Monthly Archives: March 2012

Bradford West (UK) by-election 2012

A parliamentary by-election was held in the British constituency of Bradford West on March 29, 2012. The seat, which covers parts of downtown Bradford as well as the Yorkshire city’s northwestern outskirts, was vacant following the resignation of Labour MP Marsha Singh, who had represented the seat since 1997, earlier in March.

Thus far, the by-elections to this Parliament have been uneventful affairs, boring by-elections fought in safe Labour seats across Britain (and Belfast West, which was hardly exciting). On paper, Bradford West was shaping up to be like all other by-elections in this Parliament’s lifespan. Covering parts of the textile centre of Bradford, the constituency is a poor multicultural working-class population with a long list of social problems and neighborhoods which are similar to some American inner-cities. The constituency includes the bulk of Bradford’s large Pakistani population which accounts for 35% of the seat’s population, which is also 38% Muslim and only 50% white British. The seat’s three downtown core wards are heavily Asian Muslim, but the seat also has a sizable white working-class electorate and a middle-class suburban base (Thornton & Allerton). The seat’s political history is surprisingly colourful. In 1997, Marsha Singh’s first election after a fractious nominating process, the seat was one of two seats in the country to record a swing to the Conservatives. Singh won, but with an 8.5% majority much smaller than his predecessor’s 19% majority in 1992. In 2010, Singh was reelected – this time recording a counter-cyclical swing against the Tories to Labour, taking a 14% majority.

Labour politics in Bradford West are said to be dominated by biradari networks (an Urdu word meaning ‘family’) which denotes an hierarchical system of clan politics dominated by connections and family ties to Mirpur, a city in Pakistan where most of Bradford’s Pakistanis hail from. Labour’s candidate, Imran Hussain, a deputy council leader, fitted the profile of biradari clan politics quite well. Hussain was certainly, on paper, the favourite to win a fairly safe Labour seat where the Conservatives have never staged a real challenge and where the LibDems were weak even before their post-Coalition electoral implosion.

Enter George Galloway, one of the most controversial politics in the country. Galloway, a former Labour MP, gained notoriety in 2003 for his staunch opposition to the Iraq war and his support for Palestine. Standing for the Respect Party, the charismatic and assertive Galloway knocked off Labour MP Oona King in the east London seat of Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005, but he was defeated when seeking reelection in 2010 in the new seat of Poplar and Limehouse, winning only 17.5% of the vote and third place. In 2011, he failed to win election to the Scottish Parliament standing for Respect.

Galloway was always going to make a presence in an otherwise boring by-election, but casual observers never guessed the impact he would have. Those with their ear on the grounds knew that something, however, was up. Galloway, running largely on his opposition to British military involvement in Afghanistan and benefiting from his strong popularity with the Muslim population, was able to motivate first-time voters, previous non-voters, Muslim voters who had always voted Labour and so forth. Galloway is still very popular with Muslims in Britain, who fondly remember his charismatic opposition to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as his fabled fights with interviewers and US Senators. Galloway seized on tensions in the Asian community concerning the system of biradari politics, which he was strongly critical of. On the sidelines, Galloway may have tried to exploit racial tensions and play a communitarian card by sending out a letter to voters “of the Muslim faith” which insinuated that Galloway – who is not Muslim – was somehow a better Muslim than Hussain.

Turnout was strong at 50%, still down 15% on 2010. The results were:

George Galloway (Respect) 55.89% (+52.83%)
Imran Hussain (Labour) 24.99% (-20.36%)
Jackie Whiteley (Conservative) 8.37% (-22.78%)
Jeanette Sunderland (LibDem) 4.59% (-7.08%)
Sonja McNally (UKIP) 3.31% (+1.31%)
Dawud Islam (Green) 1.47% (-0.85%)
Neil Craig (Democratic Nationalists) 1.05%
Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 0.34%

Galloway won a shocking victory, which was more than a narrow upset but rather a political earthquake. He scored a 36.6% swing from Labour to Respect, making this by-election one of the most historic by-elections in British political history since, perhaps, Simon Hughes’ landslide victory in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election against Labour. Galloway didn’t win just because of a turnout fluke, because turnout was very strong for a by-election. Reporters on the ground have indicated that he was able to mobilize first-time young Muslim voters, apathetic voters who had usually not bothered to vote in the past but also traditionally Labour Asian Muslim voters who were mobilized by Galloway. Galloway motivated voters by appearing as a radical anti-establishment candidate, opposed to the war in Afghanistan (obviously very unpopular in this type of constituency) and standing against politics as usual symbolized by Labour’s system of biradari clan politics. Labour has often tended to take Asian Muslim voters for granted and much has been written about this complacency in the context of Bradford. On March 29, that complacency and friends-and-neighbors system of clan politics in Bradford likely blew up in Labour’s face.

It certainly makes for a very bad result for Labour leader Ed Miliband, but it must not be forgotten that a lot of this huge upset is due to George Galloway’s personality. This won’t be a game-changing political event, because Respect simply isn’t a strong enough political force with any other well-known leaders besides Galloway (and maybe Salma Yaqoob) who could capitalize on an event like this. Galloway has an appeal to Muslim voters which his party doesn’t really have, because he is a superstar and political hero for a lot of younger Muslim voters in Britain. In Bradford West, Muslim turnout was likely very heavy and probably huge for Galloway. It would not surprise me if Hussain, ironically, was only able to hold Labour’s old white working-class voters.

Galloway’s win can be attributed to motivating a wide base on the issue of Afghanistan and anti-system opposition to politics-as-usual and by seizing on racial issues in the community including the issue of clan politics and Labour’s attitude towards Muslim voters. A good piece by Labour MP John Mann on LabourList says that Labour’s response in Asian areas were negative, and decries that the party had “no game plan” and fielded no Muslim, Urdu-speaking or hijab-wearing doorknockers.

Labour finds itself with a pie in its face, but the Tories are hardly coming out any better. The Tories did terribly, winning only 8.4% of the vote – losing nearly 23% since 2010. Some Conservatives might have voted strategically for Galloway to stick one to Labour, but in large part it seems like a repeat of a mayoral election in Tower Hamlets in 2010 when Tories simply did not seem to show up. The Tories aren’t strong in Bradford West, but they certainly have a floor (perhaps something like 25-30%) which is still much higher than high single-digits! Their turnout was probably particularly awful, because I doubt a whole load of Conservative voters in Bradford could have stomached voting for Galloway.

The LibDems did awfully as well, but such is to be expected at this point. The party’s performance in by-elections thus far is only marginally more impressive than the FDP’s polling numbers in Germany.

Andalusia and Asturias (Spain) 2012

Regional elections were held in two Spanish autonomous communities, Andalusia and Asturias, on March 25 2012. All 109 members of Andalusia’s Parliament and all 45 members of the Junta General of the Principality of Asturias were up for reelection.

In Andalusia, each of the region’s eight provinces are allocated eight members off the top with the remaining 45 seats allocated on the basis of population. Each province elects between 11 members (Jaén and Huelva) and 18 members (Seville). In Asturias, although the region is made up of only a single province, the legislature’s 45 members are elected in three special electoral constituencies: central, western and eastern which respectively elect 34, 6 and 5 deputies. As in all Spanish elections, the d’Hondt system of proportional representation is used in these elections, a system which usually discriminates somewhat against smaller parties.

The Andalusian parliament, last renewed in 2008, came to the logical conclusion of its four year term. This was, however, the first elections since 1996 to the Andalusian parliament which did not coincide with general elections in the rest of Spain, because Spain’s last general election – in November 2011 – was held ahead of schedule. If you recall the regional and local elections held across Spain in May 2011, the end result in Asturias was a crazy free-for-all marked by the emergence of a new political force – a right-wing party, named FAC, led by Mr. FAC (Francisco Álvarez-Cascos) as the largest party but with only 16 seats. Álvarez-Cascos, a former high-ranking member of the right-wing PP, had created his outfit as part of a personal fight with the Asturian PP which had rejected his candidacy in the regional elections. Following the elections, Álvarez-Cascos was able to win the region’s presidency only through the abstention of both the PP and PSOE, which teamed up to compel Mr. FAC to govern under the budget passed by the left-wing government which had just been defeated. In late January, the PP and PSOE again teamed up to reject the FAC’s budget proposals, which compelled Álvarez-Cascos to seek early elections. In his landmark loudmouth sytle, he decried a “PP-PSOE alliance” and claimed the region was on the verge of economic collapse because he couldn’t pass his budget.

More importantly, these elections are the first test for Spain’s new conservative majority government elected in November 2011. Mariano Rajoy’s PP government immediately faced a catastrophic economic situation including a 23% unemployment rate, a rising public debt (evaluated at 68.5% of GDP in 2011) and a large deficit (8.5% of GDP in 2011). The Rajoy government now aims to reduce Spain’s deficit to 5.3% of the GDP, a goal which has forced the government to take tough measures. Early measures such as cuts in political party and union subsidies, tax credits for home buyers and spending cuts were well received but a pay freeze for public employees, tax hikes and a minimum wage freeze were unpopular. The government faced protests over a labour law reform which would make laying off employees cheaper and weaken industry-wide contracts. The PP’s honeymoon was not quite an honeymoon but voters retain more confidence in the PP than in the PSOE to solve the economic crisis.

As the PSOE struggles to return to more decent levels of support, it must do more than hope that voters will inevitably turn to it by the time that Rajoy’s government becomes even more unpopular. The left-wing IU is an attractive alternative for an increasing number of voters since the general elections. In February, at the PSOE’s 38th congress, the party’s hapless 2011 candidate, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, was narrowly elected Secretary-General of the party, defeating the maverick-change contender, Carme Chacón. Rubalcaba got no boost out of his victory, given that he is perhaps too closely associated with the Zapatero government to re-ignite the PSOE’s electoral chances.

Andalusia was the crucial contest of the elections, because it is the Socialist stronghold – governed by the PSOE since 1982 – but one Socialist stronghold which was seriously shaken in 2011 when the PP won Andalusia by a full 9-point margin over the PSOE. The leader of the PP in Andalusia, Javier Arenas, who has run and lost in three regional elections thus far – most recently in 2008 (he lost by 10 but did very well by historical standards) – has been campaigning non-stop in the region since 2008. If the PP could win an absolute majority of seats in Andalusia, it would be a critical blow to the PSOE, something akin to amputating a man who had only one leg left. If the PP failed to win such a majority, it would be a first warning bell to Rajoy and the national PP government.

Andalusia

Andalusia is the Socialist stronghold. In 2011, it accounted for a quarter of the PSOE’s entire share of raw votes (about 1.6 million out of 6.9 million votes). The PSOE has governed the region since 1982, and between 1990 and 2009, it was the stronghold of one of the most important barons of the PSOE, Manuel Chaves. Within the PSOE itself, Andalusia’s federation is the most powerful of all regional federations and the provincial section in Seville is the most important in the whole of Spain. Most of the PSOE’s historical leaders, including former Prime Minister Felipe González and his Vice President Alfonso Guerra, have hailed from Andalusia.

My Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election provides some general context to Andalusia. Here are some of the most important snippets:

Andalusia is Spain’s second largest and most populous community, and the land of national stereotypes for foreigners: flamenco, bullfighting, sunny beaches and Moorish architecture. Andalusia has a population of 8,415,490 (INE 2011). The capital of Andalusia is Seville and the community is composed of the provinces of Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla.

Andalusia is defined by its long history of Muslim domination, it was of course the last part of Spain to be conquered by the Catholic forces of Castile and Aragon in 1492 with the fall of Granada. The latter part of the Reconquista was mostly carried out by nobles, knights and ecclesiastical orders rather than by the crown and peasants as the first part of the reconquista had been. Therefore, upon conquest, the Castilian crown granted large – huge – swathes of land to individuals or hierarchic orders. The roots of the latifundios, and by consequence Andalusia’s under-development and perpetual poverty were laid. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Andalusian countryside was thus marked by latifundios, ruled by a local cacique who employed huge numbers of landless seasonal labourers. The cacique was the main source of authority and the go-to man for jobs, paperwork and loans. The rural inequality of Andalusia in the late nineteenth century led to the rapid growth of socialism and especially anarchism in rural Andalusia, two movements which transformed Andalusia into the main battleground of class warfare in Spain, with the landless labourers opposed to the rural gentry (señoritos) and the caciques.

Agriculture remains important in Andalusia, which is less industrialized than the rest of Spain. The main crops are olives south of the Guadalquivir, largely in the province of Jaén; cereals and sunflowers in the Guadalquivir valley (Seville province principally) and the very lucrative artificial cultivation of strawberries under greenhouses largely in Almería but also Huelva. Mining is of secondary importance, with declining profits from copper along the Rio Tinto in Huelva and lead around Granada. Andalusian industry remains weak, and largely dominated by increasingly unprofitable first transformation of raw agricultural or material minerals. These sectors face increasing competition from North Africa or Turkey. Finally, tourism has become a major bread-winner in Andalusia, the second most popular destination for tourists after Catalonia, primarily along the Mediterranean coast (Costa del Sol) which in recent years has been a curse of sorts for Andalusia, which found itself with a bubbling construction sector which burst during the crisis.

The “agrarian question” has long been a key political and social issue in Andalusia, which is the dictionary definition for agrarian inequalities. For most of the early twentieth century, Andalusianlatifundios were hardly lucrative and they remained led with an iron hand by the caciques, who did what they pleased when they pleased. They brought in labourers from outside the town, or allowed vast parcels of land to go uncultivated. This was also an era of eruptive social conflict, which contributed to the 1936 outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. However, Andalusian property became quite productive in the 1960s as they slowly took the path of mechanization which increased productivity considerably while freeing a lot of hands – hands which could soon be re-employed in the booming construction sector with the growth of coastal tourism in Andalusia in the 1960s. Thus, when the Socialists came to power in Seville in 1981 and then in Madrid in 1982, instead of launching an ambitious land reform which would have divided land between landless labourers or cooperatives, the government continued to encourage the policy of mechanization and modernization. In return, the Socialist government set up a system of agrarian unemployment subsidy to sustain social stability and their political powers despite high unemployment. This agrarian unemployment subsidy, reformed countless time and benefiting an ever decreasing number of labourers in Andalusia and Extremadura, basically offers seasonal labourers a minimum pension six months per year on condition of having paid in to the system by working for 35 days in the previous years and, since 2002, having received it for three years prior. Though only 145,400 people receive it now, it has been an important clientelistic tool in maintaining Socialist domination in Andalusia.

Andalusia remains a poor region. It has the second-lowest GDP per capita of all Spanish regions at €17,405 – far behind the €27-30,000 of Euskadi, Madrid, Navarre and Catalonia. Andalusia has an unemployment rate of 30.93%, the second highest in Spain.

[...]

Andalusia is a Socialist stronghold and one of the key elements in the PSOE’s coalition. Andalusia has voted Socialist in all general elections since 1977 and has voted Socialist in all but two elections of any kind since then (the 1979 and 2011 local elections). In 2008, the PSOE won 52.5% against 38.6% for the PP and 5.2% for IU (ed: in 2011, the PP won 46.1% against 37.1% for the PSOE and 8.4% for IU). The Andalusian regional government has been held since its creation in 1982 by the PSOE, though the PSOE fell to a minority position in the 1994, 1996 and 2000 elections. Manuel Chaves, one of the prominent ‘barons’ of the party, governed the region between 1990 and 2009. Though Andalusia is a very diverse region, the PSOE’s implantation is remarkably homogeneous, though it is slightly weaker in provincial capitals (as of 2011, all are governed by the PP), in the province of Almería and coastal areas (Costa del Sol) in Málaga. Almería, the most isolated of the eight provinces, has always stood somewhat at odds from the rest of Andalusia, as shown in the 1980 referendum. The PP is very strong along the Almerian coast, especially around El Ejido but also further east around the Campo de Níjar region. One would inevitably think that it is because of wealthy old retiree types as it is around Marbella and Málaga, but it is rather because of the region’s unique agriculture. The Almerian coast is in fact home to a vast sea of greenhouses (visible from Google Earth satelite images), where fruits are grown thanks to an ingenious artificial technique involving blowing the surface out, bringing soil, building a short wall around the patch, covering it (to create a greenhouse-like environment), digging a tunnel for irrigation, laying manure over it (primarily for heat) and then a bunch of sand. The owners of these greenhouses are largely wealthy entrepreneurial smallholders. [...]

The PSOE, as mentioned above, has topped the poll in all but three elections of any kind in Andalusia since the Transition. However, it is a rapidly changing region. The construction boom resulted in major demographic changes along the coast, with old coastal mining villages in Málaga transforming into high-growth tourist resort towns. Agriculture is no longer the breadwinner of yesteryear, and the agriculture which is left is no longer the unprofitable latifundios of the past, but rather large profitable mechanized farms which employ immigrant workers. Subsidies (or, as opponents would say, bribes) for agricultural workers are drying up and the economic crisis has meant that the PSOE has less money to redistribute to its electoral clientele.

Andalusia has suffered from the economic crisis, with 31.2% unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2011. The construction boom and its explosion took a major toll on the poor region’s economy. Besides jobs, corruption has been the other main political issue in the region. My Guide had this to say the EREgate scandal in the region:

In Andalusia, the regional PSOE government finds itself embroiled in EREgate. EREgate involves the subsidization of early retirement in government-funded companies by the PSOE. In this case, around 3% of early retirement cases were found to be fraudulent and involved roughly €9 million. The government paid excessive early retirements or paid early retirements to employees who never actually worked for a particular company (ed: those people usually tended to be PSOE supporters or part of the PSOE clientele). The PP and IU in the Andalusian parliament have seen their calls for a commission of inquiry refused by the PSOE majority, which claims that claims are being investigated by the Employment Ministry alongside the courts. The PP claims that the PSOE is covering up a wider case which involves the current president of the community, José Antonio Griñán. [...]

The regional president, José Antonio Griñán, did not call for early elections to coincide with the general elections – elections which he would have lost in a landslide. In doing so, he likely hoped to benefit from the inevitable voter backlash against the newly-elected PP government and its likely unpopular austerity measures. Yet, in all polls leading up to the vote, Griñán’s PSOE trailed the PP by between 7 and 13%.

Turnout was 62.2%, down from 72.7% in 2008 when the elections coincided with general elections. The results were:

PP 40.66% (+2.21%) winning 50 seats (+3)
PSOE-A 39.52% (-8.89%) winning 47 seats (-9)
IULV-CA 11.34% (+4.28%) winning 12 seats (+6)
UPyD 3.35% (+2.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PA 2.5% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Equo 0.53% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)

For the first time in 30 years of Andalusian elections, the PP emerged as the largest party in the Andalusian Parliament with 40.7% of the vote and 50 seats, which also represents the PP’s strongest showing in any Andalusian election to date. The message of “we won for the first time ever” is the message which the PP has been trying to transmit out of these results, but the general media narrative about these results is about a PP defeat or at least a first warning bell to the Rajoy government. Indeed, the PP’s expectations were set quite high – winning an absolute majority of seats (55) – and the polls allowed these high expectations to flourish. Therefore, when the end result ended up being a narrow PP victory by a single percentage point, imaginably the narrative was about a pretty dramatic PP underperformance (no poll had it leading by anything less than 6-7%) and a blow of sorts to the Rajoy government.

To be fair to the PP, that they managed to win a plurality of the votes and seats in Andalusia is still remarkable no matter what, especially when the central government is implementing tough austerity medicine which is seldom popular. However, at the same time, the PP cannot help but be severely disappointed by its weak result. Inevitably, the PP suffered from the tough economic measures being implemented, measures which were beginning when they were not too bad but which are becoming increasingly unpopular as they become increasingly tough. Andalusia is a very poor region with a phenomenal unemployment rate, which some voters blamed on the regional government but which some could likely blame on Madrid as well.

Falling short of an absolute majority means that Javier Arenas probably will not be able to form a government, and if he does it will be a weak minority administration. In 2011, the PP had been able to elect one of its own to the regional executive in Extremadura, another historic PSOE stronghold, but it had done so because the IU had failed to seal a deal with the Socialists. In Andalusia, it seems as if both the PSOE and IU will make sure that this does not happen again. The PSOE cannot be too picky with the IU, and it will probably have to give in to the IU’s demand for an investigation on EREgate; but it seems fairly unlikely at this point that the two parties will not be able to get together, at least that is the media’s expectations at this stage. Griñán’s likely reelection as president of the regional executive will strengthen his hand in the increasingly fractious PSOE-A and provide a much needed boost to the PSOE’s morale which at this point only governs (as a senior partner) in the Basque Country (and probably not for long) and Andalusia.

The PSOE was defeated, but it won a “moral victory” through its stronger than expected performance and especially the unexpectedly narrow gap which separates it from the PP. It does show how low expectations are for the PSOE and to what low levels the party has fallen when losing Andalusia by one point can be considered a ‘moral victory’.

The PSOE lost nearly 9 percentage points since the 2008 elections, which had already been the PP’s performance up to that point. However, in a scenario reminiscent of the general elections in 1989, the main benefactor of the PSOE’s decline (besides abstention) was the IU, which doubled its seat count to 12 and took one of its best results since the mid-90s, the previous high water mark for the IU. In the short-term, the IU could stand to benefit more than the PSOE from the government’s declining popularity. The PSOE still has a credibility problem on the economy which it will need to overcome (which likely means dissociating itself from zapaterismo, and Rubalcaba is not the best person to do that), and until it does that (which it probably will, it’s a political party which wants to win, after all) the IU could be an attractive option for voters who are angry at the government and its austerity measures. On the other hand, as in 2011, the UPyD has been proving to be an attractive option for more moderate PP and PSOE voters alike. The PP likely shed some of its 2011 supporters to Rosa Díez’s party, which won 3.4% but failed to win any seats.

The PP emerged victorious in all four coastal provinces plus Córdoba while the PSOE dominated in Seville and won in Huelva and Jaén. In all eight provincial capitals, the PP emerged as the largest party, meaning that the PSOE retained its traditional dominance in rural inland Andalusia.

Asturias

As explained above, the regional president of Asturias, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos opted for snap elections after the PP and PSOE blocked his budget proposals, which he claimed were crucial for his ability to govern the region. Álvarez-Cascos, a long-time politico who had served as a senior cabinet minister in the Aznar government, created his own party – the Citizens Forum (FAC) – as a personal vehicle for his personal vendetta against the local PP which had excluded him from the regional list ahead of the 2011 elections. He had already become increasingly opposed to Mariano Rajoy’s leadership of the PP, as a member of the PP’s hard-right faction. He won the 2011 elections narrowly, with 16 seats to the PSOE’s 15, distancing the PP by a wide margin. But his relations with the local PP have remained poor, even after his party’s sole deputy in the Congress voted in favour of Rajoy’s government (as a way to extract concessions which it never got).

Here are the relevant parts of Asturias’ regional profile in my Guide:

The Principality of Asturias is a small region, but it has played a significant role in Spanish history and politics which is somewhat unexpected for such a small region on Spain’s rather isolated northern coast. The population of Asturias is 1,081,348 (INE 2011). The capital of Asturias is Oviedo but the largest city is Gijón. The Principality of Asturias is a uniprovincial region, composed solely of the province of Asturias, known as the province of Oviedo until 1983.

The region takes its name from the larger-than-life Kingdom of Asturias, a Visigothic Christian kingdom which emerged in northern Spain in 718 as the first Christian kingdom following the Muslim conquest of the old Visigothic monarchy. The defeat of the Muslim forces by the Asturian monarch Pelayo at the battle of Covadonga in 722 has a mythical place in Spanish history (and political rhetoric) as the turning point and the beginning of the Reconquista. It is because of this history that the region takes the name of ‘Principality of Asturias’, with the Prince of Asturias being the heir to the Spanish throne.

Beyond the mythic existence of the kingdom of Asturias, the region’s prominent place in Spanish history and economics since the nineteenth century comes from its mineral wealth. The region is home to the bulk of Spain’s coal deposits and much of Spain’s steel industry. The discovery of coal in the 1830s transformed the poor rural region into one of the key players in Spain’s industrial economy, alongside the equally isolated regions of Euskadi, Catalonia and Madrid. In 1857, the province of Oviedo was Spain’s fourth most populated province, even more populated than Madrid. The coal mining industry also led to a strong organized union movement led largely by the Socialist UGT. Asturias emerged as a hotbed of revolutionary contestation as early as the first decade of the twentieth century, with the election of a PSOE MP in 1918. It was also in Asturias that the seeds of the Spanish Civil War were first sown with the October Revolution of 1934, in which the region was the only part of Spain where the PSOE-led strike wave succeeded and proceeded to turn into a violent revolution crushed brutally by the Moorish mercenaries of Franco and Yaguë. It was also in Asturias, in 1962-1963 that the Francoist state was shaken by its first strikes which prompted the nationalization of mines by Franco in 1967.

Industry accounts for only 14% of the region’s GDP, with the service sector, like in the rest of Spain, eating up the bulk of jobs in the region: 73%. The Asturian mining sector has declined in importance rather considerably in recent years, with the usual waves of mine closures and early retirements for miners. However, a fair number of mines remain in importance though their economic weight is increasingly minimal. The steel industry, once upon a time one of Asturias’ main industries alongside coal, is also in decline. As a result, Asturias’ GDP per capita of €21,882 places it in tenth place and below the Spanish average. Only decades ago, the mining and steel industry had made Asturias one of Spain’s most affluent provinces. However, the unemployment rate, 17.17%, is below the national average.

Asturias is traditionally a Socialist stronghold, thanks to the historic implantation of the UGT and PSOE within the Asturian mining industry. Asturias voted PP only in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 general elections though in recent years both parties have been within a few percentage points of each others. In 2008, the PSOE won 47.5% against 42.1% for the PP and 7.3% for IU (ed: in 2011, the PP won 35.9%, the PSOE 29.7%, FAC 14.9%, IU 13.4% and UPyD 4%). Mining communities are traditionally very left-wing, as is the working-class city of Gijón – governed by the PSOE between 1979 and 2011 – and the steelworking harbour town of Avilés. However, the inland regional capital, Oviedo, is an old bourgeois enclave in proletarian central Asturias. It had revolted against the republic in July 1936 when the rest of the region had remained republican. It has been held by the PP since 1991. The PCE and nowadays IU have traditionally had a strong base alongside the PSOE in the mining milieu, polling 10% on average and peaking at 16% in 1995. The PCE/IU returned one MP between 1977 and 2004, and despite losing its seat that year its vote held up well in 2008. It still holds a few town halls in the mining country.

The PSOE has held the regional government since 1983 with two interruptions: the PP ruled between 1995 and 1999 and the FAC, a new party, rules since 2011. The PP’s Sergio Marqués took the reigns in 1995 after the PP emerged as the largest party. However, he soon fell on bad terms with his party in Madrid and split from the PP to create the regionalistic URAS, whose 7% and 3 seats in the 1999 was a poor result but allowed the PSOE’s Vicente Álvarez Areces to take control until 2011, though the PSOE was barely ahead of the PP in both 2003 and 2007 and needed to count on IU. In 2011, the Asturian elections were noted for the emergence of the Asturian Forum (FAC), a right-wing personalist outfit founded by former Vice-President of the Spanish government Francisco Álvarez-Cascos. Álvarez-Cascos, who always complains that nobody likes him, was one of the most anti-Rajoy conservative members of the PP and was denied the PP’s nomination in 2011 when he came out of political retirement. His party, the FAC, went on to take 29.7% of the vote (barely behind a severely mauled PSOE – 29.9%) all while the PP collapsed to 19.9%. Álvarez-Cascos won the regional presidency with the abstention of all other parties.

The campaign in Asturias was not as mediatized and high-profile as the campaign in Andalusia, because it carried less national significance and the presence of a powerful local party (the FAC) blurred the situation up a bit. Most polls predicted a repeat of 2011, though with a weakening of the FAC to the benefit of the PP.

Turnout was down 11 points from last year’s elections, which coincided with local elections in the province. The low stakes of these elections and their organization less than a year after the last regional ballot likely demotivated voters. The results were:

PSOE 32.01% (+2.09%) winning 16 seats (+1)
FAC 24.83% (-4.83%) winning 13 seats (-3)
PP 21.53% (+1.58%) winning 10 seats (nc)
IU-IX 13.78% (+3.5%) winning 5 seats (+1)
UPyD 3.75% (+1.31%) winning 1 seat (+1)

Little changed in Asturias. The FAC lost the most support, losing a bit less than 5% of its 2011 votes and falling 3 seats, but remained the largest right-wing party ahead of the PP which did not do as well as polls had predicted. The PSOE won an additional seat and increased its support a bit, though with only 32% of the vote the PSOE remains at a very low level – even below its 1995 result though above the disastrous 2011 result. The IU won its best result since 1995, winning an extra seat and increasing its vote share to nearly 14%. In winning a single seat, UPyD likely took support from the right, primarily the FAC and PP.

With 23 seats, the FAC and PP have enough seats to form a coalition majority government led by Álvarez-Cascos. Both parties have shown themselves in favour of such a deal, though Álvarez-Cascos tended to be a bit cooler on the idea than the PP during the campaign. However, the PSOE hopes to gain another seat off of the FAC through the support of emigrant votes which are counted on Wednesday. The FAC’s last seat is held by a very narrow margin over the PSOE, and the Socialists hope that the traditionally left-leaning emigrant votes will be large enough to give the PSOE a seventeenth seat. In such a situation, both right and left (PSOE-IU, which have both quasi-agreed to a coalition if possible) would hold 22 seats with the UPyD holding the balance of power between the two blocs – though the PSOE would have additional legitimacy in winning UPyD over by cause of being the largest single party in the legislature.

The overall lesson from the first electoral test for the Rajoy government is that its measures are not receiving the popular approval he had wished for. Of course, anybody could have predicted that a government forced to implement such an austerity programme would not have a long honeymoon. With a general strike opposing the labour law reform called for March 29, and with the Socialists likely to retain control of their Andalusian breadbasket, the fiesta of 20-N is very much over for the PP. The PSOE still has a long road ahead and it has much work to do on its own, but the outlook for the party is much more optimistic now than it was after 20-N. The Andalusian results have provided a major morale boost for the PSOE, which all of a sudden thinks that its state is not so dire anymore and that its road to recovery may not be so arduous.

It is unlikely that there will be – that there can be – any major shift in government policy at this point, in good part because the PP has an absolute majority in Congress, but it should be prepared to face the wrath of voters before long. Arenas’ failure in Andalusia has worried foreign markets, because they fear that the PSOE government in Andalusia will prove to be far more reticent to trim its budget deficit to meet Madrid’s requirements than an allied PP government would have been. Yet, the PP still has the benefit of controlling the vast majority of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, which will play a critical role in reducing Spain’s deficit (their share of Spain’s debt and deficit has ballooned). It can, however, expect popular resistance, especially in regions such as Catalonia or Euskadi, to any “trimming” of the country’s ‘state of the autonomies’.

Canada: NDP leadership convention 2012

Canada’s official opposition party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) held its leadership convention on March 24, 2012 in Toronto, Ontario. Seven candidates lined up for a chance to become leader of the official opposition in addition to leader of the NDP.

The centre-left NDP has usually been Canada’s perennial third-party, perceived as the idealistic social democratic which always sought to overtake either the Liberals or Conservatives to establish themselves as the official opposition. In 2008, the NDP won 18.2% of the vote and 37 out of 308 seats. The most seats it had ever won was in 1988, when it took 43 seats and 20.4% of the vote. Under the leadership of Jack Layton, the NDP certainly grew back from the party’s near-death state of the 1990s and the NDP kept benefiting from the Liberal Party’s slow state of decrepitude following its 2006 electoral defeat. However, nothing could really prepare the NDP for the results of the historic 2011 election, when the party surged into second taking 103 seats and 30.6% of the vote.

The NDP’s success in May 2011, allowing it to form the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority government, came on the back of two factors: the collapse of the Liberal Party and an NDP ‘orange wave’ in Quebec. The Liberals, with 18.9% of the vote won only 34 seats – it worst result in its existence. The Liberals bled votes left and right, with more right-leaning ‘blue Liberals’ voting for the political stability and sound economic management promised by Harper’s Tories; and left-leaning Liberals voting for the NDP and its charismatic, engaging and iconic leader Jack Layton. Even more crucial, however, was the NDP’s ‘orange wave’ in Quebec where the party surged from 12% and 1 seat to 43% and 59 seats. Quebec’s electorate is fickle, but since 1993 it had been fairly loyal to the nationalist Bloc Québécois. The NDP’s orange wave clearly came largely at the BQ’s expense, which won only 23% and a mere 4 seats – down from 49 only three years prior. With the cause of Quebec nationalism increasingly falling on deaf ears and the BQ entering the campaign with no clear message, many of the BQ’s soft nationalist and left-leaning voters were attracted to Jack Layton’s party. The NDP thus entered the official opposition with a caucus which was made up, in majority, of rookie Quebec MPs. A fact made even more shocking by the fact that the NDP had until that point never won more than a single seat in the province and indeed Quebec had usually been a dead-zone for the predominantly Anglophone, Prairie-born NDP.

The NDP also entered official opposition with a popular leader, Jack Layton, taken ill with cancer. He died on August 22, sending Canada into mourning and his party into a leadership contest in which the potential candidates must seek to live up to Jack Layton’s record popularity and cross-partisan appeal. The main issues in the contest and indeed for the NDP at this point were the potential new leader’s ability to hold the NDP’s fledgling gains in the land of fickle voters, Quebec; but also expanding the NDP’s support outside Quebec to win government in 2015. This would mean, in good part, appealing to Liberal and Green supporters. The questions which mostly divided the candidates were the desirability of a “shift to the centre” in order to appeal to a broader “progressive” base but also the tough issue of cooperation with the Liberal Party as part of an anti-Harper “progressive coalition”.

Seven candidates made it all the way to the convention. Unlike in 2003, the NDP convention now uses a “one member, one vote” system with no 25% block reserved for the NDP’s allies in organized labour. All members could vote, either by absentee preferential ballot or at the convention. The convention uses exhaustive balloting with IRV, candidates needed to win 50%+1 of the votes.

The NDP came out of nowhere to score its “orange wave” in Quebec, the party had no grassroots infrastructure and a very limited membership base in the province. The issue of Quebec, so crucial to the NDP’s electoral strategy now, having a minimal role in the entire convention was a concern. There was a rather successful membership drive in Quebec, giving the party a final count of 13,987 members in the province – 11% of the party’s membership. British Columbia (39,859 members) and Ontario (36,965 members), however, remained the main NDP provinces in terms of membership, with a pretty significant base in Saskatchewan (11,243) and Manitoba (11,991) as well.

Thomas Mulcair, “the frontrunner” was also the “Quebec candidate”. Mulcair has a long political career, he was provincial Liberal cabinet minister (environment) in Jean Charest’s first government between 2003 and 2006 before he resigned to run for the NDP in the Outremont by-election in 2007, which he won, sending a first shock to the Liberal Party. Mulcair remained the party’s sole Quebec MP in the 2008 election, but he certainly played a key role as a major architect of the party’s “orange wave” in the province in 2011. He has close relations with most of the party’s rookie MPs, especially the lower-profile ‘paper candidates’ who won by surprise. Mulcair certainly argued that he was the best candidate to consolidate the NDP’s gains in Quebec and made the case for himself as the candidate who has a natural appeal to Quebec.

Mulcair has been regarded with suspicion in establishment NDP circles, both for personal reasons (his hot temper) and his alleged opportunism mixed in with ambition. His position on the party’s right, advocating a shift to the centre or something akin to a Blairite transformation of the party (despite the NDP under Layton already being a fairly moderate party) to expand the party’s base, has not been received all that well by the party’s old guard. However, Mulcair managed to build up significant caucus support, especially from Quebec’s rookies, but also in Ontario and BC. He was endorsed by Quebec MP and former 2012 leadership candidate Romeo Saganash (a Cree), former 2003 leadership candidate Lorne Nystrom, former ONDP leader Howard Hampton, former MB Premier Ed Schreyer and some more high-profile sitting MPs including David Christopherson, Jack Harris, Glenn Thibeault and John Rafferty. Though organized labour was lukewarm towards him, he did get some minor union endorsements including the UFCW Canada and SEIU.

Brian Topp, “the establishment” candidate was a nobody to most voters and even most NDP members. Topp, raised in Quebec, is fluently bilingual but has served most of his political career in party back-rooms as chief of staff to former SK Premier Roy Romanow, senior adviser to Layton in the federal election and president of the NDP since 2011. His candidacy was announced early, pushed from behind by the old guard and establishment circles wary of Mulcair. He was apparently the favourite of Layton’s old inner circle, which is deeply distrustful of Mulcair. Topp received the endorsement of party grandees including former leader Ed Broadbent (whose backing of Layton in 2003 had been crucial), SK Premiers Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. One of Topp’s main weakness, besides the backroom image, is that he lacks a seat in the House of Commons. He has pledged to run for a seat in Quebec.

Topp positioned himself as something of a soft left candidate, more in line with the ideological orientations of the party’s old guard which is not radically left-wing but not as open to a shift to the centre as Mulcair is. He advocated, most significantly, a “tax the rich” platform with a new 35% tax bracket for those earning over $250k a year. In the run-up to the convention, he clearly placed himself to the left of Mulcair by warning members against a Blairite transformation of the NDP. Despite old guard backing, his caucus support was weaker but he did receive the endorsement of deputy leader Libby Davies (who is on the party’s left), NB MP Yvon Godin, BC MP Jean Crowder and some prominent Quebec MPs including Françoise Boivin (a former Liberal MP, elected for the NDP in Gatineau in 2011) and Alexandre Boulerice (one of the most nationalist members of the Quebec caucus). He received the support of the United Steelworkers.

Nathan Cullen was most famous for his much discussed and rather controversial idea of a progressive front, which meant joint nominations between the NDP, Liberals and Greens to oppose Harper’s Conservatives in the next election. The idea of cooperation or outright merger with the Liberals is quite unpopular with the NDP base, which is historically distrustful of the Liberals and carries an old history of mutual hostility between both parties. Cullen was the sole candidate from British Columbia, a powerhouse in terms of NDP members. He has represented the poor northern BC riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley since 2004. Cullen cast himself as a fairly moderate but ‘urban progressive’ type of candidate (moderate on economic matters, but quite pro-environment), emphasizing his youth and the idea of change or ‘new politics’. His strong performance in debates and strong fundraising propelled him into contention with the top of the pack.

Cullen’s caucus support was limited. He received support from two BC MPs, Fin Donnelly and Alex Atamanenko but also the more prominent Ontario MP and NDP trade critic, Brian Masse.

Peggy Nash was the “labour candidate”, strong from her footing in organized labour as a CAW negotiator in the past. Nash won the downtown Toronto riding of Parkdale—High Park in the 2011 election, after having held it for a first stint between 2006 and 2008. She was one of the NDP’s high profile frontbench MPs as the party’s finance critic until she announced her candidacy. While speaking in ideological terms is not entirely accurate, she generally is perceived as being on the party’s left and closely associated with the NDP’s traditional allies in organized labour.

Her political support was not particularly remarkable, besides the backing of BC MP Denise Savoie and that of former NDP leader Alexa McDonough. Her main strength was with organized labour: she raked in the endorsements of CAW, CUPE, the Ontario Federation of Labour and other CLC provincial federations in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the NWT.

Paul Dewar was not quite at the top of the pack but not quite an “also-ran” candidate. Dewar, the son of a former Ottawa mayor, has been MP for Ottawa Centre since 2006 and has built a strong reputation as a competent constituency MP and foreign affair critic. It is hard to pin down his candidacy ideologically, but he gives the image of being somewhere in the middle in terms of the NDP’s ideological scale and gives the impression of proximity with traditional NDP supporters in the public sector including teachers. Dewar’s weakness in French was seen as a major roadblock.

His caucus supports included well-known northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus, NWT MP Dennis Bevington, Alberta MP Linda Duncan and Quebec MP Hélène Laverdière, famous for having defeating Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe in his own seat in the 2011 election. Because of his family roots in Manitoba, he also raked in a surprising number of endorsements from Manitoba MLAs.

Niki Ashton was the youngest candidate in the race at age 29. Ashton, whose father is a cabinet minister in the provincial NDP government in Manitoba, has served as MP for the northern Manitoba riding of Churchill since 2008. Despite her youth, she has gained some notoriety as a talented and ambitious member. Her run was likely to build up her profile and place her into the big leagues, because her youth and inexperience were seen as significant stumbling blocks. Ashton ran a clearly left-wing campaign, which emphasized her youth and overemphasized the vague term “new politics”. She was perhaps the most left-wing candidate in the race, and was endorsed unofficially by the NDP’s Socialist Caucus.

On the endorsement front, she did surprisingly well in getting endorsements not only from MLAs in her native province but also some MPs including Ontario MP Carol Hughes and a few new Quebec MPs (for whatever reason).

Martin Singh, a ‘white convert’ to Sikhism, was the surprise candidate in the race who has never run for any elected office and who was a total nobody to almost all observers. He ran a fairly pro-business campaign and announced that Mulcair was his second choice. He did not receive any notable endorsements – even BC’s South Asian NDP establishment lined up in favour of Brian Topp.

The first ballot results were (italicized candidates dropped out or dropped if placing last on any ballot):

Thomas Mulcair (QC) 30.30%
Brian Topp (ON) 21.37%
Nathan Cullen (BC) 16.39%
Peggy Nash (ON) 12.83%
Paul Dewar (ON) 7.5%
Martin Singh (NS) 5.87%
Niki Ashton (MB) 5.74%

Mulcair emerged on top but with a rather anemic 30% of first preferences. The positively surprised were Brian Topp, who placed second (the few polls on the race had him doing very poorly) and especially Nathan Cullen who placed a strong third. The negatively surprised were Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar, whose results were below expectations. While it is unlikely that we will ever get the results broken down by province, my hunch is that Mulcair swept Quebec, the “three Ontarians” tied in Ontario with a strong Mulcair showing, Ashton and Dewar did well in Manitoba, Topp won Saskatchewan and Cullen got a favourite son vote as the only BCer in the race. In addition, Cullen’s general image as non-Mulcair/non-Topp type of urban progressive, green candidate may have won him support from younger members in large urban areas.

Ashton was dropped after placing last, while Singh and Dewar withdrew. Singh immediately endorsed Mulcair, while Dewar freed his delegates. Dewar backer Charlie Angus moved his support to Mulcair, and likely spoke for many MPs who felt the need to have a strong leader in the House by Monday to take on the Conservative government’s federal budget (expected to feature major spending cuts and public sector job cuts) in the coming week. After the announcement of the first results at 10:00, the second ballot results were announced at 13:45.

Thomas Mulcair (QC) 38.10%
Brian Topp (ON) 25.00%
Nathan Cullen (BC) 19.92%
Peggy Nash (ON) 16.83%

Mulcair was the main benefactor of the second ballot, gaining the most support of any candidate. He likely took the vast majority of Martin Singh’s first ballot support, nearly 6% while also doing well with some of Paul Dewar’s supporters. Peggy Nash was forced to drop out after the second ballot where she failed to move out of fourth, but she gained the second most votes of any candidates. Nash did not endorse any candidate. She perhaps took considerable support from Ashton and Dewar. Cullen had an underwhelming performance, as did Topp.

The third ballot voting was disturbed by attacks on the party’s internet voting system, which turned the e-voting experiment into something between a joke and a disaster. Results were only announced at 18:00.

Thomas Mulcair (QC) 43.81%
Brian Topp (ON) 31.59%
Nathan Cullen (BC) 24.59%

Mulcair’s growth was less impressive on the third ballot, but he still did fairly well considering the bulk of new votes came from Peggy Nash voters, who, based on left-wing affiliations, could be seen as benefiting Topp rather than Mulcair. In the end, Nash’s voters split fairly evenly between the three candidates, with a slight bias towards left-wing contender Brian Topp. Cullen got good transfers but ultimately failed to overtake Topp for second place. He did not endorse any candidate, but his moderate positioning made his voters possibly closer to Mulcair than to Topp. Mulcair was the heads-on favourite heading into the fourth ballot, which, after more e-voting disasters, was only announced at 21:15.

Thomas Mulcair (QC) 57.22%
Brian Topp (ON) 42.78%

Mulcair and Topp likely split the Cullen voters about 54-46 in Mulcair’s favour, on balance a surprisingly strong showing for Topp with those voters, perhaps benefiting from some Topp institutional support in Cullen’s home province. Brian Topp’s performance at the convention was stronger than most had expected, which in a way shows the backing by some of the members of the party’s “old guard” and older backrooms establishment. In the end, however, not much could stop Mulcair and his perhaps unstoppable mix of Quebec appeal/support, caucus backing and a strong fundraising base. Not even the reluctance of the party’s core base towards the “shift to the centre” idea of Mulcair could stop him. Of course, he did get 43% voting against him, but 57% is still a comfortable majority of support. Mulcair has made moves towards party unity, including keeping left-wing Topp backer Libby Davies as deputy leader of the party.

The NDP likely made the best choice in Mulcair. He was the only candidate certain of keeping the party’s fledgling base in Quebec, and his general ‘Quebec appeal’ likely played a major role for Anglophone NDP supporters outside Quebec who strategically considered Mulcair as the best possible pick for leader. Quebec’s electorate is, of course, extremely fickle and could change political allegiances dramatically come the 2015 election (indeed, the NDP has already started shedding some support in the province since May according to most polls), but Mulcair has the benefit of being the leader best able to “speak to Quebec” and hold the party’s gains there. The other main task he faces ahead of 2015, when the NDP will obviously target power as it stands today, is to expand the party’s base in Anglophone Canada. The NDP, despite the orange wave, did not do all that well in Ontario (where the Tories won their majority), lost a seat in Manitoba, was still shut out in the NDP heartland of Saskatchewan and did not take all it could in BC. The NDP needs to win not only most of the 30-some Liberal seats but also some Tory-held ridings, especially in the West. Mulcair’s shift to the centre idea could possibly be the best route for the NDP to take to score these gains. 2015 is still a long way away, and neither the Tories nor the Liberals have said their last word on the topic. Mulcair is, at it currently stands, the best possible choice for the NDP. Whether or not he can become Prime Minister Thomas Mulcair, the first NDP Prime Minister of Canada, remains to be seen.

Saarland (Germany) 2012

State elections were held in the German state of Saarland on March 25, 2012. All 51 seats in Saarland’s state parliament, the Landtag were up for reelection. The state is divided into three electoral districts (Saarbrücken, Neunkirchen and Saarlouis) and there is a 5% threshold for representation.

The heavily industrialized and largely Catholic working-class Saarland has usually been fought over by the CDU and SPD. The SPD, led by Oskar Lafontaine, governed the state between 1985 and 1999 until Lafontaine’s successor was defeated in 1999 by the CDU’s Peter Müller who governed without coalition allies between 1999 and 2009. In 2009, in state elections held a bit more than a month before the federal elections, Peter Müller’s CDU lost 13% support and ended up with 34.5% and 19 seats. At the same time, the SPD, which was in dire straits throughout Germany in 2009, won its worst result since 1955 in the state with only 24.5% (down 6% on an already terrible result in 2004). The SPD suffered a lot from the emergence of the post-communist socialist Left Party (Die Linke) in the home-state of one of its top leaders, Oskar Lafontaine. Lafontaine led the party to a dramatic result for the heavily GDR-based party in the western state: the Left took 21% of the vote. The FDP also did well, taking 9% of the vote. While a left-wing red-red-green coalition could have been formed with the SPD, Left and Greens, the usual problems with such a coalition combined by bad blood between the two main left-wing parties prevented the formation of a left-wing government. Ultimately, Peter Müller formed an historic ‘Jamaica’ coalition uniting the CDU, FDP and the Greens.

Müller resigned in August 2011 and was replaced by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The coalition collapsed in January 2012 following internal wranglings in the FDP. Following the failure of talks with the SPD to form a Grand Coalition, snap regional elections were called. The results were:

CDU 35.2% (+0.7%) winning 19 seats (nc)
SPD 30.6% (+6%) winning 17 seats (+4)
Left 16.1% (-5.1%) winning 9 seats (-2)
Pirates 7.4% (+7.4%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Greens 5% (-0.9%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Familie 1.7% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 1.2% (-8%) winning 0 seats (-5)
NPD 1.2% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 0.9% (+0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The CDU ended up winning by a fairly comfortable margin, while the SPD underpolled quite a bit compared to pre-electoral expectations – the party was tied or ahead of the CDU in most of the last polls with roughly 34% support. According to the ARD’s vote transfer analysis for the SPD, while the party gained 7000 voters from the CDU and Left (and 8000 from the FDP and 6000 from the Greens) it lost 7000 voters to abstention – turnout fell by a full 6% since 2009 – and 3000 votes to the Pirates.

The Pirate Party had been the sensation of the state elections in Berlin last year, where they emerged as the fifth largest party with nearly 9% of the vote and 15 seats in the state parliament of Germany’s particularly left-wing capital. Berlin was a perfect territory for the Pirates, made all the more appealing by a terrible Green campaign. They took most of their support from young males who had not voted in previous elections or young left-wing voters who had voted for the Greens, Left or SPD in past elections. I ended up being wrong on the assumption that the Pirate Party’s success in Berlin would prove a fad and peter out quickly. The Pirate success in Berlin has had repercussions across Germany, with the party polling over the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag and registering support in a good number of other states.

The main reason for the Pirate Party’s success in expanding beyond their original base in Berlin seems to be the state of the German left. Pathetic would be a fair descriptor, as would divided. The Greens have fallen back considerably from their monumental surge(s) last year, as they lose some more left-wing young voters eager for a more radical and hip alternative to the Pirates. The Left is polling much lower than what it won in 2009, the SPD’s gains from 2009 probably coming largely on the back of the Left’s loses. Fortunately for the left, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner – the liberal FDP – is in a state which is best summarized as ‘lol FDP’. The party has been averaging 1-2% at most!

In Saarland, the Pirates probably benefited from a local factor: left-wing Green voters punished the Greens for their unwise choice of entering a coalition with the right – a proven recipe for disaster for the Greens.

Exit polls are always interesting to analyse the Pirate phenomenon. The Pirates won 23% of first-time voters (27% of male first-time voters), and obviously did best (22%) with the youngest cohort (aged 18 to 24) and worse with the oldest cohort (2% with those over 60). As in Berlin, the Pirates also appealed to a not-so-artsy left-wing electorate (which are not Green voters): unemployed voters and working-class voters. The Pirates won 9% with the unemployed (against 30% for the SPD and 26% for the left), and 11% with ‘workers’. The Pirates, in this respect, have a wider potential base than the Greens, given that they carry an appeal to unemployed or low-income youths which the Greens certainly do not have.

The German tradition of vote transfer analyses is also quite instructive, as in Berlin. The party gained 8,000 votes from non-voters and 7,000 voters from 2009 Left Party voters. It took 4000 votes apiece from the CDU and FDP, and 3000 votes apiece from the Greens, SPD and other parties. The Greens had not done very well in the state in 2009, which might explain why their loses to the Pirates were less pronounced. The FDP, obviously, gained no voters, but lost a full 12,000 votes to the CDU and an additional 9,000 to abstention. The CDU’s gains from FDP voters compensated the CDU’s loses to abstention and other parties.

A grand coalition, CDU-SPD, seems to be the most likely option.

Queensland (Australia) 2012

State elections were held in the Australian state of Queensland on March 24, 2012. All 89 members of Queensland’s Legislative Assembly were up for reelection. Queensland’s legislature is unicameral and has been since the state’s upper house was abolished (by its own members voting for its dissolution) in 1922. All other states in Australia retain elected bicameral legislatures. State elections since 1992 are run on the basis of optional preferential form of AV.

Queensland is the “Deep North” of Australia, similar to the United States’ “Deep South”. Like the American south, the traditional stereotype of Queensland is that of a rural, conservative and backwards state. Part of it likely comes from the fact that Queensland is slightly less urbanized than other Australian states. Less than half of the state’s population lives in Brisbane, the state capital, while in other Australian states this figure is often over 50% if not 60%. Queensland retains a good number of “regional towns” which have traditionally served as market towns for the state’s agricultural (sugar cane, cattle) and mining economy.

Queensland’s rich political history also contributes to the state’s reputation as Australia’s “redneck state”. While in the rest of Australia, the centre-right Liberal Party is usually the dominant force in Australia’s permanent right-wing Coalition alongside the much weaker agrarian and rural-based National Party, in Queensland the National Party has traditionally been the dominant force of the Coalition – though in the past that owed more to malapportionment than popular support. At any rate, the Country/National Party has had the upper hand in state government for most of the post-war era. The Country Party, as it was then known, won power in 1957. In 1968, power shifted to Queensland’s most emblematic political icon, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who served as the state’s Country/National premier until 1987. Under Sir Joh’s semi-authoritarian rule, entrenched by the ‘Bjelkemander’ which served the interests of the rural-based Nationals, Queensland’s economy grew at a rapid pace under not so-clean circumstances: the government was notoriously corrupt and economic development on the Sunshine Coast was often done without much regard for the environment. Sir Joh ran the state with an iron hand and gained a nationwide reputation as a tough, authoritarian very conservative leader. Usually governing in coalition with a Liberal Party which he enjoyed enfeebling,  after a 1983 split between the two partners, the Nationals governed alone and in the process crushed the Liberals for over a decade. He was popular with rural voters, but in the 1970s Sir Joh’s Nationals were successful in expanding their appeal into the state’s rapidly growing and urbanizing areas in the southeast, first and foremost the state’s world-famous Gold Coast. Ultimately, Sir Joh’s magic wore off, in part after his disastrous bid to become Prime Minister of Australia.

In 1990, the Nationals were defeated by Wayne Goss’ Labor Party. The Coalition returned to power in 1996 following a by-election held shortly after the 1995 election. However, Premier Borbidge’s Nat-Lib coalition was severely weakened by the dramatic success of Pauline Hanson’s far-right One Nation Party in 1998 when the party placed second ahead of the Nationals and Liberals. In 2001, the Labor government under Peter Beattie won a landslide reelection. Labor’s huge majority was not seriously endangered by a divided and fledgling right-wing opposition in the 2004 and 2006 elections. In these elections, the Liberals re-emerged as the most voted right-wing party but the Nationals still won more seats than the Liberals. The Nationals retained predominance over the Coalition in Queensland, but the Nationals needed a Liberal resurgence in urban Brisbane – the ALP’s main base – in order to win power, but such a resurgence would have threatened their dominance of the Coalition in the state. The state’s unusual nature of intra-right politics made a merger between the Liberals and Nationals far more feasible in Queensland than in the rest of the country. In 2008, the two parties merged into the Liberal National Party (LNP).

Labor Premier Anna Bligh was narrowly reelected in 2009, defeated Lawrence Sprinborg’s LNP. The LNP, which in a way snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, found itself in a bit of a tough spot, but thankfully for the LNP, the ALP’s final term in office was a trainwreck similar to the ALP’s final term in NSW. Anna Bligh boosted her ratings after a competent handling of floods in the state in 2011, but the ALP faced voter fatigue after being in power for 21 of the 23 years. Voter fatigue rather than massively unpopular policies were more to blame. Following the ALP’s claw back in polls in the wake of the floods, the LNP successfully drafted the popular Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, to become the LNP’s leader – albeit without a seat in the legislature. Newman announced his intentions to run in the ALP-held seat of Ashgrove.

Labor came out with corruption allegations on Newman, claiming that he had bribed a member to resign his seat to allow him to run in a by-election. In the campaign, these corruption allegations backfired on Labor as it became clear that they had little evidence and indeed Newman was cleared of any wrongdoing. At the end of the campaign, Labor was so certain of its defeat that it came out with crazy ad conceding defeat to the LNP but telling voters to not give the LNP too big of a majority.

Preliminary results are (first preferences only):

LNP 49.68% (+8.08%) winning 78 seats (+44)
ALP 26.95% (-15.3%) winning 7 seats (-44)
KAP 11.5% (+11.5%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Greens 7.27% (-1.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Family First 1.37% (+0.55%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ONP 0.1% (-0.28%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 3.14% (-3.44%) winning 2 seats (-2)

Preliminary map of Queensland results (source: Shane Smith on uselectionatlas)

Voters did not heed Labor’s pleas to limit the scope of the LNP’s victory. The ALP suffered a 15% swing and was reduced to a mere 7 seats. Premier Anna Bligh was one of the few ALP incumbents who saved their seats, the bulk of them being rock-solid poor suburban seats in and around Brisbane. Premier-elected Campbell Newman won the Labor-held seat of Ashgrove easily, taking 56% on 2PP after scoring 53% on first prefs against only 36% for the ALP incumbent.

After 14 straight years in power, if not a full 21/23 years, the ALP suffered the wrath of voters who were simply tired of a government which was exhausting itself. The suburban swing seats which often decide Australian elections swung heavily against the incumbent Labor government, in line with the rest of the state. Faced with a LNP led by a popular Brisbane-based figure, who ran on a platform which was ultimately not all that different from the ALP’s platform, is stood no chance. The ALP’s negative campaign against Newman did not help matters much. The negative campaign backfired against the Labor government.

In hindsight, the ALP will find itself regretting its narrow victory in 2009. It would have been in a much stronger position today if it had lost the 2009 election by a hair rather than winning it narrowly but losing by a phenomenal margin this year. Stuck in the unenviable position of being a tiny opposition bench to a government with a huge majority in the legislature, the ALP faces a long road to recovery. The Queensland right did not recover from its 2001 defeat until the LNP’s creation and the 2009 election. The Queensland ALP did not recover from its thumping in 1974 at Sir Joh’s hands until it returned to office in 1989. Unless the LNP performs poorly in government, it can be expected to win re-election fairly easily as the Queensland ALP, like the NSW ALP – which suffered a landslide defeat in 2011 (though, ironically, not as bad as this one) – licks its wounds.

The election saw the appearance of Katter’s Australian Party, a newly founded right-wing populist protectionist party led by the federal member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, who was a National until 2001. His newly formed party won two seats, with his son Rob picking up the rural ALP-held seat of Mount Isa (which is covered federally by Katter’s seat) and holding the neighbouring seat of Dalrymple which was held by a LNP defector to Katter’s populist party. Another sitting KAP member, Aidan McLindon (a LNP defector) was defeated by the LNP in the southern rural seat of Beaudesert. Katter’s rural populism, mixing Old Left economic views (opposition to privatization, deregulation; protectionism) and unabashed social conservatism has always found a receptive electorate in rural Queensland, perhaps getting to a base similar to that of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Katter likely benefited from the support of rural populist National Party supporters who disapproved of the LNP’s new urban focus and “urban image” of Campbell Newman, a Liberal big city mayor.

Ultimately the election was fought more on state issues and the ALP’s defeat based heavily on the state ALP’s exhaustion after so long in power. Yet this is hardly a good sign for the federal ALP government. State and federal politics in Australia are much more related than in Canada, where they are almost entirely separate. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minority ALP government in Canberra still trails the opposition, led by Tony Abbott, in most polls. She recently fended off a leadership challenge from her predecessor, Kevin Rudd. The carbon tax and its handling has hurt the federal government, and the party has been found losing support leftwards to Greens (because of its tough stance of refugees, opposition to gay marriage and less aggressive climate policies) and rightwards to the Coalition (because of a perceived dependence on Green support and the carbon tax issue). The Coalition is not in a position to benefit more from the government’s troubles, because the very conservative Abbott remains a controversial and polarizing figure who perhaps cannot appeal as much to more centrist swing voters.

USA 2012: Puerto Rico and Illinois primary

The race for the Republican nomination moved to Puerto Rico on March 18 and then Illinois on March 20 following last week’s primaries in Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii. The race is now entering a slower period after the half-way mark, as the rhythm of primaries slows down a bit. Four states vote on April 3, but then the next five primaries are only on April 24. The race is also in a kind of weird situation, where there is a clear frontrunner – Mitt Romney – who is quasi-certain to win the nomination – but who does not yet have the 1144 delegates needed to grasp the nomination (he has over 550 or s0) and faces resilient rivals who will not back out of the race until it is mathematically impossible for them to deny Romney 50%+1 of the delegates. Romney could only be shaken off his pedestal at this point by game-changing loses to Rick Santorum – who is clearly his only serious rival at this point – in big states such as Illinois.

Rick Santorum did not get much of a boost out of Alabama and Mississippi. It seems as if the race has stabilized at a point where the allegiances of GOP primary voters are becoming locked in, with a net plurality of voters solidly behind Romney and a sizable minority backing Santorum with Gingrich and Paul reduced their rump of supporters in the 8-12% range nationally. Illinois would have been one of those game-changers that Santorum needed in order to shake Romney off the top spot, but instead he chose to quixotically chase votes around in Puerto Rico. Of course, it seems as if Santorum’s point of going to PR was more to rest a bit on a beach, but in the process he hurt his chances in Illinois and got nowhere in PR itself after suggesting that Puerto Ricans seeking statehood should learn English (he later backpedaled on that statement a bit). The results in Puerto Rico certainly proves that Santorum wasted his time on the island:

Puerto Rico

Mitt Romney 82.88%
Rick Santorum 8.02%
Buddy Roemer 2.21%
Newt Gingrich 2.05%
Fred Karger 1.43%
Ron Paul 1.22%
Others 2.18%

Results of the PR primary (source: uselectionatlas)

Mitt Romney won a blowout in Puerto Rico, which netted him 20 delegates and cost his rival, who chased around 8% of the vote, precious campaign time in Illinois. It is hard to know much about Puerto Rico’s Republican primaries, given that there is no real Republican party on the island but rather politicians and members from the main pro-statehood party, the PNP – such as Governor Luis Fortuño – who affiliate nationally with the Republican Party. Turnout was only 118k votes, about 5.8% of the island’s electorate and way below the turnout in the 2008 Democratic primary. The main political debate in Puerto Rico is that of statehood, which is up for a vote this November, and the PR Republicans usually tend to be heavily pro-statehood (the Democrats are split, given that some PNP members are Democrats). Rick Santorum of course injected himself into that debate, while Romney aptly avoided getting into it too much and relied heavily on the backing of the island’s Republican/PNP Governor, Luis Fortuño.

Puerto Rican GOP primaries have tended to be biased hugely in favour of the establishment candidates in the past, who have usually taken in 85-90% of the vote. Based on that record, it should have been clear that Romney was headed for a blowout win in Puerto Rico. It has also been said that some Puerto Ricans voted for Romney as a proxy for statehood, believing that their best hope for statehood lies with a President Romney and a re-elected Governor Fortuño in November.

Rick Santorum did not double-down on Illinois has he had on Michigan and Ohio. He kind of conceded defeat to Romney there, realizing that the state was favourable to Romney, that Romney would outspend him by a landslide margin and that he did not really have the time to campaign there in a way to destroy Romney’s natural advantage there. Illinois is a Midwestern state, but it is quite unlike Michigan and Ohio which were both more favourable to Santorum than Illinois. Most importantly, Illinois – especially Chicagoland – has way more affluent suburbs than either of those two states. Chicagoland’s moderate, white-collar and very affluent suburbs lock in a majority of the state’s votes and electoral powerhouses like Cook, Lake or DuPage counties would be Romney strongholds just like Oakland County in Michigan. On the other hand, Illinois does have a pretty sizable conservative, Evangelical voting bloc which is more Southern than Midwestern but despite forming, geographically, a good part of the state those regions of Southern Illinois only account for a much smaller minority of the GOP primary electorate. The results in Illinois were:

Illinois

Mitt Romney 46.71%
Rick Santorum 35.02%
Ron Paul 9.32%
Newt Gingrich 7.96%
Others 1%

Mitt Romney won a decisive victory in Illinois, probably the first time in a long time where we can clearly say that Romney unambiguously had a good night. He won Illinois by nearly 12 percentage points over Rick Santorum. This nets him a good 40 or so delegates, and the Romney campaign is all about piling up delegates at this point. His delegate edge at this point is pretty unsurmountable and the only way in which Romney could still be stopped was if his rivals accumulated enough wins to hold him below the magic 1144 number. Of course, doing that would require denying Romney a win in his final firewall states – the big states using WTA (or WTA-by-CD) allocation which will grant him big margins near the end of the nominating contest. At the same time, the states which are less favourable to Romney – including the big state of Texas – use proportional allocation rules which would still give Romney a nice catch even if he loses, in a scenario resembling what happened last week in Alabama and Mississippi where Santorum’s popular vote wins only gave him a miniscule boost in total delegate percentage.

Some have said that Illinois might be a game-changer for Romney, the victory which gives him a burst of momentum and which rallies the remainder of the party to his ship as that of the eventual nominee. However, Romney’s core weakness with a vocal and sizable minority of the conservative base has certainly not been erased by Illinois and it is doubtful that they can be convinced to rally around the Mitt flag just because he won Illinois. On top of that, Romney’s rival(s) are resilient. Ron Paul is quietly accumulating his fabled ‘ninja delegates’ through his organization’s unmatchable knowledge and manipulation of the arcane state nominating rules. Newt Gingrich is a dictionary definition of quixotic persistence in face of tremendous odds and at this point it is hard to see him drop out despite his campaign being totally irrelevant. At this point Gingrich will not drop out until the 2016 election. Finally, Rick Santorum – Romney’s only serious opponent at this juncture – is determined to fight this fight until to the last man, the last state. He has shown no exhaustion or eagerness to drop out and hand Romney the nomination on a silver platter. His underdog campaign against Mitt’s money machine still speaks to the conservative base of the GOP which harbours a deep-seated suspicion of the former Massachussetts governor as a moderate who cannot be trusted. He maintains that Romney’s delegate lead is not as big as the media outlets report, which is probably true, but at the same time Santorum’s campaign is not really strong enough to toy around the arcane delegate rules like the Paul team is.

Exit Poll Analysis

The usual patterns showed up clearly in Illinois. Older voters were the most likely to back Romney, though he won all age groups. He took 41% to Santorum’s 36% with those aged 18 to 29 but trounced Santorum 49-32 with those who are aged over 65, a ground which constituted 24% of the electorate against only 8% for the 18-29 group. Income, of course, proved the other top indicator of Romney strength following a graduated scale. While Romney lost the bottom 10% (those who earn less than $30k) 37 against 45 to Santorum, he won the 28% earning between $100 and $200k with 55% to Santorum’s 30% and carried the wealthiest 10% (those earning over $200k) with 57% against only 27% for Santorum.

Evangelicals accounted for 42% of the electorate, and they backed Santorum with 46% to Romney’s 39%. Those who were not Evangelicals backed Romney by a huge 54-26 margin over Santorum. Once again, the Catholic Santorum lost the Catholic vote (35%) to Santorum by a 53-30 margin and did better with Protestants – losing 38 to 45. Interestingly, Santorum also lost weekly church-attending Catholics to Romney by a whole 9 points (48-39) while winning weekly church-attending Protestants 42-39. He lost Catholics who do not attend church weekly 57-21 to Romney. Catholic Republicans, as previously mentioned in our discussion of Ohio on Super Tuesday, nowadays tend to be rather moderate conservatives who live predominantly middle-class lifestyles in urban or suburban areas (this is especially true in Illinois) and usually support the establishment candidate. They don’t attach any particular political significance to their faith and they don’t have anything against Romney and probably don’t care much for a social conservative insurgent candidate like Santorum.

64% of voters were conservatives against 36% who were moderates or liberals. Conservatives overall backed Romney 47-39, while moderates backed him by a much wider 48-27 margin over Santorum. Mitt Romney still lost the 29% who were ‘very conservative’ by 11 points, 48-37 in Santorum’s favour.

Romney trounced 52-31 with the 59% who said the economy was their top preoccupation and won the 25% who said the budget deficit was their top preoccupation 53-29 over Santorum. His lead over his rivals with the 36% who said the ability to beat Obama was the top candidate quality was larger than anything we’ve seen before. He won them 74-17 over Santorum. At the same time, however, he only took 11% with those who said being a true conservative was the top quality and 18% with those who thought a candidate with a strong moral character was the top quality.

Geographical Analysis

Results of the IL primary (source: uselectionatlas)

As previously noted, Cook County and the Chicagoland suburban ‘Collar Counties’ (Lake, DuPage, Will, McHenry, Kane, Kanakee and Kendall counties) contribute over half of the total statewide vote. According to the CNN exit poll, Chicago (5%), the Cook County suburbs (16%) and the Collar Counties (34%) combined for 55% of the GOP primary vote on March 20. Cook County is less important in GOP primaries than in either Democratic primaries or the general election, because Chicago is so heavily Democratic and contributes so little to the total GOP base in the state. Cook County does include some Republican-voting suburban areas such as Kenilworth or Winnetka, which tend to be much more affluent than the county as a whole. However, Chicagoland’s Collar Counties, historical Republican strongholds but increasingly purple swing areas, are affluent (especially Lake and DuPage counties) and more socially moderate than the rural Illinoian GOP counties. In the 2010 gubernatorial primary, the eventual winner of the extremely fragmented field, the ultra-conservative Bill Brady, did extremely poorly in the Collar Counties (5-8%) while winning statewide with 20.3%. It is a naturally favourable base for Mitt Romney and the main explanation for his built-in advantage in the state.

Romney easily carried Cook County (Chicago) with 56.9% to Santorum’s 26.5%. In inner suburban Lake and DuPage counties, home to some very affluent suburbs (some of which are rather liberal, like Highland Park), Romney won by similarly huge margins. He took Lake County 56-28 and won DuPage 54-28. He carried Will County, taking in the less affluent Chicago Southland white suburbs, with 49.3% against 33% for Santorum. Decisively, Mitt Romney also carried the fairly affluent but more high-growth exurban and socially conservative outer collar counties including Kane County (49-32.5), McHenry County (47-32), Kendall County (44.5-36) and Kanakee County (43-39). He even carried the more further out northern Illinois counties including DeKalb, LaSalle and Livingstone counties which are more rural but rapidly evolving counties. Mitt Romney certainly did exceed  expectations in exurban conservative Kane and McHenry counties, and that explains why he won by the margin he did – given that, as we’ll see, his downstate performance wasn’t anything to write home about.

Mitt Romney also pulled off some fairly key wins in some of the more industrial towns in central Illinois which should have voted for Santorum if he had been to win the state. Mitt Romney does well in urban areas, but some of central Illinois’ urban areas are more blue-collar and fairly conservative, thus one would imagine more inclined towards Rick Santorum. Romney carried Peoria County (Peoria) with a decisive 46.6% to 37.5%. He also prevailed in Winnebago County (Rockford, in northern IL) 42-37, Macon County (Decatur) 45-32, McLean County (Bloomington) 42-38 and Sangamon County (Springfield) 48-33. He did, quite interestingly, lose working-class Rock Island County (Moline) 46-38 to Santorum. In 2008, Romney had carried two counties in the whole state against McCain: Rock Island and next-door Henry County – perhaps because they are in the Davenport, IA media market. He lost both this year. Romney carried the college town of Champaign (Champaign County) 43-34 with Ron Paul taking 13%. The university likely contributed little votes if any given the spring break.

If the primary had been fought in 1852, Rick Santorum would have prevailed. Indeed, he won most of rural small-town Illinois and won by huge margins in Southern Illinois. Santorum won the Midwestern-like and less Evangelical rural counties of northern Illinois, areas where we could have expected Romney to win, although Santorum only won them by a fairly narrow-ish margin overall.

His victory, however, in rural Southern Illinois left no doubt. Southern Illinois is in a good number of ways more similar to Kentucky or southern Missouri than it is to Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota. It was settled by Southerners, for a long time retained an economy more typical of the South than of the north and to this day remains a working-class, socially conservative area with a sizable Baptist population for a northern state and an even larger proportion of Evangelicals. This is where Romney finds his toughest crowds, the base which is still wary of Romney despite the narrative about him as the frontrunner and eventual nominee. Mitt Romney failed to break 30% and Santorum broke 45 and even 50% in the vast majority of the counties in the south of the state.

There is a fairly clear north-south divide when you map out Mitt Romney’s performance by county. He did as poorly in these rural conservative areas of southern Illinois as he did in parts of Alabama or Ohio. This still does not portend well for his chances in Louisiana’s primary on Saturday March 24. Romney carried a single county in southern Illinois, traditionally Democratic St. Clair County (fairly working-class despite being suburban) with 42.5% against 41% for Santorum. Santorum carried next-door Madison County (43-38) and Jackson County (Carbondale) 43-37. Romney might have exceeded our expectations in exurban Chicagoland, but he didn’t exceed expectations in conservative rural Illinois for sure. Romney by maximizing his natural base (through heavy ad spending and campaigning in the Chicago media market), not by converting hostile voters in the areas where he still strugglesSantorum exceeded our expectations in southern Illinois, where he dominated by an even larger margin than previously assumed. The main reason is Gingrich’s collapse in Illinois, taking just 8% compared to 15% in Ohio on March 6 (performing best in Santorum-favourable counties). Gingrich’s electorate of sorts in southern Illinois clearly decamped towards Santorum.

The bad news for Santorum in all this is that southern Illinois’ conservative counties carry nowhere close to the weight of the Collar Counties. Illinois is way different from either Michigan and Ohio, and even if Illinois has that clearly Southern element which Michigan lacks entirely and which Ohio has little has, that Southern element in Illinois is minimal even in a statewide GOP primary unless the field is so divided as in the 2010 gubernatorial primary that it allows the conservative candidate of the rural areas to squeak in.

Conclusions

Mitt Romney, I repeat, will be the nominee. He can’t be stopped at this point bar some unexpected massive game-changer or a dead baby in his closet. His delegate lead is quite impressive even if it is probably true that it is not quite as big as the media projections make it out to be. Yet, the delegate allocation rules in the remaining states (all primaries, so no caucus shenanigans) favour Romney in a way or another and it would be impossible for him to be overtaken outright in the delegate count and unlikely for him to ultimately fall short of the 1144 threshold even if it may still take some work on his part to get there. The question will be whether or not a rather protracted nomination fight will have hurt Romney and still left him without the full support of the party’s right.

At any rate, the next contest is on March 24 (Saturday) in Louisiana. The conventional wisdom is that Louisiana being a very conservative state in the South, Santorum should win easily especially given that Gingrich’s campaign has turned into an irrelevant footnote. However, Louisiana brings one additional factor into the equation which few observers have considered. Louisiana is not quite a pure Southern state because southern Louisiana (Acadiana) was settled by and retains a large French (Cajun) Catholic presence which is not Evangelical though still conservative in a way which blends it in increasingly with traditional Baptist northern Louisiana. Yet, even a basic look into Louisiana’s voting patterns will reveal key distinctions between Acadiana’s French Catholics and the more traditionally Southern Baptists found in the rest of state. Santorum has done poorly with Catholics (though not, let us point out, with Catholics in rural areas) and in 2008, McCain easily won French Catholics in Louisiana despite losing the state by 2 points to Mike Huckabee. Romney, however, does not quite match McCain’s 2008 base in the South and Santorum, as a conservative Catholic, could easily exceed the performance of the Baptist Huckabee with conservative French Catholics in Acadiana.

Toronto-Danforth by-election (Canada) 2012

Map of Toronto-Danforth (source: Wikipedia)

A federal by-election was held in the Canadian constituency of Toronto-Danforth in Ontario on March 19, 2012. The downtown Toronto seat fell vacant following the tragic death of NDP leader and newly-elected opposition leader Jack Layton on August 22, 2011. Jack Layton, the emblematic leader of the NDP who had just led the party to an historic victory in May 2011, forming the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Tory majority, died after a fight with cancer in the summer of 2011.

Toronto-Danforth, which took its current boundaries in 2003, is located east of the riding of Toronto Centre and covers an area between the Don River and Coxwell Avenue, and between the lakefront of Lake Ontario and the Don River East Branch/Taylor Creek. The core of the riding, one of the most left-leaning in Toronto, was covered by the old riding of Broadview-Greenwood in the 1970s-1980s, a riding which elected current Liberal leader Bob Rae when he was a federal NDP MP.

The riding is ethnically diverse, with a 33% non-white (visible minority) population, including a large Chinese population (16%) which is concentrated in the southern half of the riding in the neighborhoods of Leslieville and East Chinatown. The north of the riding is noted for its large Greek population, located in Pape Village and Greektown. In 2001, at 11%, the riding had the highest percentage of Greek Orthodox in the province of Ontario (it also had the highest provincial percentage of Buddhists, 5.7%). Historically a fairly working-class or lower middle-class riding, Toronto-Danforth has seen its share of gentrification in recent years with traditionally low-income working-class neighborhoods such as Leslieville, Riverside (Queen-Broadview Village) and The Pocket becoming attractive areas for young professionals, artsy types and more middle-class inhabitants. The Studio District near the lakefront has become a magnet for artists, young professionals and film makers. Other areas, such as Blake-Jones, are poorer and more working-class. The India Bazaar and The Pocket have a large South Asian and Muslim population,

A good indicator of the riding’s gentrified nature is the irreligious-ness of the riding: at 31% in 2001, the lack of religion was the largest ‘religion’. The most irreligious areas were located in the southern half of the riding (Danforth Avenue acts as a divide between a fairly clearly defined north and south), especially in parts of Riverdale and the Studio District. The northern half of the riding concentrates the bulk of the riding’s Orthodox population (in the Greek areas of Greektown, Pape Village and Broadview North). Affluent, residential neighborhoods such as Old East York or parts of Riverdale (Playter Estates) has sizable concentration of mainline Protestants or Catholics.

Toronto-Danforth’s predecessor ridings – Broadview and Broadview-Greenwood (see the boundary history here) have a long NDP tradition. Broadview elected its first NDP MP in 1965, and the party held the seat until the 1988 election. Bob Rae was elected MP in a close by-election in 1978 for the NDP and was succeeded in 1982 by the NDP’s Lynn McDonald who was defeated in 1988 by the second ever Liberal to represent Broadview-Greenwood, Dennis Mills. Mills was easily reelected in all elections until 2004. In 2004, Toronto city councillor and newly-elected NDP leader Jack Layton (elected leader while out of Parliament) defeated Mills in a close contest with 46% to Mills’ 41%. As Liberal fortunes progressively collapsed in the next three elections, the Liberals no longer posed a real threat to the NDP leader in his own seat. In 2011, as the NDP surged into the official opposition, Layton won a landslide in his home turf with 61% of the vote against a mere 18% for the Liberals. The Conservatives won 14%, which was still their best performance since 1988 in a riding where they have never been a major presence since the 1980s – despite the area’s Tory history – it elected Dief-era cabinet minister George Hees between 1950 and 1963.

The Liberals have usually performed best in the northern half of the riding, especially in the affluent right-leaning areas of Woodbine Heights in Old East York, the predominantly Greek areas of Pape Village and Greektown and some of the affluent precincts in Riverdale. In 2011, the Conservatives outpaced the Liberals in Woodbine Heights and other parts of Old East York. The NDP has tended to do well in the southern half, especially Riverside, the Studio District, Leslieville, The Pocket, India Bazaar and Blake-Jones. In 2011, Jack Layton won every single poll in the riding.

Stephen Harper delayed dropping the writ until the very last moment, the first indication that the Conservative machine would not bother wasting resources on a by-election contest they would surely lose whatever they did. The climate was also somewhat unfavourable to Stephen Harper’s governing Tories, given that their support has declined somewhat since May 2011 because of a series of controversies including electoral robocalls and mishandled kerfuffles over pensions and internet surveillance.

Thus, the contest became an unequal battle between the NDP’s Craig Scott, a law professor and distinguished scholar; and Liberal candidate Grant Gordon, a marketing firm boss. Jack Layton surely cast a long shadow over the contest, as the NDP attempted to tap into a reservoir of sympathy for the riding’s popular star MP. The Liberals wanted to make people believe that they actually stood a chance (which they never did) and did invest some resources in the riding, which was to be the first test for the Liberal Party since the party’s historic electoral annihilation of sorts in May 2011.

The results were:

Craig Scott (NDP) 59.44% (-1.36%)
Grant Gordon (Liberal) 28.51% (+10.89%)
Andrew Keyes (Conservative) 5.37% (-8.95%)
Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu (Green) 4.69% (-1.77%)
Dorian Baxter (PC) 0.64%
John Christopher Recker (Libertarian) 0.41%
Christopher Porter (CAP) 0.24%
Leslie Bory (Ind) 0.24%
John C. Turmel (Ind) 0.18%
Brian Jedan (United) 0.17%
Bahman Yazdanfar (Ind) 0.11%

Turnout was fairly solid for a by-election at 43.4%, but still down a lot from 64.9% in the federal election.

The NDP and the Liberals came out of the by-election with reason to cheer. The NDP easily held the seat, as was expected, but held the seat by a very large margin and a percentage of the vote down only a bit from Jack Layton’s landslide in May 2011, when he obviously had won personal votes from traditional Liberal or Green voters. It would be hard to take anything out of this by-election, but it is still a very encouraging result for the NDP which heads into a leadership convention next weekend to replace Jack Layton and which has seen its numbers level off or drop off a bit since the party’s victory in May 2011.

The Liberals won a result which is nearly 11% better than their terrible performance in 2011, and the party actually won more raw votes than in May 2011 despite the major drop in turnout overall. This is not by any means an historic result for the Liberals, they are only returning to a level a bit below their 2008 level in the riding which was already fairly weak. The Liberals as a third party in the House have managed to do better than anyone expected after their thumping in May, and Bob Rae has proven a good interim leader for the weakened party. The post-election talk of their imminent death has shifted into speculation about  their chances at returning to official opposition in a perfect storm by the time of the next federal election in 2015. They still have a long road to climb to return to even where they stood between 2006 and 2008, but their poll numbers have already increased a bit from the lows of May 2011.

The Liberals likely took back traditional left-Liberals who had voted for Layton himself in 2011 but also some more right-leaning Liberals or swing voters who had voted Conservative in May but shifted their votes, strategically, to the Liberals this year. The Conservatives had never put any effort into the riding, and won a terrible result at barely 5.4% – probably the lowest results for the Tories in the riding in recent electoral history. It would be hard to draw much from this, given that the Tories have proven that they can do terribly in by-elections they don’t care about and do spectacularly well in by-elections they heavily target. The weak result could be interpreted as a general decline in Tory fortunes since the highs of May 2011, which wouldn’t be entirely off the mark, but which is still a very tentative conclusion to make about such matters.

The NDP goes into a leadership convention next weekend, with the top contenders being Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair (the base’s favourite and the most Third Way-ish of the main contenders), backroom man Brian Topp (the establishment favourite, slightly to the left of Mulcair), Ontario MP Peggy Nash (fairly left-wing and backed by some unions) and Ontario MP Paul Dewar (more of a middle-of-the-road, centre-left figure). BC MP Nathan Cullen, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Martin Singh are the other ‘smaller’ candidates’. The NDP leader will face the task of securing the party’s orange wave gains in Quebec – by now the party’s top base – but also reaching out to win more seats in Ontario and the West.

El Salvador 2012

Legislative elections were held in El Salvador on March 11, 2012. All 84 members of the country’s unicameral legislature, the Legislative Assembly, are elected through closed-list proportional represents in 14 constituencies corresponding to the country’s 14 departments. Each departments returns between 3 and 24 members (the most populous department, San Salvador). The legislature is elected to a three-year term, meaning that unlike in 2009, this election did not coincide with a presidential ballot held the same year. The President serves a single five-year term.

Salvadoran politics are extremely polarized and political parties are spectacularly stable and enduring by regional standards. Since peace deals which ended El Salvador’s 12 year civil war in 1992, two main political forces have dominated the country’s politics, complimented by two older parties which have lost their old shine.

Like most Central American countries, El Salvador was emblematic for its social inequality (a group of fourteen families, las catorce, controlled the country’s coffee-driven economy and 90% of the wealth in the 1930s) and its revolutionary rural peasantry (a peasant revolt in 1932 ended in a massacre). The military seized power of the country for good in 1931, and ruled, under various guises and through various warring presidents, until 1979. The military regimes which controlled the country were built on the traditional alliance of the military, las catorce and foreign interests (notably the United States). However, unlike in other Latin American countries, the Catholic Church, after the late 1960s, increasingly sided with reform and later with revolution. Under the guidance of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran church became a base of opposition to the conservative regime. The other main force of opposition during this time was the moderate reformist Christian Democratic Party (PDC) led by San Salvador mayor José Napoleón Duarte.

In 1979, a military junta with left-leaning ideals overthrew the conservative regime, initially ushering in high hopes for success but ending in disaster as the country slid into civil war, the government facing opposition from right-wing death squads and a revolutionary socialist guerrilla movement, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The government became increasingly conservative and was forced to crack down, but became increasingly powerless. José Napoleón Duarte, by now a conservative, was elected President in 1984 – with American support – but was powerless in a country which turned into chaos, whose economy was in ruins, whose government was corrupt and which was torn between right-wing death squads and well-implanted leftist guerrillas.

In 1989, the right, represented by the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), a party founded by “pathological killer” and death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, won the presidential elections. In 1992, the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed, which led to the FMLN’s disarming and its integration into the political system. In the 1994 elections, the FMLN became the country’s second largest political force, but ARENA retained power – united in part by fear of the still rather left-wing FMLN – until 2009. Successive ARENA presidents since the peace deals followed neoliberal economic policies which had some success in boosting the Salvadoran economy.

It was only when the FMLN chose a centrist moderate candidate, former journalist Mauricio Funes, that it was able to win power in the historic 2009 elections. Since then, Funes has proven to be one of the region’s most popular presidents, despite increasing crime rates (the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world) and a sluggish economy since the 2009 recession. His social policies, including free basic education and free uniforms and shoes for poor schoolchildren, have proven popular. His moderate, consensual and pragmatic approach has won him support from voters who are tired of polarized politics, between a markedly right-wing ARENA and what used to be a markedly left-wing FMLN. However, the FMLN’s left-wing, which would prefer an Ortega or Chávez in his stead, has been distrustful of Funes and Wikileaks revealed that the presidency suspected that the FMLN-controlled intelligence services had bugged the palace.

Funes retains strong approval ratings, but in large part the FMLN has struggled to tap into that presidential popularity. On the other hand, the ARENA suffered a major split in 2010 when 16 of its parliamentarians, led by former President Antonio Saca, founded a splitoff, the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) on the claim that ARENA has become too left-wing. Since then, GANA has tended to side with the FMLN minority in the legislature to help pass some of the government’s reforms, including tax reform. There are three other parties represented in the legislature: the PDC, a shadow of its former self and an ally of ARENA; the Party of National Conciliation (PCN), the old party of the military regimes and an ARENA stalwart; and Democratic Change (CD), a moderate centre-left party. By a technicality, the PCN and PDC disbanded in 2004 after it failed to clear the threshold for ballot access, but they were allowed to exist until 2011, when they were disbanded and refounded under the name Concertación Nacional (CN, ex-PCN) and the Party of Hope (PES, ex-PDC).

The results were:

ARENA 39.76% (+1.21%) winning 33 seats (+1)
FMLN 36.76% (-5.84%) winning 31 seats (-4)
GANA 9.6% (+9.6%) winning 11 seats (+11)
CN 7.18% (-1.61%) winning 7 seats (-4)*
PES 2.76% (-3.87%) winning 1 seat (-4)*
CD 2.14% (+0.02%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Others 3.19% (+1.89%) winning 0 seats (nc)

*There were CN/PES or PES/CN slates in three departments, who won a total of 1.4% of the vote and reelected one CN member. The CN member is counted with the CN, votes cast for these slates are counted as ‘others’.

ARENA’s victory was a significant blow to the FMLN and the government. The two parties had been roughly tied during most of the campaign, but ARENA ultimately won by a narrow margin. The division of the right did not seem to hinder ARENA that much, in fact it appears as if GANA took most of its support from smaller centre-right parties such as the old PDC.

At cause here is likely popular frustration with rising violence and homicides in the country, fueled by a local gang tied to the Mexican drug cartels. The murder rate has increased by 9% in 2011, reaching a homicide rate of 71 per 100,000 inhabitants, the second highest in the world after Honduras and far ahead of similarly blighted Guatemala (39) and Mexico (18). The government has been criticized for not doing enough to curb violence.

ARENA can likely block more ambitious attempts at reform, but the FMLN and Funes can avoid headaches through an alliance with GANA, whose presence ensures that the right remains divided between two warring brothers. Presidential elections are not due until 2014, when Funes’ single five-year term expires.

Local elections were held alongside these legislative elections. In San Salvador, incumbent ARENA mayor Norman Quijano won reelection in a landslide with 63.4% to the FMLN’s 32.6%. The right also took two historic FMLN strongholds in the greater San Salvador, winning Mejicanos with 43.6% to the FMLN’s 42.7% and Soyapango with 44.5% to the FMLN’s 44.2%. The FMLN held Santa Ana rather easily while GANA won San Miguel easily.

USA 2012: Kansas, Islands and Dixie

The 2012 Republican primary season did not wrap up on Super Tuesday, held on March 6, and it will probably not wrap up for quite some time. What I like to compare to a good TV show left the Super Tuesday states to move on to Dixie Tuesday on March 13, when Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii and American Samoa voted. Between those two airings, however, some of the characters featured in some side-shows featuring  contests in Kansas and three insular territories (Guam, the US Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) on March 10.

Super Tuesday had ended up being fairly favourable to the frontrunner/presumptive nominee of sorts, Mitt Romney, who took six of the ten states which held nominating events on that day, including the crucial state of Ohio. But at the same time, his weak performance in states like Tennessee and Oklahoma and the nature of his win in Ohio only reinforced the narrative about Romney’s flagrant weaknesses with the conservative (largely Southern) base of the party. He is a frontrunner, but a pathetically weak one at that, and one who can’t score knockout blows even with the most formidable warchest of cash of all the candidates. Rick Santorum came out of Super Tuesday like he came in: not particularly strong, not particularly weak but with a still strong profile as the main conservative opponent to Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, won the right to continue a serious campaign after he was able to win his homestate of Georgia in a landslide – but it was his only success of the night.

The next steps on the calendar didn’t play to Romney’s strengths: a Saturday caucus in Kansas and two primaries in Alabama and Mississippi – the buckle of the Bible Belt, the heart(s) of Dixie. Only the insular contests in Hawaii plus the tiny but disproportionately important US dependencies of Guam, the USVI, the Northern Marianas and American Samoa seemed to favour Romney.

Alabama and Missisippi were, of course, the most important contests out of the flurry of contests held in the past week. Their demographics, as relatively low-income, very conservative, Southern states were very unfavourable to Mitt Romney who has a big ‘Southern problem’ or at even ‘conservative problem’. These are states where, according to PPP, nearly half or over half of the GOP electorate thinks Obama is Muslim and where a sizable minority are opposed to interracial marriage.

However, Alabama and Mississippi’s anti-Romney vote was bound to be seriously divided between Southern native son but increasingly irrelevant Newt Gingrich and conservative but Yankee Rick Santorum. Gingrich doubled-down on Alabama and Missisippi, which, although he won’t admit it, were basically make or break for him, his last chance to prove himself and his Southern strategy. Rick Santorum has proven that he can win big with Midwestern conservatives, but his appeal to the South has thus far been limited to the more populist Republicans of the Upland South (Tennessee as a good example) and up until this point he had not really proven himself to be a serious contender in the Deep South – but perhaps that was because the two Deep South states which have voted – South Carolina and Georgia – did so in ‘special circumstances’ – SC before his surge 2.0 and Georgia was Newt’s home state.

The fact is that the Gingrich-Santorum fight for conservative prominence in Alabama and Mississippi was so evenly divided that Romney stood a real chance at creeping up the middle to win in Alabama and/or Mississippi, which would have been based on artificial grounds but which, in the media narrative, would have been a serious boost to Romney (along the lines of ‘Romney finally breaks through in South’). A Rasmussen poll showed him up 7 in Mississippi, while PPP had him up 1 in Alabama and down 2 to Gingrich in Mississippi. The Santorum camp seemed to have resigned on both states somewhat, given that no poll showed Santorum ahead in either though he did stand a fighting chance in both states.

Kansas and the Islands (March 10) caucuses

Kansas (caucus)
Rick Santorum 51.21%
Mitt Romney 20.93%
Newt Gingrich 14.40%
Ron Paul 12.62%
Others 0.83%

Guam
Mitt Romney is reported to have won all 9 delegates with 83% in a straw poll

Northern Marianas
Mitt Romney 87.26%
Rick Santorum 6.25%
Ron Paul 3.30%
Newt Gingrich 3.18%

US Virgin Islands
Uncommitted 33.85%
Ron Paul 29.17%
Mitt Romney 26.30%
Rick Santorum 5.99%
Newt Gingrich 4.69%

Results of the KS caucus (source: uselectionatlas

Rick Santorum easily won Kansas. It carried all the factors which favoured him: a Midwestern state, a caucus state and a very socially conservative state. Kansas’ caucus-goers have usually tended, especially in recent years, to favour social conservative insurgents rather than more moderate establishment candidates. In 2008, Mike Huckabee trounced opposition with nearly 60% of the vote in the Kansas caucuses despite John McCain having the nomination basically wrapped up by that point. Mitt Romney, who finds himself in a position and profile similar to McCain in 2008 (albeit far weaker), understood that and totally ignored the contest in Kansas. In fact, he put more effort in Guam’s territorial caucus than in Kansas, which did not go down well with KS GOP voters. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, despite ignoring the state, did perform relatively well taking in 14.4% of the vote.

Rick Santorum won all but one county in Kansas (the gray counties did not hold caucuses: voters could caucus at any location within their congressional district). He won all of the state’s major areas, including regions which are of favourable nature to Mitt Romney. He won 59% in Wyandotte County (Kansas City), but the GOP base in that heavily Democratic inner-city county is minimal. He otherwise won 50.2% to Romney’s 23.7% in Shawnee County (Topeka), 38.5% to 28.2% in Riley County (Manhattan) and 51.5% to 21.2% in Saline County (Salina). He romped in Sedgwick County, home to the blue-collar city of Witchita (which has a large aviation, oil and gas sector), taking in 56.2% of the vote against 18% for Ron Paul and a pathetic distant third for Romney (13.4%). He even performed very strongly in Johnson County, where most Kansas Republicans live and a generally fairly moderate, affluent and suburban county to the south of Kansas City including growing suburbs such as Overland Park and Olathe. This is, of course, supposed to be favourable terrain for Romney, who has thus far usually performed best in these kinds of moderate, suburban and affluent areas. He did perform strongly, taking 30.1%, but Santorum won 47.1% of the vote. The only county which Romney won is tiny, rural Lane County in sparsely populated west Kansas. For all we know, there might be a Mormon family there.

Mitt Romney won the Pacific territorial caucuses with no contest. In Guam, where he sent his son Matt to campaign for him, he won all 9 delegates with only some 200 voters showing up (out of 159k inhabitants). In the Northern Marianas, he won 87.3% in a straw poll and took 9 delegates with only 848 voters showing up (out of 53.8k inhabitants). Surprisingly, Romney’s organization in the Caribbean territory of the US Virgin Islands was unusually terrible (the islands are heavily black and the local GOP is unorganized). Uncommitted won the most votes, with Ron Paul in second. However, by some quirk in the delegate allocation, Romney still walks out with 7/9 delegates from the USVI – 7 delegates won with only 101 votes!

Dixie Tuesday, Hawaii and American Samoa (March 13)

Alabama
Rick Santorum 34.51%
Newt Gingrich 29.30%
Mitt Romney 28.99%
Ron Paul 4.97%
Uncommitted 1.49%
Others 0.74%

Mississippi
Rick Santorum 32.77%
Newt Gingrich 31.18%
Mitt Romney 30.59%
Ron Paul 4.40%
Others 1.06%

Hawaii
Mitt Romney 45.38%
Rick Santorum 25.30%
Ron Paul 18.28%
Newt Gingrich 11.04%

American Samoa
Mitt Romney is reported to have won all 9 delegates with no details of a straw poll

The polls which had shown Romney up in Alabama and Missisippi always sounded a bit strange to me, and, simply put, I refused to buy into a Romney victory in either state until I saw it. In both cases, I was correct, given that Romney placed third – though a fairly solid third – in both states. Mitt Romney did still win his two strongest showings to date in a Southern contest (Mississippi is the first Southern state where he has broken 30% – and, no, Florida isn’t Southern), and Newt Gingrich did win rather strong results.

Romney had kind of conceded that winning these two states would be hard, but his machine – especially his infamous SuperPAC, dumped tons of cash into both states and ended up outspending Santorum by the same 5-to-1 margin he outspent him in Ohio (which Romney narrowly won on March 6). Santorum was also outspent by Gingrich, who had put a lot of campaign efforts into Alabama and Mississippi, the core states for the success of his Southern Strategy. Romney’s inability to win in AL/MS despite another moneybomb in those two states reveal how important his conservative or Southern problem is. The base of the party, or at the very least the ‘very conservative’ voters who make up a good third of the party, are still either opposed to Romney or reluctant to support him.

Mitt Romney probably wouldn’t have cared too much about a Gingrich win in both states, which seemed like a fairly reasonable proposition going into election day. Gingrich, as a purely sectional candidate at this point, could not have used victories in either AL or MS to propell him back to the top. Since he collapse prior to Florida, Gingrich has had no major bump in the polls – in fact, his numbers have usually trended downwards. His credibility as a GOP candidate is, at this point, pretty low. If Newt had won both contests, Romney would remain in a comfortable position given that it would give Gingrich a compelling reason to stay in the race and continue splitting the vote with Santorum.

Rick Santorum’s double win does not net him a significant amount of delegates given that the delegate results out of AL and MS will end up pretty evenly split between the three candidates. In fact, Romney still wins a plurality of delegates from all March 13 contests. However, the double win in the Deep South shows that he is not a Huckabee-like sectional candidate and that his conservative appeal carries from Lake Michigan to the Gulf Coast. It solidifies him in a position as the sole anti-Romney candidate who still has a distant but solid chance at the denying Romney a majority of delegates (or, less likely, the nomination). While Romney didn’t have a major post-Super Tuesday surge, it is probably likely that Santorum could enjoy a small post-AL/MS surge.

More importantly, this is really the first time that there is significant (non-pundit) pressure on Gingrich to drop out and the first time that speculation on what a Gingrich-free race would look like. Newt Gingrich, again, seems extremely resilient, largely because he has nothing to lose at this point (it’s not like he’s going to run for office again after 2012) and because – I think – Adelson pumped some cash recently. But Jon Huntsman was adamant about staying in post-NH and Rick Perry was pretty confident (publicly) about fighting it out in SC. Neither did that. Gingrich is neither an Huntsman or a Perry and his campaign probably still has more chances to go somewhere than either of them did, but I don’t think that anybody can seriously make the case for Gingrich to win another state, save some weird Santorum collapse. A case could be made for Louisiana (March 24), but if Gingrich lost AL/MS, he won’t win Louisiana. If Gingrich doesn’t drop out, then Romney will win the nomination without sweating too much. If he does drop out soon enough – perhaps even before Illinois on March 20 (but I have a hard time seeing that) – then Romney could face a real challenge from Santorum and his very status as presumptive nominee could be put into serious jeopardy.

Ron Paul won his worst results of the race thus far (ignoring the CNMI). Alabama and Mississippi, are, of course, hardly receptive to a candidate like Ron Paul and the Paul brand of libertarianism has very little appeal in the Deep South in general. After an encouraging start, with strong showings in Iowa, NH and even South Carolina, Ron Paul’s showing in recent contests have not been spectacular. He hasn’t won any state and probably won’t win any state, and in most cases they are barely above his 2008 results (while in the early states they were far above his 2008 results). As the race carries on into what increasingly looks like a two-way contest between Mitt and Rick, Paul is reduced to his core of supporters, which, while still pretty sizable in a lot of states, cannot give him spectacular showings any longer.

Exit Polls

In Alabama, there was a gender gap between Gingrich and Santorum. Gingrich won males 34-31 over Santorum, Romney taking 28%; but lost women handily to Santorum 38-25, with Romney taking 30%. In terms of age, Romney again won his core 65+ constituency with 37% to Gingrich’s 31%, while Santorum won all other age groups – including 41% with those 18-29 and 39% with those 30-44. Gingrich’s electorate, compared to Santorum’s, is older though not by that huge of a margin. Finally, in terms of income, Romney took 36% to Santorum’s 31% with the top 23% who made over $100k. Santorum won all other income levels, doing best (40-29 over Gingrich) with the poorest 17% (under $30k) while Gingrich did best (31% to Santorum’s 32%) among those making $30-50k.

In ideological terms, a surprisingly large 33% identified as moderates, but this is self-identifying ‘moderates’ by Alabama standards, voters which would probably be considered ‘very conservative’ in Vermont. Romney did win moderates 39-29 over Santorum, Gingrich taking only 18%. Santorum beat Gingrich 41-36 with the 36% who were ‘very conservative’, with Romney taking in only 18%. Gingrich beat Santorum and Romney (33-31-31) with ‘somewhat conservative’ voters. Republicans were 70% of the electorate, independents were 24%. Gingrich did much better (32% vs. 25%) with Republicans.

75% of voters were Evangelical Christians, and they picked Rick 35-32 over Gingrich, with Romney still taking 27% of their votes. Romney won the non-Evangelicals 34-31 over Santorum. The 46% who said that the religious beliefs of candidates mattered ‘a great deal’ chose Santorum 47-31 over Gingrich, with Romney winning only 16%. This is likely reflective of an anti-Mormon or at least coolness towards Mormons with Evangelical voters.

Romney still dominates on the electability question (46% said he would be the best to beat Obama), and won those who chose based on a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama (51-32 over Gingrich, Santorum at a horrible 15%). 50% of voters felt Romney was not conservative enough.

Early Mississippi exit polls had Romney winning, but exit polls are corrected nowadays. Once again, we find a clear gender gap: Santorum took females 35-29 over Gingrich (Romney: 32%) but lost males 31-34 to Gingrich. Gingrich won the oldest voters, taking 39% to Romney’s 35%. Santorum won all other voters, doing best (45%) with those aged 17-29. The income data is a bit weird: Romney’s best income group (30%) was the $50-100k, because he only 28% to Santorum’s 35% and Gingrich’s 30% in the $100-200k group. The $200k+ group was too small to get good data, but Romney did win the combined $100k+ group 34-31 over Santorum. Gingrich won the poorest voters (the 15% making under $30k) 35-32 over Santorum.

Again, 29% of people would like us to think that they’re moderates or liberals in the Mississippi Republican Party, but at any rate Romney won them 38-28 over Santorum. Santorum did win 39-35 over Gingrich in the 42% who were ‘very conservative’, Romney taking just 22%.

80% of voters were Evangelical Christians, and they picked Santorum 35-32 over Gingrich, with Romney still taking 29% of their votes. Romney did far better (26%) with the 47% of voters who said that the religious beliefs of candidates mattered ‘a great deal’, but Santorum won those voters easily.

Romney still dominates on the electability question (49% said he would be the best to beat Obama), and won those who chose based on a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama (46-30 over Gingrich, Santorum at 22%). 52% of voters felt Romney was not conservative enough.

Geographic Analysis

Results of the AL primary (source: uselectionatlas)

The Alabama results present to us a nice three-way of the split of the state, which follows the state’s main regions rather neatly. As in the rest of the South, there is a pretty important split in Alabama between the Upland and Midlands/Lowlands of the state. The Uplands tend to be whiter, more populist (a more plebeian tradition inherited from the lack of large plantations in the hilly regions of the Uplands), more working-class (textiles, manufacturing, the TVA) and ever slightly more conservative. This is a region where insurgent conservatives like Mike Huckabee have done well and it was where Rick Santorum had performed best in South Carolina.

In Alabama, Santorum swept the Upland regions (north of Birmingham) which are heavily Evangelical and rather working-class areas. He took 40% in a good number of these Upland counties. There are a lot of Dixiecrats in these old Democratic strongholds (save for Winston County), and a lot of them still self-ID as Democrats despite voting increasingly Republican at almost all levels – and this might explain why Santorum underpolled so much. Social conservatism is certainly big in this region, and it was where opposition to interracial marriage was highest in 2000 and where opposition to school desegregation was highest in 2004.

But Rick Santorum also performed well in the urban centres of northern Alabama, including in places where Romney had done well in 2008 and where he needed to do well this year. Santorum won Madison County, home to Huntsville’s increasingly white-collar workforce of affluent air-and-space engineers and rocket scientists, which was where Romney had done best in 2008 (with 29%). Santorum took 33.3% to Romney’s 30.5%, a major underperformance for Romney compared to 2008. In neighboring Limestone County, where Romney took 27% in 2008, he won only 23.7% this year, placing third behind Santorum (40.4%) and Gingrich (28.2%). Romney also placed third, with 25.1%, in working-class Decatur (Morgan County) where Santorum took 39.8% to Gingrich’s 27.8%. Santorum also won working-class Gadsen (Etowah County), with 40.1% to Gingrich’s 29.8%.

Newt Gingrich did best in the Midlands, especially the Black Belt, which concentrates the bulk of Alabama’s black population (which of course does not vote in GOP primaries), largely because the flatter Midlands were the core of the Southern plantation economy. The Midlands have retained a bias towards somewhat conservative establishment candidates – John McCain did best in the Midlands in South Carolina but also Alabama, and otherwise tend to be slightly less populist (perhaps because of the traditions associated with the once-powerful patrician plantocracy) and ever slightly so less socially conservative and Evangelical (interracial marriage and school desegregation found higher support, although support  or opposition for both still broke largely on racial lines). Gingrich had performed best in the Midlands region of South Carolina, which is similar to this part of Alabama. However, Gingrich is not much of an establishment candidate any longer – in fact, his decrepit campaign presents itself as something of a long-shot, insurgent, screw-the-establishment conservative campaign. Gingrich’s appeal in this part of Alabama may simply be due to proximity to Georgia, though his support in the Midlands does extend all the way to the Mississippi state line.

Mitt Romney’s support was, of course, heavily urban. He won Jefferson County, home to Birmingham and some of its affluent suburbs (Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills), though his margin of victory there was certainly far from what he would have needed to win statewide. He took 34.8% to Santorum’s 30.4%. Worst, Romney lost Shelby County – the wealthiest county in Alabama, including some of Birmingham’s newer affluent exurbs – to Santorum, 30.7% to 33.9%. Shelby County, like most similar newer suburban or exurban counties in the Deep South, is one of the state’s most Republican counties. Similar to what we observed in South Carolina, north Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, Southern suburbia – even if affluent – is probably too conservative to vote heavily for Romney.

Romney lost more blue-collar Tuscaloosa County (Tuscaloosa) to Santorum, 35.6% to 29.7%.

Romney carried Montgomery County, home to the state capital and some of its affluent suburbs, with 36.7% to Gingrich’s 30.5%. Romney also carried Mobile and Baldwin counties, the two Alabama Gulf Coast counties home to defense-driven industries and affluent suburbs of Mobile and condominiums along the Gulf Coast. Romney won Mobile County with 35.6% to Santorum’s 33.5%, and won Baldwin County (Gulf Shores, Spanish Fort) convicingly with 36.2% to Santorum’s 29.3%.

Results of the MS primary (source: uselectionatlas)

The map of the results in Mississippi is a bit more random. Firstly, Mitt Romney won far more counties in Mississippi than in Alabama or the rest of the Deep South states for that matter. His performance in the state, as noted above, was the best result for Romney in the South (30.6%). Based solely on demographics – Mississippi is poorer and less urban than Alabama – Romney shouldn’t have done that well. However, Mississippi politics is still fairly hierarchical and the weight of old paternalistic, top-down relations still have a big impact in Mississippi. The Mississippi GOP bench is fairly ‘establishment’  rather than ‘insurgent’ conservative (like Alabama is sometimes) with the likes of former Governor Haley Barbour and incumbent Governor Phil Bryant, both of whom endorsed Romney. Barbour’s political machine is apparently rather powerful in Mississippi, which might explain why Romney did so well.

If we look at Romney’s support, it mixes his traditional urban centres of affluence with most of the heavily black Mississippi Delta (a very poor area) – where turnout, shockingly, was extremely low (below 1,000 votes in the most heavily black areas, including those two dark blue Gingrich counties on the river). Again, the Mississippi Delta areas really have the plantocratic tradition of the Midland South – Mississippi is by and large a ‘Midland’ state. Romney’s establishment image and support might explain his support there, where hierarchical and patriarchal traditions in social relations are perhaps more dominant and leads, in GOP contests, to a bias for the establishment favourite. Newt Gingrich often placed second in the Delta counties, with Santorum doing quite poorly.

Mitt Romney’s second area of dominance were the rather affluent, in some cases very affluent, suburbs of Jackson, the state capital. Romney carried Hinds County (Jackson) with 40.6% to Gingrich’s 27.5%, in a county where the GOP electorate is probably much wealthier than the county’s average resident. He also won convincingly in Madison County (Jackson’s very wealthy northern suburbs, including Ridgeland) with 42.9% to Gingrich’s 26.6%. He also won Rankin County (Jackson’s eastern suburbs) with 33.9% to Gingrich’s 32%.

Along the Gulf Coast, Romney carried Harrison County (Gulfport-Biloxi) with 32% to Santorum’s 30.8% and also won Jackson County (Pascagoula) with 33.8% to Santorum’s 32.5%. The Gulfport-Biloxi includes wealthier retirement communities, wealthy seaside residents and a significant military presence. It is also more moderate than the rest of the state, in part because of casinos along the coast (or is it the other way around?). Still, Romney would have needed stronger margins in Harrison and Jackson counties to win statewide, to match his big margins in Madison and Hinds counties.

The other two Romney counties which are less than 40% black are Lafayette County (Oxford) and Oktibbeha County (Starkville), home to Ole Miss in Oxford and Mississippi State in Starkville, both of which are not as liberal as other American college towns. College towns would seem like a place where Romney should do well, but he lost the liberal college towns of Gainesville (Alachua County, Florida) and Athens (Athens County, Ohio) by fairly big margins and he lost Lee County (Auburn, Alabama) 29.6 to 32.9% for Santorum.

If Mitt Romney did best in counties with the largest black populations, Newt Gingrich did well in the counties with a significant but not particularly large black population – that is to say, most of the coastal Lowlands (Pine Belt region) and other counties bordering Alabama or the Mississippi Delta region. Gingrich won Hattiesburg (Forrest County) with 35.8% to Santorum’s 29%. As to why Gingrich (and not, say, Santorum) performed best in these types of counties and whether the size of the black population has something to do with it is anyone’s guess.

Rick Santorum did best in the counties which have the lowest proportions of blacks in the state, regions which usually tend to be fairly working-class because of the lack of old plantation agriculture. Santorum clearly dominated in northeastern Mississippi, which is the only Uplandish region of the state (it is clearly distinct from the rest of the state if you look at recent and older election maps) and the region with the smallest black population. He won big in Lee County, the major urban area of the region (Tupelo), taking 41.6% to Gingrich’s 29.8%.

Santorum, in no small part, owes his victory and Romney his defeat to the results in DeSoto County, a booming heavily white county located just south of Memphis, TN. Based solely on income – it is the wealthiest county in the state – then it should be natural Romney country and certainly a place Romney needed to win if he was to win statewide. But DeSoto, like other heavily white, upper middle-class high-growth counties in the South, is less moderate, affluent older suburbs and more rather affluent but white flight exurbia/suburbia. As I pointed out in Georgia and Tennessee on March 6, Romney did poorly in those types of counties. No different in Mississippi. He lost DeSoto by a wide margin to Santorum: 28.8% against 37% for Santorum.

Results of the HI caucus (source: uselectionatlas)

A world away in Hawaii, Mitt Romney won a comfortable victory in the state’s first GOP nominating contest either in a long time or ever. In 2008, the Hawaii caucuses held no presidential straw poll. Mitt Romney’s victory, which ended up narrower than many had thought, was won in large part on the back of a big win in Honolulu County, which is also the state’s most populous county. He took 51.9% in the county, against 25.9% for Santorum. Honolulu County mixes a bunch of demographics favourable to Mitt Romney: Mormons (in Laie), seniors, defense-driven communities and affluent suburbs/urban areas.

I sadly don’t know much at all about voting patterns in Hawaii, and even less about the few Republicans on the island. Asians actually tend to be slightly more Republicans than whites in Hawaii. Mitt Romney won two of the other insular counties by smaller margins (36.2-28.4 in Kauai and 30.7-29.8 in Maui). Ron Paul won the Big Island (Hawaii County) with 32.1% to Romney’s 30.7%. Your guess about the GOP electorate on the Big Island is as good as mine.

Following these races, the next major race is the Illinois primary on March 20. Before that, Missouri begins its binding caucuses on March 17 but no presidential straw poll is being held at those caucuses. Santorum, who won the state’s non-binding primary in early February, should win the plurality of delegates out of the state unless the rules are weird. Following that, Puerto Rico holds a GOP primary on March 18. This is the first Republican nominating contest in Puerto Rico which is seriously contested, and the first GOP primary. It is largely an unknown quantity, given that the island’s demographics are a world away from anything we’ve seen. The electorate will be made up in overwhelming majority of Catholic “Hispanics”, and the only thing we know about GOP Hispanics in this contest is that Mitt Romney won huge with Cubans in Florida. Romney should win Puerto Rico easily, with the backing of the state’s pro-statehood Republican-PNP Governor Luis Fortuño, and with Santorum’s comment about Puerto Ricans needing to learn English if they wanted to become a state.

The Illinois primary favours Mitt Romney. A lot of votes are stored in Chicago’s ring of white-collar, affluent and moderate suburbs which is Romney country if I’ve ever seen it. Rick Santorum should perform strongly in southern Illinois, which is rather Southern in its politics and culture, and perhaps also the more rural parts of “Midwesternish” Illinois. A Gingrich withdrawal between now and then would surely help Santorum and give him a fighting chance even in Illinois, but it’s tough seeing Gingrich drop out just yet.

The good news about the increasing likelihood of a rather protracted contest like this is that it will make for some beautiful maps and a great opportunity to learn about the different “types” of Republican voters and their presidential preferences.

Slovakia 2012

Legislative elections were held in Slovakia on March 10, 2012. All 150 members of Slovakia’s unicameral legislature, the Národná rada or National Council, were up for reelection. There is a 5% threshold for representation in Parliament.

These elections are held a bit less than two years after the last elections in 2010, the third snap elections in the country’s post-independence history. The 2010 election had seen the formation of a four-party centre-right government led by Iveta Radičová, who became the first woman to be Prime Minister of Slovakia.

In 2006, the left-populist Smer-Social Democracy party led by Robert Fico won a plurality of seats, defeating Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda’s incumbent centre-right government, led by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS). Under Dzurinda’s tenure, Slovakia was lauded by its European partners for its bold structural reforms and pro-European liberal outlook, but at home its economic policies were perceived as being one-sided and unfair, while his government also faced allegations of corruption. Fico, who campaigned as a populist and has a reputation as being a mouthy type, formed a controversial coalition with Ján Slota’s far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar ĽS-HZDS. Mečiar, who served as Prime Minister between 1992-1994 and 1994-1998, had turned Slovakia into a semi-authoritarian pariah state shunned by the West for Mečiar’s autocratic tendencies, corrupt administration and statist economic policies. He was defeated in 1998 by a liberal coalition led by Mikuláš Dzurinda.

Fico, despite campaigning against them, largely stuck to Dzurinda’s liberal economic policies, but observers and the opposition accused his government of leading populist, unsustainable high-spending policies. The deficit increased under his years in power, but prior to the 2009 recession, it had no discernible impact on the country’s strong economic growth which had begun under Dzurinda. Abroad, Fico’s alliance with Slota, who has a very strong penchant for inflammatory anti-Hungarian statements (the country’s Hungarian minority makes up some 12%), did not win him many friends – especially not in Budapest – nor did his rather autocratic attempts to curtail press freedom (Fico and the Slovakian press, by and large, hate each other). In 2010, when Slota’s SNS lost seats and Mečiar’s party lost all its seats, Fico’s party, which had increased its seat count by 12, was left without coalition partners. Four right-wing parties, led by the SDKÚ-DS and including a new Hungarian party, Most–Híd and a libertarian party, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) led by economist Richard Sulík  formed a coalition led by Iveta Radičová, the SDKÚ-DS’ 2009 presidential candidate.

Relations between Radičová and her government’s main junior partner, Richard Sulík’s SaS worsened over the course of her tenure. The two came to an head in October 2011, when SaS joined Smer to reject the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) in a vote which Radičová tied to a confidence motion. Sulík claimed that Slovakia, the second-poorest Eurozone country, did not have the money to loan to states. On the other hand, Robert Fico used the EFSF-confidence vote to stage a very ingenious political ploy: force snap elections, in which he fancied his chances given that the government had failed to  dethrone Smer as the most popular party in the country. Following the international chaos which ensued from the EFSF vote, Fico got what he wanted when the government was forced to call snap elections. In return, Smer voted for the EFSF in a vote a few days later.

Slovakian politics during the campaign were rocked by two huge corruption scandals. The first one, “Gorilla”, was leaked in December and concerns a wiretapping operation between 2005 and 2006 into privatization deals during Mikuláš Dzurinda’s government. At the heart of it all are juicy details about millions of bribes paid to officials to win contracts or privatization deals. The Gorilla files named ministers, foreign investors, a very powerful local investment fund (Penta) and the four parties in Dzurinda’s coalition government including the governing SDKÚ-DS. Penta has denied any wrongdoing, Dzurinda – now foreign minister – called the entire thing a fake while SaS went on an anti-corruption crusade which kind of blew up in its face when it was revealed that the SaS defense minister had gotten the secret services to spy on a journalist and when it emerged that Sulík failed to inform the police of another case, Sea flower, in which the government bribed MPs large sums of money in return for their support in a messy vote last December. The stench of Gorilla led thousands of protesters to throw bananas at Parliament during mass-protests earlier this year in Bratislava.

Gorilla seriously damaged the credibility of all governing parties, especially Dzurinda’s SDKÚ-DS. Incumbent Prime Minister Iveta Radičová retired, and with her the party lost her reformist, non-corrupt image (her government was fairly tough on corruption and accountability), replacing that with Dzurinda, seriously compromised with Gorilla and increasingly looking like an old corrupt “gorilla” of politics rather than the liberal reformer he had been seen as in the past, especially by the West. Robert Fico’s Smer was named in the files, and Fico had apparently met Penta co-owner Jaroslav Haščák in the infamous “safe flat” named in the files. Yet, that was ages ago, and Smer has claimed to have cut off all links with Penta and Fico has been known for his rocky relations since then with big business in Slovakia. Fico and Smer were basically the only ones left unscathed by the scandal.

The scandal prompted a flurry of new parties to raise to the scene, hoping to cash in on popular disgust over corruption and old politicians. Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) separated from SaS, on whose list it had won a few seats in 2010. OĽaNO appears to be a populist conservative party. More on the left, a party inspired by the OWS movement, 99%, emerged and some believe it was behind the leaking of the Gorilla files. Eastern Europe seems to be a good place to start a new party; the Czech Republic being the most well-known case, though Poland and Hungary both had new parties enter their legislatures in their last elections.

Economic issues played a major role in the campaign, given the country’s 13% unemployment rate and weakened 3% growth rate. The outgoing centre-right government passed some important reforms, including a pension reform, and it claims to have put the country’s finances on the right track. As in the last election, the governing parties have warned against Smer’s populist economic policies. SaS campaigned on a more Eurosceptic platform, hoping to hold a referendum on Europe on election day and Sulík described the EFSF as the greatest theat to Europe. The right-wing Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), led by Ján Figeľ, were far more pro-European and warned against Smer’s ‘socialist policies’ which would lead to Greek-like debts. Robert Fico has seemingly been trying to hit two birds with one stone on economic issues. While reassuring the EU about his commitment to sound finances, the Euro and financial stability; at home he talked about maintaining the welfare state, opposed privatizations, raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, repealing Dzurinda’s government’s 19% flat tax and against a VAT increase.

Turnout ended up very strong at 59.11%, up 0.28% from 2010. Given Gorilla and the anti-politician movements it has inspired, many had feared that turnout would drop to its lowest level in years, but it ended up holding up strongly. The most likely explanation is that voters chose to express their backlash against the corrupt politicians by voting rather than symbolically not voting. The results would indicate that this is true:

Smer-SD 44.41% (+9.62%) winning 83 seats (+21)
KDH 8.82% (+0.3%) winning 16 seats (+1)
OĽaNO 8.55% (+8.55%) winning 16 seats (+16)
Most–Híd 6.89% (-1.23%) winning 13 seats (-1)
SDKÚ-DS 6.09% (-9.33%) winning 11 seats (-17)
SaS 5.88% (-6.26%) winning 11 seats (-11)
SNS 4.55% (-0.52%) winning 0 seats (-9)
SMK-MKP 4.28% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
99% 1.58% (+1.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.86% winning 0 seats (nc)

Results by district (source: Slovak Statistics)

Smer outperformed both polling and the exit polls and won an absolute majority, the first time since independence that any party has won the right to govern alone. It increased on its already fairly strong 2010 performance by nearly 10 percentage points and gained 21 seats to take 83 seats in the country’s 150-seat legislature. Smer had always been confident of its chances in a general election, thus the reason for Fico’s ploy in the EFSF vote in October. But the Gorilla scandal, far from hurting Smer, was a godsend for the party given that it totally destroyed whatever credibility the fractious governing parties had, especially the credibility of his main opponent, Mikuláš Dzurinda and the SDKÚ-DS. Smer appealed for a strong, stable and cohesive government which could take the right decisions. It also appeared relatively clean to those concerned at least a bit about corruption, and Smer’s more populist rhetoric of sorts on issues such as unemployment has always been popular with the electorate.

On the right, the main victims were Dzurinda’s SDKÚ-DS and SaS. The Gorilla files directly hit Dzurinda and SDKÚ-DS, so understandably the party’s ratings took quite a tumble and it was even hovering on the verge of falling below the threshold and thereby losing all seats. It has saved all seats, but the party, Slovakia’s main right-wing force since the early 2000s, is in shambles and Dzurinda will face internal opposition if he decides to stick on as leader until the next party congress. SaS was unable to use its anti-corruption, clean hands image to turn its image around, likely because it happened that Sulík and SaS’ record on the issue was less than crystal. The party’s shenanigans on the EFSF debacle hurt its image a lot, and its more Eurosceptic rhetoric since then has not really helped the party. It lost a bit more than half of its 2010 votes. OĽaNO, the new populist-right party, was likely the main benefactor of its collapse. With 16 seats, it emerges as the third strongest force. The far-right SNS lost all seats, likely losing a handful of voters to Smer. Mečiar’s career, meanwhile, ended when his old beast, the ĽS-HZDS, won only 0.93% of the vote.

The KDH, led by Ján Figeľ, did well despite its presence in the ‘infamous’ Dzurinda-2 cabinet, though it does not appear that the party was hit much by Gorilla. Its minor gains likely came at the SDKÚ-DS’ expense, but they allowed the KDH to become the main opposition party.

The Hungarian parties had a fairly bad night, with Most–Híd losing a bit more than 1% of its vote and the old party of Hungarian interests, the SMK-MKP, failing to reenter the legislature.

Robert Fico had said that he wanted to form a two-party coalition government no matter what, and some have thought that KDH could be its most likely partner. Fico, who knows that he will need to take some tough measures to curb the country’s deficit and debt load, is seen as being keen on sharing the blame for such measures with another party. However, of the remaining batch of parties, none of them appear as likely allies for Fico. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how different a Smer majority government is from Fico’s old controversial Smer-SNS-HZDS cabinet. On a foreign policy front, this could be especially interesting, given that part of the spat between Budapest and Bratislava during the first Fico government was because of Slota’s inflammatory anti-Hungarian pronouncements. Fico has some nationalist inklings, which might still augur poorer relations with Budapest, especially given that Budapest is now led by Viktor Orbán, who has similar nationalist inklings in his autocratic nature. At the European level, relations will likely be smoother in Slota’s absence. Smer voting the EFSF should not, I think, be interpreted as sign of an anti-EU streak in the party, but rather as a domestic political gambit. Fico can probably be counted on to lead fairly moderate economic policies. His relations with big corporations (which he wants to tax more), the Slovakian media (which he loves going on foul-mouthed tirades against) and the authorities investigating Gorilla will prove interesting to observe.

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