” on the Monkey Cage – interesting questions/answers on Hollande’s electoral disaster, but in a slightly odd format.
Apr 012014
Lord Salisbury on the drawbacks of universal suffrage. Cited in David Marquand, Britain since 1918, p. 54

Lord Salisbury on the drawbacks of universal suffrage. Cited in David Marquand, Britain since 1918, p. 54

MP, Peer, Secretary of State for India, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the Opposition, thrice Prime Minister of Britain, architect of the Empire and arch-Conservative. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, third Marquess of Salisbury and colloquially known as Lord Salisbury was not exactly a fan of mass democracy. This is from one of his essays in the Quarterly Review, quoted in David Marquand’s history of Britain in the 20th century. A lovely thing, these dead tree books.

Mar 142012

Much to everybody’s surprise, the minority government in North Rhine-Westphalia collapsed today. Minority governments are a rarity in Germany. The federal constitution, reflecting Germany’s inter-war experience of unstable governments and intense political strife, practically rules them out. Constitutional details at the state level differ but the general assumption is that the government needs the reliable support of a majority of MPs. The increasing fragmentation of the German party system, however, plays havoc with these constitutional patterns.

In 2010, the land election brought about political deadlock in NRW, a state that has roughly the size, population, and GDP of the Netherlands. Neither of the two major parties (SPD and CDU) could form a majority government without at least two of the three minor parties (the Greens, the FDP (liberals), and the Left). Lengthy negotiations to form a Grand coalition or various three party coalitions (CDU/FDP/Greens, SPD/Greens/Left, SPD/Greens/FDP) failed, leading to the eventual constitution of a red-green minority government that proved remarkably stable.

Its unexpected downfall resulted from a legal twist. Today, the state parliament voted on the budget in a second reading. During this session, votes were scheduled for every single chapter of the whole budget. Both FDP and the Left were set to vote against the government, expecting that they could extract concessions from the government before the third and final reading in two weeks time. But yesterday, constitutional lawyers working for the state parliament informed the parties that due to its specific structure, a vote against any chapter would terminate the budgetary process without a third reading. The government, on the other hand, had declared that it could not operate without a constitutional budget and would seek to dissolve parliament.

This left the FDP and the Left with the choice to lose face or risk the loss of parliamentary representation, as they are not doing well in the polls. This afternoon, they chose the latter. Elections will be held in May.

At the moment, we do not know who asked for the legal opinion, whether the advice was controversial, and why the budget was structured in such a peculiar way. The document has been leaked to the press, but has not been published in full.

A telephone poll by Infratest dimap predicts a majority for a new red-green coalition, with the FDP truly and well below the five percent threshold and results for the Left and the Pirate party to close to call. But this is, of course, just the beginning of the campaign.

Dec 212011

Like a premature Christmas present, my author’s copy of “The Extreme Right in Europe” arrived before the weekend. It’s a hefty volume of almost 500 pages that comes with a equally hefty price tag of just under 80 Euros. As you can see from the table of contents (the PDF also contains the introduction and a large chunk from Gilles Ivaldi’s chapter), it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I like the idea of bringing together  contributions on Eastern and Western Europe and dealing with multiple facets of the right (parties, movements, voters, ‘culture’). While I’m particularly partial to the chapters by Ivaldi and de Lange, which are on matters close to my own research interests,  Heß-Meining’s piece on Right-Wing Esotericism stands out for the sheer weirdness of its subject: Hitler’s hideout in the Arctic and Al Gore the Vampire, you name it. So if you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas present for this XR-head stoner uncle of yours …  just kidding of course.

As an aside, it’s remarkable that this book was published in English. The volume as well as the conference on which it is based were sponsored by French and German institutions. A few years ago, that would have meant a bilingual conference and publication. Outside Luxembourg, what is the number of scholars working in the field who could have actively participated in the conference? And how much larger would have been the number of potential readers? Individually and collectively, French and German political science might still be too big to fail for the time being, but it’s good to see that we as a discipline chose relevance. Occasionally.

To celebrate this moment of pre-Christmas clarity, here’s the author’s version of my chapter Continue reading »

Oct 132011

Life as an early 21st century comparativist is good: Skim through the English literature on country X, Y, and Z, get the dataset from some institution’s website, run the models on a superfast computer, and hey presto, you’re done. More often than not, one might be tempted to skip the literature bit completely and simply analyse a dataset on any group of countries, because this dataset has the variables required to run some fancy model that one always wanted to run.  The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ springs to mind.

Therefore, analyses by people who read and speak the relevant languages and even live in the country they are writing about fill me with vicarious pride. While I was going back and forth between Angela’s Own Country and the Disgraced Republic Formerly Known as Hellas, two fine specimen have cropped up on the internet: My old chum Ben Stanley has a journal-length piece on the Polish parliamentary elections at the monkey cage, and Jacob Christensen of trailer park political scientist fame gives an equally detailed account of the situation in Denmark.

May 282009

With the upcoming EP elections, I felt obliged to check out the profiler sites my colleagues have put on the internet. I started with Germany’s wahl-o-mat that has been around for a number of years. After evaluating 30 statements, the program decided that I should vote for the German Liberals, which was not such a big surprise. The Bavarian Christian Democrats and the New Left Party were the biggest distance away from my ideal point, not least because my preferences seem to be more pro-European than these parties.

Why I should vote for the LibDems (maybe)

Why I should vote for the LibDems (maybe)

Given that I’m going to vote in the UK, I next tried the EU Profiler, which is an international project that aims at providing the relevant information on party positions for all 27 member states. After evaluating a new set of another 30 items, I was presented with a fancy two-dimensional graph that shows that I should vote for the UK LibDems, although they look more like my least-bad option since the policy space around my ideal point is not exactly crowded. This is because I am luke-warm (but warm) when it comes to European Integration plus a bit of a lefty when it comes to the “socioeconomic” dimension. This dimension, however, looks a bit dodgy, because according to the map, the Tories would be ever so slightly to the left of Labour. Well, maybe they are. At least no one suggest that I should vote UKIP or BNP (who sent me a flyer the other week, suggesting that all those immigrants should leave the UK).

In a bold move I switched from British to German parties and was a little surprised to learn that I should vote New Left, which is reasonably close to my ideal point while the Liberals are rather far away. So it would seem that I suffer from a national-political personality split.

Should I vote for the Left party?!?

Should I vote for the Left party?!?

Still not content with the results, I returned to the wahl-o-mat and discovered that they too have teamed-up with researchers from other countries, meaning that we have apparently two competing pan-European profiler projects. So I answered a final UK-specific questionnaire and was reassured that I should indeed vote for the LibDems, though apparently for different reasons.

While their accuracy of the results might be debatable, these tools provide a lot of information and are great fun.

Mar 192009

Colleagues Andrea Römmele and Thorsten Faas have set up a new blog that will cover the many German elections of 2009 (seats in the federal parliament, several state parliaments, local councils as well as the presidency are all up for grabs) and asked me to contribute. How could I resist them? “Wahlen nach Zahlen” (voting by numbers) is not yet public, but since it is already indexed by Google et al., why not spill the beans? There are already four posts (in German), and the list of (potential) contributors looks pretty good. And here is my inaugural post on right-wing extremism amongst German youngsters.

Nov 032008

The US might face unprecedented levels of turnout in tomorrow’s election, but historically, the non-voters are the biggest camp in American politics. One intriguing explanation for this well-known fact is that low turnout could be a consequence of the very high (by any standard) levels of income inequality: because voters lack experience with universalistic institutions, they are less likely to adopt norms and values that foster participation in elections. This is the gist of an article that appeared recently (by social science standards) in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations. While the thesis is interesting enough, I did not find the evidence (design, operationalisation, statistical model) particularly convincing and consequentially embarked on a major replication exercise. As it turned out, there are indeed major problems with the original analysis, including a rather problematic application of the ever popular time-series cross-sectional approach (aka Beck&Katz). Last week, my own article on the (non-)relationship between inequality and turnout has finally appeared in the BJPIR. If you don’t have access to the journal, you can still download the preprint version (“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something True?”) from my homepage. And if you in turn find this rather unconvincing, you can download the replication data for the various inequality/turnout models and do your own analysis. Enjoy.
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Sep 222008

Today, the BBC has a rather amusing piece by Larry Sabato (Virginia) on the “The US election nightmare scenario“: an equal split of the “toss-up” state leads to deadlock in the Electoral College. Enter the unit rule, a constitutional provision which stipulates that the House will select the President in a vote where each state delegation has a single vote. Sounds bizarre? Certainly. Unlikely? Not entirely. And yes, apparently Pelosi could become the next President of the US. Read it yourself.
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