Category Archives: Regional and local elections
General elections were held in Pakistan on May 11, 2013. 272 of the 342 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly (ایوان زیریں پاکستان) were up for reelection. These 272 members are elected in single-member constituencies by FPTP in Pakistan’s four provinces, the Islamabad Capital Territory and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan in Kashmir and northern Pakistan are basically ruled as Pakistani colonies and don’t get to vote – besides, large parts of it are occupied/ruled by India.
Only Muslim voters are allowed to vote, but non-Muslim voters (including Ahmedi Muslims) have 10 non-Muslim members allocated between the parties in proportion to the seats they already won. After the official results are declared, 60 seats reserved for women are allocated between the parties in proportion to the seats they already won. Candidates are allowed to stand in more than one constituency, but if they’re elected to more than one seat they must choose which seat they will represent within 60 days. Candidates who win their seats as independents have three days after results are announced to join a political party or remain as independents – oftentimes, ‘independents’ will end up joining whichever party won the election.
Pakistan, theoretically, is a federal parliamentary democracy. It has a bicameral legislature made up of the directly-elected National Assembly and the indirectly-elected Senate (سینیٹ). The Senate, with 104 seats, is made up of twenty-three members elected by each the four provincial assemblies (including 4 seats reserved for women in each province, 4 for technocrats and Ulama and one seat for religious minorities), eight seats chosen by the National Assembly for the FATA and four seats chosen by the National Assembly for the federal capital. Although both houses must agree on a bill for it to pass (except for money bills, which is controlled only by the lower house), if they disagree, both houses may sit together – meaning that, effectively, the National Assembly wins over the Senate.
The President is elected to serve a five-year term (renewable once) by an electoral college composed of all MNAs, senators and provincial legislators.
The powers of the President have shifted depending on the nature of the regime in place at the time. Theoretically, as mentioned above, Pakistan is a federal parliamentary democracy. In practice, Pakistani democracy – since the country’s creation – has been tested (to say the least) several times. In Malaysia, which is also defined as a federal parliamentary democracy, the system was subverted by a governing alliance in power since independence which has structured the system to its wants and needs. In Pakistan, the system has been subverted by military intervention into politics, in the form of several coups which overthrew democratically-elected governments. Therefore, Pakistani democracy came in four periods broken by military rule. The military ruled the country between 1958 and 1971, 1977 and 1988 and most recently between 1999 and 2008. Democracy – imperfect, unstable and often illiberal democracy – has prevailed in between those periods.
During periods of military rule, Pakistan effectively became a presidential regime in which the President (the military dictator) held strong powers. Similarly, Pakistani federalism – always of a fairly centralized variant – was undermined by military regimes. This was the case under the last military regime, led by General Pervez Musharraf. He amended the 1973 constitution (which created a parliamentary republic) in the form of the seventeenth amendment, which gave him reserve powers enabling him to dissolve the National Assembly at his discretion.
After the end of the Musharraf era and the restoration of democracy, the new government passed the eighteenth amendment which revoked these special powers. The President has returned to a more symbolic position, with the real powers being held by the Prime Minister, who is elected by the National Assembly rather than nominated by the President. The 18th amendment also devolved more powers to the provinces and revised the rules on the National Finance Commission Awards (fiscal transfers to the provinces, including equalization).
Pakistan’s four provinces also elected their provincial assemblies on May 11. Each province’s legislature, like the federal National Assembly, has directly-elected ‘general’ seats and seats set aside for women and non-Muslims. The sizes of these legislature range from a total of 371 seats (297 general seats) in the Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province (containing over half of the country’s population to itself) to only 65 seats (51 general seats) in Balochistan. Each province has a Chief Minister, elected by the provincial legislature.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas, an exceptionally dangerous isolated mountainous region bordering Afghanistan, are ruled by the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation. The area self-governs under traditional arrangements but there are a collection of agents from the Pakistani central government who oversee arrangements. The FATA elect MNAs and senators, which is rather silly because the Parliament cannot legislate for the FATA (unless the President consents). This arrangement has created a huge number of problems, notably in terms of human rights and security. Local elites – most significantly the Taliban – effectively make the rules on their own and govern their territories, with the only interference coming from the Pakistani (and American) military
Pakistan is one of those countries which everyone thinks they know a whole lot about, but in reality they don’t know much besides the stereotypes incessantly parroted by the media. I certainly don’t claim to know much about Pakistan, in fact much of this post is based on Who rules where‘s brilliant piece on these elections.
A particularly annoying tendency in the Western media is the necessity to assign an easily identifiable and coherent “Western ideology” to political parties, when a lot of those parties don’t actually have coherent ideologies and even when they do, their ideologies tend to be complex so that they can’t fit into our molds of “left-wing”, “liberal”, “conservative” or whatever. In Pakistan, the guiding ideology for most major parties tends to be corruption rather than any conventional ideology.
As described by Who rules where, Pakistani politics in rural areas is dominated by “big men” power brokers who control large vote banks which they basically sell to the highest bidder; parties get their votes in return public goods or money. They control these large vote banks through bribery, intimidation, violence or providing access to patronage. Traditional parties (PPP, PML-N and others) have found it hard, however, to operate with the same tactics in Pakistan’s growing urban areas. Again, as described by Who rules where, religious groups and ethnic parties (MQM, ANP) are the masters of operating in the urban context, because they know how to form networks, mobilize opinion and use the media. In good part, the traditional parties respect this – because the groups which master urban politics can’t win a national election. Therefore, the traditional parties reach informal local agreements with the ideological or religious groups. Religious parties tend to lend the mainstream parties informal support during elections, and in return they access patronage and the governments turns a blind eye to their illegal actions. Arguably, this explains the disproportionate influence religious parties have over policy and politics in Pakistan.
The governing party is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), an ostensibly centre-left secular and social democratic party founded in 1967. The party’s founder was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, one of the few Pakistani political leaders who actually had a coherent ideology. Bhutto led Pakistan between 1971 and 1977, first as President and later (after 1973) as Prime Minister under Pakistan’s current (but oft-amended) constitution. In office, Bhutto nationalized a large number of industries and all banks, enacted an agrarian reform, weakened the military leadership and initiated the country’s nuclear weapons program. But this agenda caused unrest and economic stagnation, and he was deposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in a military coup in 1977 and later executed by the new regime. Since then, the PPP has become the Bhutto’s family party. Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto took control of the party and the PPP won the first elections after Zia’s death in 1988 and Benazir became Prime Minister (until the President removed her from office in 1990). She returned three years later, winning the 1993 election and governing the country until 1997. Under Benazir Bhutto, the PPP largely quit being a centre-left party and became – like most parties – a corrupt nepotistic party, whose policies have usually been far removed from their founders’ policies. Although the PPP is more favourable to state intervention in the economy than its main rival (the PML-N), Benazir Bhutto’s governments started privatization programs. Benazir Bhutto fled into exile in 1998 as her political star faded (under Nawaz Sharif) and remained in exile until the end of Pervez Musharraf’s military regime.
As Musharraf made moves towards re-democratization of sorts in 2007, with the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which amnestied politicians accused of corruption (read: all of them, except those like Nawaz Sharif which Musharraf still didn’t like), Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan to lead the PPP into the 2008 elections. She was assassinated in December 2007. With her death, the PPP’s leadership passed to her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, but since he was only 20 at the time, the real leader became Bhutto’s widow, Asif Ali Zardari, who has the reputation of being extremely corrupt (he’s also very unpopular). The PPP easily won the 2008 election, and Youssouf Raza Gilani became Prime Minister. Asif Ali Zardari was elected President in September 2008 after Musharraf’s resignation.
By most evaluations, the PPP’s government since 2008 has been a failure. Of course, it must be one of the world’s worst jobs to be in charge of Pakistan, which often appears to be almost impossible to govern, in no small part because the civilian government certainly isn’t the only source of power in the country. Politicians and parties often contribute to the mess by being corrupt and, at times, being the cause of the political violence which has undermined Pakistan for decades (this is the case for the PPP’s two governing partners, the MQM and the ANP).
Since 2008, the security situation in Pakistan has probably worsened (certainly it hasn’t improved), and it remains one of the world’s top powderkegs and the Pakistani state often appears in the top spots for ‘failed state’ rankings (even if ‘failed state’ rankings are pretty dumb). The government has had bad relations with the influential and powerful military, currently led by Ashfaq Kiyani; and often difficult relations with the United States (given the American presence in Afghanistan and the war on terror crossover in the FATA and NW Pakistan, the American military is often considered as a major player in Pakistani internal politics). In November 2011, relations with the military hit a low with “Memogate”. After the American raid which killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, in an operation unbeknownst by the Pakistani military (though Zardari apparently knew), the Pakistani military was not in a good mood and thought to be mulling a coup. In a memo by the Pakistani embassy in Washington to the US government, Islamabad requested American support to prevent a military coup. Ambassador Husain Haqqani was recalled and replaced by somebody on better terms with the military, but in December 2011, Gilani gave a speech unusually critical of the military. Relations with the United States deteriorated after Osama bin Laden’s death and reached a low in November 2011 when NATO helicopters accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops. Pakistan demanded an apology and blocked the Khyber Pass (a NATO supply route), while the US blocked $1.1 billion in aid to the Pakistani military. Relations only improved in July 2012. Washington still harbours suspicions that Pakistan is, as America has always believed, playing a two-faced game and covertly backing certain terrorist groups – in September 2011, the then-Chairman of the Joints Chiefs Mike Mullen claimed that the ISI (Pakistan’s CIA) was supporting the Haqqani network, a terrorist organization.
The Pakistani government has supported the expansion of military actions against the Pakistani Taliban in northwestern Pakistan, but it has resisted American pressures to launch an offensive into North Waziristan.
Terrorist attacks across the country, notably in large cities like Karachi, have continued unabated since 2008. This election campaign was one of the most violent election campaigns on record, with a number of Taliban attacks targeting anti-Taliban secular parties.
The economy has fared no better. After strong economic growth (up to 8%) between 2004 and 2008, growth has slowed to only 3% since the global economic crisis. Additionally, with high inflation (11% in 2012), the country has entered another spiral of inflation. The government’s policies – an eclectic mix of privatizations and nationalizations with a preference towards state intervention – have failed to redress the situation. Agriculture is still dominated by feudalism, the industry suffers from mismanagement and incompetence from an inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy.
Pakistan also faces an energy crisis, which has resulted in load shedding and severe blackouts. The state-owned electricity companies have been unable to cope with rising demand and are saddled with debt, given that a lot of their customers – notably the governments – don’t pay their bills.
The government was also widely criticized for its response – or perhaps lack thereof – to the huge floods in July 2010 which affected almost every region of the country, on the banks of the Indus River. The government underestimated the scale of the disaster and fumbled its response accordingly. President Zardari’s refusal to cut short a trip to Europe in August angered many Pakistanis. Observers feared that the Islamists would organize rescue efforts in the government’s stead (notably in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), boosting their legitimacy and popular support.
It doesn’t help matters that corruption drains away huge sums of money every year.
The last military government was brought down in large part because of the lawyers’ movement, a part-popular, part-judicial movement which rose up against Musharraf in December 2007 after Musharraf sacked Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had already been removed from office by Musharraf for a few months in March 2007, had suspended Musharraf’s NRO in October 2007. The anti-Musharraf parties (including the PPP) supported, opportunistically, the lawyers’ movement. Once in office, however, the PPP and Zardari were in no great rush to reinstate the sacked justices, given that Zardari and other corrupt politicians were benefiting from the NRO’s blanket amnesty. The opposition PML-N continued supporting the lawyers’ movement.
In March 2009, Gilani apparently convinced Zardari to reinstate the Chief Justice and the other sacked justices. In December 2009, the Supreme Court cancelled the NRO and directed Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to reopen a case against Zardari. The Swiss case, which has been closed since 2008, concerns some illegal dealings Zardari would have had with a Swiss company in 1994. They tried various tactics to get Gilani to write the letter, but Gilani refused, arguing that the President benefited from immunity. The Swiss kept pointing out that the whole thing was fairly trite given that they had closed the case, but nobody ever really cared about the Swiss and the issue became about principle and politics.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court indicted Gilani of being in contempt of the court, and he was found guilty in April. He was sentenced to a symbolic 30 seconds in detention, in the court while the judges read his sentence. In June 2012, the Supreme Court disqualified Gilani from holding office and removed him from office.
The PPP replaced him with Raja Pervez Ashraf, the former water and energy minister. Their original candidate for the post turned up to be a drug dealer, but Raja Pervez Ashraf was hardly better – he is accused of having received bribes in the awarding of contracts when he was water and energy minister (and by all indications, he was probably a miserable failure in that job given Pakistan’s energy situation). The Supreme Court told Raja Pervez Ashraf to send a letter to the Swiss (again), and he refused (again). In January 2013, the government-courts conflict was aggravated when the Supreme Court ordered the Prime Minister’s arrest in the corruption case related to his time as energy minister. But the anti-corruption organism, the National Accountability Bureau, which is controlled by the PPP and used for the government’s political vendettas against rivals, was never very interested in the case. The Supreme Court kept insisting, in vain, that the Prime Minister be arrested. But he was never troubled and was able to finish his term in mid-March, the legal conclusion of the Parliament’s five-year term. At the same time as the Supreme Court was ordering the Prime Minister’s arrest, a large popular movement organized by religious cleric Tahir ul-Qadri rallied thousands of protesters who demanded the government’s resignation and snap elections.
The government has maintained that the Supreme Court’s actions are politically motivated, encouraged by the opposition PML-N. It has also said that the whole crisis boils down to the legitimacy of an elected government versus an unelected activist judiciary. The Court has said that it is doing its job as the guarantor of the rule of law, without any political motivations.
Despite a pretty terrible record, this government did manage the impossible: actually completing its constitutional term, without being overthrown or forced to resign. This is the first time that one directly elected government will be succeeded by another directly elected government. That’s basically where we are today.
The PPP’s official leader is now Bilawal Bhutto, the 24-year old son of Benazir and Zardari. But at only 24, he is too young to be Prime Minister of Pakistan (you have to be 25) and besides that he seems fairly uninterested by the whole politics thing. Fearing for his safety or just uninterested by the elections, the PPP’s “leader” spent most of the campaign in Dubai. The real top brass of the PPP in this campaign was formed by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and former Prime Minister Youssouf Raza Gilani, who really headed the PPP’s campaign despite his son having been kidnapped.
As explored above, there’s little left of the PPP’s erstwhile socialist secularism. They are probably a bit more interventionist and secular than the other major parties, but what differentiates them from the PML-N (their main rival) and the other parties is their support base. The PPP is a predominantly Sindhi party, with strong support in rural Sindh and strong links to the Sindhi landed elite. The Bhutto/Zardari family are part of Sindi Rajput (elite) clan. By being more Sindhi, and thus less Punjabi, the PPP tends to be more pro-decentralization and popular with non-Punjabi Pakistanis who decry the Punjabi domination of the country. This is the case for the Saraiki in southern Punjab, who speak a slightly different form of Punjabi. The PPP is proposing that Punjab be split in two and a Saraiki province established. The PPP also get votes from the country’s Shia minority, which means that the PPP tends be a bit more secular and not as big on political Islam.
The PPP’s traditional rival is the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz Group (PML-N), a more right-leaning party founded in 1988 and controlled by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N is one of several continuing factions of the Muslim League, a movement which finds its roots in Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s movement in favour of an independent Muslim state and the partition of British India in 1947. After independence and Jinnah’s death in 1948, the Muslim League became an unruly party which suffered from internal disagreements, the lack of a coherent program and a poor performance in government.
Nawaz Sharif is a self-made businessman from Lahore (Punjab, although his family is from Kashmir). Although he is one of the few politicians not to come from an historically influential family, his father and uncle became industrialists with Ittefaq Foundries, a large steel conglomerate. His family’s business was nationalized by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 as part of the PPP government’s nationalization program. Seeking his ‘revenge’ on the Bhutto family, Nawaz Sharif – as well as other members of his family like his brother Shahbaz – entered politics. After Bhutto was overthrown by Zia-ul-Haq, Sharif became a supporter of Zia’s regime. Near the end of the Zia regime, the governing Muslim League (reincarnated) split between an opposition (anti-Zia) faction led by Zia’s former Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo and a pro-Zia faction organized by Sharif.
The PML-N lost the 1988 and 1993 elections to the PPP, but it won the 1990 and 1997 elections. Nawaz Sharif served as Prime Minister between 1990 and 1993 and again between 1997 and 1999. In office, Nawaz Sharif’s governments privatized a large number of state-owned companies, effectively taking his ‘revenge’ on the Bhutto family for the nationalization of his family’s steel business. In 1998, he gave the go-ahead for six test nuclear explosions. He also built the country’s first highway, and he continues to make a big deal out of that.
During his second term in office, Nawaz Sharif confronted the judiciary and, most importantly, the military. Shortly after the Kargil conflict in the Kashmir with India, Nawaz Sharif was overthrown in a military coup led by Pervez Musharraf, who had ironically been appointed as chief of staff by Nawaz Sharif in 1998.
Escaping jail time in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif was able to negotiate a long exile in Saudi Arabia instead. He finally returned to Pakistan in November 2007 to participate in the 2008 election. The PML-N originally allied with the PPP as part of a broad anti-Musharraf and pro-democracy front, and the PML-N entered government as a strong junior partner after the 2008 elections. But as the Musharraf regime faded out of sight, Pakistani politics reset to normal and the old rivalry between PPP and PML-N returned to the forefront. The PML-N quit the government in August 2008.
In opposition, Nawaz Sharif allied himself with the lawyers’ movement in 2009, launching a ‘long march’ to reinstate the sacked judges.
A lot of the old PPP/PML-N feud boils down to regionalism (Punjab vs Sindh) or family reasons (the Bhutto vs the Sharif clans), rather than deep-seated ideological differences. The PML-N tends to be more favourable to privatization, ‘free enterprise’, foreign investment and economic liberalization in general. It is also slightly more Islamist, but only very mildly so. The PML-N’s platform this year included economic reforms to boost economic growth, proposing measures including fiscal reform, reducing the debt/deficit, investing in infrastructures through public-private partnerships and reducing inflation. For all these niceties, Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N bigwigs are no less corrupt than the PPP – both parties compete in a race to determine who can steal the most money.
The PML-N is the party of Punjab, the powerhouse province of the country home to over half of the Pakistani population. More precisely, it tends to be the party of industrialized and extensively urbanized northern Punjab, drawing votes from industrialists, urban dwellers or the Punjabi feudal aristocracy and their voter banks. Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz has been Chief Minister of the Punjab since 2008.
To make a long and complicated story (which I don’t know every part of), the other provinces of Pakistan resent the perceived Punjabi domination of the country. The PML-N’s support is, partly as a result of regional animosity towards Punjab, traditionally quasi-exclusively concentrated in Punjab. The PML-N appears practically non-existent in Sindh, and not particularly vibrant in either Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the old Northwest Frontier Province, NFWP).
Pakistani parties campaign using flags and, more amusingly, ballot paper symbols (so that illiterate voters can identify the parties). The PPP’s symbol is a fairly boring arrow, but the PML-N’s symbol – the tiger – has caused endless amounts of fun. PML-N supporters dress up in plush tigerskins, cover their cars with tigerstripes or stick a tiger (or an ugly object which doesn’t necessarily look like a tiger) on top of their cars.
The only thing which interested most foreign observers in this election was Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice, PTI), a party led by former cricketer Imran Khan. Imran Khan was a very good cricketer, leading his country to victory at the 1992 Cricket World Cup. But his cricket career is long over (he retired in 1992) – he has been a political and philanthropist since at least 1996. After his cricket career, he became a bit of a playboy – moving to London and marrying a British woman (they divorced in 2004). In Pakistan, he opened the country’s only cancer hospital and set up some very good charity organizations.
At the same time, he’s been active in politics since 1996, when he founded the PTI. But prior to 2012-2013, Khan never had any semblance of popular support. In the 1997 and 2002 elections, the PTI won all of 0.8% of the vote and he was the party’s only candidate to win a seat in 2002. He boycotted the 2008 election, but nobody cared.
His ‘tsunami’ of popular support began with a rally in Lahore in October 2011, attended by more than 100,000 people. A bunch of polls also showed that the PTI was riding a wave of popular support, but polling in Pakistan is of dubious value. Given how his past political career was a joke, a lot of people were rather skeptical about the media’s fascination with Imran Khan. However, Imran Khan’s support turned out to be real. The media coverage of the PTI created a bandwagon and turned him into a media phenomenon picked up around the world.
Imran Khan and the PTI have been turned into what everybody would want them to be. According to various media reports and the like, they are secular and (moderately) Islamist, liberal and conservative, nationalist (anti-American) but also still acceptable to the West (probably because their anti-Americanism doesn’t involve blowing up Americans; kind of like Zia-ul-Haq in that sense). The word ‘communitarianism’ has come up to describe the PTI, though that word – like almost everything about the PTI – is so vague that it can mean anything.
Imran Khan rails against corruption, deeply ingrained in both the PPP and PML-N, and promises some kind of populistic citizens’ revolution to rid the country of the corrupt elites. His rather novel populist, anti-corruption, anti-establishment and mildly Islamist/nationalist rhetoric has attracted large crowds, particularly younger voters – especially in urban areas – who don’t have much in the way of family/patronage ties to the other parties. A lot of those voters have no great love for either the PPP or the PML-N (or the millions of other parties), which they view as corrupt and incompetent political dinosaurs.
Khan’s fairly nationalistic and anti-American message also struck a chord. In October 2012, he led a ‘caravan’ from Islamabad to Waziristan to protest against American drone strikes in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, American drone strikes are very, very unpopular in Pakistan. It’s not because Pakistanis love the Taliban – as some crass tabloids or rags in the West insist – but rather because a lot of those drone strikes end up killing a lot of civilians. A few days ago, a court in Peshawar ruled that drone strikes constituted an unacceptable violation of Pakistani sovereignty (akin to international war crimes) and that no Pakistani government may authorize such attacks. Imran Khan has taken a strong stance against drones (going as far as saying that he’d shoot them down apparently) and military actions in NW Pakistan and has instead promised that he would sit down for negotiations with the Taliban.
Nevertheless, Imran Khan has still received tons of fairly positive and flattering reviews in the Western media. Mohammed Hanif (from BBC Urdu) in The Guardian encapsulated the whole media attention on him pretty well: “visiting foreign journalists have profiled Imran Khan more than they have profiled any living thing in this part of the world. If all the world’s magazine editors were allowed to vote for Imran Khan he would be the prime minister of half the English-speaking world.”
It hasn’t hurt that Khan has received the support from various technocrats (including the former PPP foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi), dissidents from other parties and local landlords. He is also suspected of having (or having had) the tacit backing of the army.
Late in the campaign, Imran Khan had his own Jennifer Lawrence moment, falling off a stage – although mockery aside, his fall was far more serious than Jennifer Lawrence’s tumble – he fell 5 metres from a forklift and ended up in hospital for a few days with two broken vertebrae.
The other parties at this point are less relevant. The Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) was basically founded by the military in 2002 to act as a pro-government and pro-Musharraf party in 2002. It won the most votes and seats in the 2002 election, but already by 2008 it placed only third with 54 seats. Like the PML-N, it is a conservative and predominantly Punjabi-based party; like the PML-N it is led by two industrialist brothers, the Chaudhry family of Gujrat. However, the PML-Q hates the PML-N, so it has allied with the PPP since 2008. As a party of power for somebody who has since lost power and who is politically irrelevant (Musharraf tried to return from exile with his own new party to run this year, but the courts banned him from politics), the PML-Q is basically dead at this point.
There are a ton of parties with PPP or PML in their name, born from various splits in the larger ‘mother’ parties. Generally, the PPPs tend to hate the PPP, the PMLs tend to hate the PML-N. The PML-F (the F stands for ‘functional’) is one of the most significant of these parties. The PML-F was founded in 1985 and it is associated with Pir Pagara, the leader of a Sufi Muslim community (the Hurs) – and former cricketer – who died in 2012.
The religious parties have been mentioned above in the passage about the nature of Pakistani party politics and religious competition. They do run candidates in elections, but they generally don’t win all that many seats – the 2002 election, in which the religious alliance (MMA) won 59 seats and formed government in the NFWP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) was an aberration rather than the norm. The MMA split ahead of the 2008 election and the component parties contest the elections on their own (or boycott them, for a few of them). The Islamist parties which ran in 2008 did really poorly, and collapsed entirely in the NFWP. In government, the MMA had turned out to be corrupt and incompetent.
The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is the oldest Islamist party, having been founded in 1941, and they have also tended to be the strongest of all parties – although this was not the case this year.
The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) or JUI (F) is a part of the Deobandi movement, a traditionalist and very conservative Sunni (Hanafi school) revivalist movement. The JUI seems to include a bunch of parties, the largest of which is the JUI (F), led by prominent cleric Fazal-ur-Rehman. Fazal-ur-Rehman was a close ally of Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s, and has remained on good terms with the PPP. After all, Benazir Bhutto’s government in the 1990s played a large role in installing and recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.
The Awami National Party (ANP) are an ostensibly left-wing secular party, in practice they are a Pashtun/Pathan ethnic (ethnocentric?) party. The party is strongest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where they currently are the governing party in provincial government. The ANP also has a significant base in Karachi, which has a huge Pashtun population as a result of years of immigration to Pakistan’s largest cities. The party is viscerally anti-Taliban, and it has been the target of a large number suicide attacks by the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Nevertheless, the ANP accepted some concessions to the Taliban in 2009 – it supported the deal signed between the government and the Taliban in 2009, which would have instituted Sharia law in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is a ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ party, but in reality there’s nothing liberal about them although they’re secular (if only by virtue of being hated by the Taliban). The MQM is a Karachi-based ethnic party representing the Muhajirs – the Urdu-speaking Muslim refugees who came from India after partition in 1947, with most of them settling in Karachi were they gained prominence in business and white-collar jobs. The party sees itself as an inclusive, centre-left, secular party – like the ANP – but in practice, the word ‘fascist’ or ‘traitors’ gets thrown around a lot when people talk about them, and there’s some justification for those terms. The MQM is the dominant party in Karachi, where the Muhajirs are the majority (along with Pashtun/Pathan immigrants); the pro-PPP Sindhis who inhabit the countryside are only a minority in Karachi, so the PPP is basically dead in the water in Karachi. The MQM, PPP and the ANP are engaged in a literal battle for control of the city, which has made Karachi the most violent city in Pakistan – more people die in Karachi than in American drone strikes. Politicians and their supporters are often killed in bloody street fights or gun battles with members of their rival political parties.
The MQM’s leader, who leads the party from self-imposed exile in London, is Altaf Hussain – a mafia kingpin. In practice, all parties active in Karachi, especially the MQM, are more mafias and paramilitary thuggish gangs than actual political parties. For example, the PPP’s only stronghold – Lyari town – is controlled by the Baloch brothers and their mafia.
In 2000-2005, the military regime created some nonpartisan local government structure which allowed the MQM to gain control of the Karachi local government (in 2005) and rule the city until 2010, when the new civilian government (which hated the military’s local government structure) effectively abolished local government for the time being. The MQM was up in arms at getting “its” city government taken away from them, which further worsened its relations with the PPP.
Although the MQM, PPP and ANP are engaged in a bloody battle for control of the city (which has turned to the MQM’s advantage), the MQM governed with the PPP at the federal level and provincially in Sindh until 2011. The MQM is basically willing to work with any party nationally.
Besides all of these parties, you have a bunch of other tiny parties which have a tiny local stronghold guaranteeing them a seat or two; or, in Balochistan, a whole slew of vaguely nationalistic Baloch parties.
Results and aftermath
Turnout is estimated at around 60%, up significantly since 2008 when turnout was only 44%.
The Election Commission has declared the results for 261 of the 272 general seats. There will be a re-poll in six constituencies, two results were withheld, two were ‘terminated’ and one election has been ‘postponed’. The 70 reserved seats have, as a result, not been allocated yet. The results are:
PML-N 124 seats
PPP 31 seats
PTI 27 seats
MQM 18 seats
JUI (F) 10 seats
PML-F 5 seats
PMAP 3 seats
JI 3 seats
Others 12 seats (incl. ANP, 1 seat)
Independents 28 seats
Nawaz Sharif swept back to power for a third term in office, 14 years after having been ousted from office by Musharraf’s military coup. Third time’s the charm?
With about 124 seats so far, the PML-N will have no trouble winning an absolute majority in the National Assembly all by itself. We can expect that a lot of the 30 or so independent members will quickly defect to the PML-N, who will also be able to count on the support of some of the smaller parties. Therefore, for the third time, Nawaz Sharif will return to office as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
What is to be expected from Nawaz Sharif in the next five years? He has already been in office (twice), although that was nearly 15 years ago and before a long stint in Saudi exile. His terms were perhaps not absolutely disastrous, but he didn’t prove to be particularly competent and certainly didn’t turn out to be any less corrupt than other Pakistani politicians. The PML-N (with Sharif’s brother) have ruled Punjab for the past five years, and the PML-N’s provincial government’s record is generally well regarded.
Nawaz Sharif wants to focus on the economy and economic growth, with vague promises of reforms or more investments in infrastructure projects. It remains to be seen how much it will be able to accomplish on that front, given that the PML-N’s campaign promised the moon on that front: building a high-speed bullet train from Peshawar to Karachi, expanding the highways or building airports. As Mohammed Hanif put it in the aforementioned article from The Guardian: “he has promised motorway connections and airports to towns so small that they still don’t have a proper bus station. Poor people, who couldn’t afford a bicycle at the time of the elections, like to be promised an airport. You never know when you might need it.” A lot of Punjabi voters like Nawaz Sharif because they see him as a competent businessman who knows how to get things done, and they keep hoping that his purported ‘business-style’ or entrepreneurial spirit will translate into growth and affluence.
The Pakistani economy has performed poorly under five years of PPP governance, with relatively low economic growth, inflation (stagflation) and a whole slew of other issues including an energy crisis resulting in load shedding and blackouts. The incoming government will have to live up to high expectations in that regard. It will probably have to strike a deal with the IMF for a new loan, which will entail reforms including more efficient tax collection.
Certainly one of the keys to more robust economic growth is the security situation in the country. Inefficient and bloated bureaucracy with archaic regulations work to discourage potential foreign investors, but the worsening security situation with a war on terror or urban violence (in Karachi) doesn’t attract tons of foreign investment.
Nawaz Sharif’s tone in the campaign was fairly nationalistic and defiant of the United States. He said that the conflict in Afghanistan, which will inevitably and invariably continue to spill over the porous Afghan-Pakistani border, is “America’s war” and doesn’t concern Pakistan. He has also opposed drone strikes. As The Guardian‘s article put it, “in his five years’ rule in Punjab, Sharif’s party has had one policy about the Pakistani Taliban who have been wreaking havoc in parts of Pakistan: please go and do your business elsewhere.” In large part, they have obliged and the Taliban undoubtedly prefer Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N to the defeated PPP-led government. For starters, the Taliban didn’t invite themselves into the PML-N’s campaign this year (read: they didn’t attack them).
Nawaz Sharif wants to negotiate with the Taliban, and there is a chance that those talks will be more fruitful than the previous round of negotiations with the PPP government back in 2009. But working through American-Pakistani relations, the war on terror, Pakistan’s role in the conflict and so forth is an extremely delicate issue. For all his words, it is very probable that realpolitik will prevail over Nawaz Sharif, compelling him to drop the anti-American rhetoric and build a working relationship with the Americans. After all, the last thing any Pakistani government wants is forfeiting the millions and millions in American aid to the military and the country. Like in the 1980s with Zia, Nawaz Sharif’s dream is probably to be Islamist at home while still getting paid by the Americans.
But the civilian government has only so much power over foreign policy. In reality, most of the power over foreign policy lies with the military, who are generally given a free hand over foreign relations and military matters by the civilian government of the day. Nawaz Sharif, back in the 1990s, tried to do things a bit differently, and that was a contributing factor in Musharraf’s 1999 coup. One of Nawaz Sharif’s challenges (among the million others) will be maneuvering with the military. General Ashfaq Kayani’s term at the head of the Pakistani military will end later this year, and Nawaz Sharif will need to appoint his successor. To smoothen things out and prevent a repeat of the 1998-1999 situation, he has already said that he will simply appoint the highest-ranking military official to the post rather than handpicking his own favourite (as he had done, ironically enough, when he picked Musharraf in 1998).
Nawaz Sharif will probably try to improve relations with India. He has invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his inauguration, and he has given definite indications that he wants to improve relations and increase trade with Pakistan’s traditional rival/enemy.
The PML-N’s emphatic victory is not a nationwide landslide or mandate for Nawaz Sharif. His emphatic victory was an emphatic victory in Punjab, the PML-N’s stronghold and the country’s most populous province. The PML-N thoroughly swept the Punjab. The PPP, which had done well in the Saraiki-speaking areas of southern Punjab in 2008, were trounced throughout the region. They won only 2 NA seats in the province. The PML-Q was murdered, taking only two seats in the whole country – not a big surprise as the party died with Musharraf’s regime fading off into history. Nawaz Sharif’s party won 116 of its 124 seats in the Punjab. It won about half of the popular vote in the province. Regionalism remains very salient in Pakistani politics.
Imran Khan’s party, the PTI, actually did pretty well. It didn’t win the election and 30 or so seats is perhaps not all that much, but this is a party which had never won more than one seat in the past and had little existing partisan structure to build upon. They were not expected to win (despite what one might assume from the media’s infatuation with him), so it is a very good result. The PTI will be forming the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), which really seems to love whichever party is up-and-coming at the time (MMA, ANP and now PTI). It won 17 out of 35 NA seats in KPK, accounting for about three-fifths of its seats in the whole country. The party’s very strong performance in KPK and all the Pashtun populated areas was surprising, given that they had been expected to break through in urban Punjab (and take PML-N seats in the process) rather than in KPK. However, the PTI’s Punjabi breakthrough failed to materialize – it won only 8 National Assembly seats in the Punjab and didn’t really do all that well in Punjabi cities such as Lahore (Imran Khan, standing in multiple constituencies, was apparently defeated in Lahore). Its big wave of momentum instead came from Pashtun areas. Imran Khan himself is of Pashtun descent, which helps explain his success with those voters.
The PTI nevertheless established itself as the second party in Punjab, which definitely provides it with a base for growth in the future. However, the PTI is a new party with a charismatic leader but few political roots in the country and little infrastructure. It ran on vaguely populist promises, most of which would have been quite hard to fulfill if the PTI had won. Will the party be able to survive for the next five years? It is uncertain whether the PTI or the PPP will form the official opposition, but regardless the PML-N is absolutely dominant in Islamabad and Punjab and it has little need or use for the other parties. Will the PTI manage to hold together despite these challenges?
The incumbent PPP was trounced. That wasn’t surprising, since everybody (including the PPP) was expecting it. The governing party has been worn down and depleted by five years of power. Almost everybody agreed that they had done a really poor job in government, and their record (or lack thereof) left them very unpopular with many voters. It also didn’t help that because of Taliban attacks on them, the PPP wasn’t really in a position to carry out a real campaign (unlike the PML-N) and was forced to hide rather than actively campaign.
As mentioned above, regionalism remains very real in Pakistani politics. As an example, take the composition of the four provincial legislatures after the election:
- Punjab (293/297): PML-N 214 seats, independents 42 seats, PTI 19 seats, PML-Q 7 seats, PPP 6 seats, Islamists 1 seat, others 4 seats
- Sindh (123/130): PPP 65 seats, MQM 37 seats, PML-F 7 seats, independents 5 seats, PML-N 4 seats, PTI 1 seat, others 4 seats
- KPK (97/99): PTI 35 seats, independents 13 seats, JUI (F) 13 seats, PML-N 12 seats, JI 7 seats, ANP 4 seats, PPP 2 seats, others 11 seats
- Balochistan (50/51): PMAP 10 seats, PML-N 9 seats, Baloch nationalists 9 seats, independents 8 seats, JUI (F) 6 seats, PML-Q 5 seats, others 3 seats
The PML-N won a massive majority in the Punjab’s provincial legislature. In 2008, it had won 171 seats to the PPP’s 107 seats and the PML-Q’s 83 seats. Now it almost holds a three-fourths majority (and, if a few independents join the PML-N, it will have one). The PML-N has total and absolute domination of Punjab.
The PPP resisted fairly well in Sindh, where relatively little changed. The PPP swept rural Sindh besides the Pir’s strongholds which went to PML-F, while the MQM remains in control of Karachi. The PML-N did win seats (unlike in 2008), but it remains a non-entity. Similarly, the PTI failed to make a mark. Therefore, while the PPP was murdered everywhere outside of Sindh, it still managed a respectable performance in its Sindhi strongholds.
KPK saw the most change. The ANP, which had won 48 seats in 2008 and formed the provincial government since then, was wiped out – it won only 4 seats provincially and held on to a single constituency federally. The ANP suffered the brunt of the Taliban’s violence, and its record in office was probably relatively unpopular as well – unsurprising, given that governing KPK seems like a suicidal thing to do. It has been replaced by Imran Khan’s PTI, which won 35 seats in the provincial assembly and will be forming the next provincial government. The Islamist parties had their best results in the province, but they remain very weak compared to 2002. The PML-N has a bit of a foothold in the province, which it retained; the PPP, however, was wiped out.
Balochistan, for a change, was a hot mess. The PMAP (Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party), another Pashtun nationalist party, won the most seats but there’s basically a three-way tie for control of the provincial assembly. Turnout was very low in Baloch-populated areas, but much higher in the Pashtun-populated areas. There is an ongoing separatist conflict in Balochistan, which the media and the world generally keeps silent about or doesn’t really know much about. Many Baloch nationalists have been tortured, abducted or simply “disappeared” by the military.’
As The Guardian put it: “Who needs a federation when you can have so much more fun doing things your own way.”
So, to sum it up, Pakistan held an election and a former Prime Minister returned to power – but only because he managed to clean up in Punjab while remaining quite marginal (or nonexistent) in other parts of the country. The other provinces of the country traditionally resent Punjabi dominance of politics in Pakistan, and with the Punjabi industrialist and political elite back in power at the federal level, there is a chance that if his policies are too partial in favour of Punjab, regional resentment will increase. Furthermore, his rivals – PPP and PTI – have either held or conquered their own provincial strongholds, which they can use to defy the federal government. With the 18th amendment, Pakistan’s provincial governments are more powerful than they were in the past.
Can Pakistan change for the better in the next five years? Optimism is nice, but I can’t help but be quite cynical (and pessimistic) about the whole thing. I prefer to be pleasantly surprised. Nawaz Sharif isn’t some new politician who has fired up crowds with an ambitious or novel agenda. He’s an old-timer (whose two previous governments were aborted) and who is certainly quite corrupt. Even with the best intentions, Pakistan is a tough place to govern – the country is a powder keg Besides the thousands of problems facing any problem, the executive isn’t the only source of power in the country – it faces the military, an activist judiciary, empowered provincial governments, terrorist or religious fundamentalist groups, and many quasi-mafias running around freely in places in Karachi.
Next: BC (Canada) and the Philippines. Stay tuned – apologies for delays in publishing these posts!
General elections were held in Malaysia on May 5, 2013. All 222 seats of the lower house of the Malaysian Parliament, the Dewan Rekyat (House of Representatives) were up for reelection. The lower house’s 222 members are elected in single-member constituencies by FPTP.
Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy which operates, in theory, on the basis of the Westminster System. The monarch, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (often referred to as ‘King’), is elected to a five-year term by the Conference of Rulers, a council made up of the traditional Malay rulers of the nine (out of 13) Malaysian states with a monarch. This makes Malaysia one of the few elective monarchies in the world. In practice, the King’s powers are largely ceremonial: he appoints the Prime Minister, dissolves the lower house, grants royal assent to bills and nominates most members of the upper house (Dewan Negara) on the advice of the Prime Minister. As in other Westminster countries, true executive power is vested in the Prime Minister and his government.
The upper house of the Parliament, the Dewan Negara (Senate) is composed of 26 members elected by the state legislatures and 44 members appointed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister (including four representatives which represent the three federal territories, including Kuala Lumpur). The Dewan Negara has very limited powers. Although both houses of Parliament must pass a bill before it is presented to the monarch for royal assent, the Dewan Negara cannot veto a bill and may only delay passage of the bill (by up to a year). Similarly, the The monarch cannot veto legislation, he may only ask the Parliament to reconsider bills before granting royal assent.
Malaysia is a federation, albeit a very centralized one. It is divided into thirteen states, nine of which have a traditional Malay monarch. The eleven ‘mainland’ states only have exclusive powers over land tenure, the Islamic religion and local government. The states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo have additional powers, including special powers over immigration – Malaysian citizens from the mainland require a passport to enter these two states for a protracted period of time. Each state has a state legislative assembly, whose members are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies, and a Chief Minister who serves as the head of the state executive. Twelve of the thirteen states (all except Sarawak, which voted in 2011) also held state elections on May 5.
Malaysia is, theoretically, a parliamentary democracy. In practice, Malaysian politics since independence (in 1957) have been dominated by a single alliance (itself heavily dominated by a single party); in turn, this ruling alliance has used the levers of power to control politics and set the rules of the game. The Electoral Commission is widely seen as being subservient to the governing alliance, which has used gerrymandering, vote fraud, phantom voters and intimidation to maintain its power over the years. The Prime Minister and his government are all-powerful, reducing the Parliament to an echo chamber which rubber stamps the government’s bills without asking too many questions.
Race, Identity and Ethnicity: The Core of Malaysian Politics and Society
The keys to understanding Malaysian politics and society are race, ethnicity and identity.
67% of the Malaysian population are officially referred to as Bumiputra, most of them ethnic Malays. According to Article 160 of the Malaysian constitution, Malays are Muslim, speak the Malay language and “conform to Malay culture”. The native indigenous population (‘tribes’) of Sabah and Sarawak on North Borneo are also treated as bumiputra for official purposes; however, the small Orang Asli indigenous population in Malaya are not treated as bumiputra and suffer from discrimination.
The bumiputra receive preferential treatment and have benefited from racially-based affirmative action programs. Article 153 of the constitution safeguards the “special position” of the bumiputras and establishes quotas for them in the federal public service, federal education scholarships, tertiary education enrollment and federal trade and business licenses.
About 25% of the population are Chinese, who came to Malaysia in three waves. The earliest Chinese immigrants settled in the Straits (Malacca) region in the 15th and 16th centuries, but most immigrated in the 19th and 20th centuries as coolies. The second wave of immigration was encouraged by Malaya’s British colonial rulers, who used the Chinese to work in tin mines and rubber plantations. While most arrived poor, the Chinese population rapidly gained prominence in trade and business (banking, insurance) to the point that the Chinese formed Malaysia’s economic and business elite around the time of independence.
7% of the population is Indian. Indians have been living in Malaysia for hundreds of years, but the largest wave of immigration came alongside the second wave of Chinese immigration when Malaya became a profitable British possession. The Indians – most of them Tamil – were imported as indentured labourers to work on rubber plantations. Perhaps not to the extent of the Chinese, Indians in Malaysia are nonetheless fairly economically powerful in the county. They are particularly over-represented in healthcare (doctors etc).
Malay society had difficulty coping with Chinese immigrants, who they viewed as a threat to their majority status, their religion and the Malay language. British colonial rule generally protected Malays, recognizing the authority of traditional rulers (Sultans) over customary law and religion (although they were generally powerless against the British authorities), and their policies purportedly favoured the Malays (public education for Malays, limited preference in the civil service). These ostensibly ‘pro-Malay’ policies, however, only benefited to a small elite and they were used by the British to protect their power rather than favour the Malays.
Nevertheless, Malay nationalism became important in the early twentieth century, in part a response to the fears bred by Chinese and Indian immigration and the perceived threat they posed to the Malay people. In 1946, the British created the Malayan Union, transforming all of Malaya (peninsular modern Malaysia) into a protectorate which reduced the sovereignty of the traditional rulers. Furthermore, the new structure wished to extend citizenship (by way of jus soli) to all Malayans, including the Chinese and Indian. The creation of the Malayan Union boosted the cause of Malay nationalism.
In the years before independence, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a Malay nationalist party founded in 1946, had become the dominant political force in Malaya. The UMNO represented a conservative and elitist brand of Malay nationalism, primarily concerned with Malayan independence (unlike some on the left who supported a Greater Indonesia), protecting the traditional Malay rulers (Sultans), promoting and upholding Malay supremacy (Ketuanan Melayu). The UMNO had opposed Britain’s formation of the quasi-colonial Malayan Union in 1946, and the UMNO’s opposition pressured the British to dissolve this short-lived scheme in 1948 to create the Federation of Malaya, which restored the powers of the traditional rulers. The UMNO’s support had also been crucial to Britain during the most violent part of the Malayan Emergency (a predominantly Chinese Communist insurgency between 1948 and 1960). The Federation of Malaya gained independence in 1957.
Independence involved a “contract” between the Malays and non-Malays. Citizenship, and by extension equality under the law, was extended to all residents regardless of race/ethnicity, and the constitution prohibited discrimination on racial grounds (except for Article 153). The Malay nationalists dropped the most problematic “Malay supremacist” aspects of Ketuanan Melayu. In return, non-Malays acquiesced to Article 153 and other elements which defined the new nation as an officially multi-racial but clearly Malay-led and dominated country (Malay as the official language, Islam as the official religion). Therefore, the non-Malays agreed to alleviate the inequalities in economic power between Malays and non-Malays (the latter controlled the bulk of the economy) and recognize the Malay nature of the new state in exchange for citizenship and equality.
The UMNO formed a parochial and sectarian coalition, the Alliance, with the Malaysian Chinese Alliance (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). The MCA had been founded in 1949 by conservative Chinese linked to the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT); they strongly opposed the Communist Party which was predominantly Chinese in its ethnic makeup. The MIC was founded in 1946. The UMNO, MCA and MIC found common cause in opposing British rule and supporting independence. The MCA and MIC agreed to the aforementioned “contract” between Malays and non-Malays, which they and UMNO argued was the only way to ensure racial peace in the country. At the time of independence, most non-Malays accepted the constitutional compromise. Many felt that Article 153 would only be a temporary measure, as it had been originally envisioned by the British commission which drafted the text. Besides, the MCA and MIC felt that the “contract” was a fair trade-off - jus soli citizenship was seen as a major concession by the Malays.
The Alliance (UMNO in particular) was the dominant political force in the last elections before independence, and it came to dominate the politics of the new country after independence in 1957. One of the main opposition parties was the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), a Malay Islamist party. The PAS was founded in 1956, the successor of Islamist Malay nationalist movements which placed Malay nationalism in a Pan-Islamist context. Although UMNO has sometimes played up its Islamic credentials, the UMNO generally adheres to what it has called Islam Hadhari (‘civilizational Islam’) which is more moderate.
Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore merged with peninsular Malaya to create Malaysia in 1963. Article 153′s protection for ethnic Malays were included to cover Sabah and Sarawak natives (Kadazan-Dusun, Iban etc) even if many of them were animists or Christians rather than Muslims. The merger with Singapore, which was heavily Chinese, heightened tensions in the new federation. Malays feared that they were closer and closer to becoming a minority in ‘their’ country and felt that the merger with Singapore would further worsen their existing economic disadvantage vis-a-vis the Chinese. At the same time, Malay dominance was confirmed with an education reform in 1961 which decreed that only Malay and English would be the languages of instruction in secondary schools, and although communities could maintain Chinese and Tamil primary schools, all students needed to learn Malay and conform to a “Malayan curriculum”. The entry exam for the University of Malaya would be in Malay, even if most courses at the institution were in English.
Singapore’s Chief Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, became a vocal critic of Ketuanan Melayu and promoted an idea of “Malaysian Malaysia” which was anathema to most of the UMNO but which also opposed by the MCA. Lee’s vocal opposition to Malay supremacy heightened and radicalized racial tensions and quickly led to a break in relations between the UMNO and Lee’s People’s Action Party (PAP). The non-aggression pact between the two parties was broken when the UMNO ran in the 1963 elections in Singapore and when the PAP ran candidates on the mainland in the 1964 Malaysian election. In both cases, the UMNO and PAP’s attempts to encroach on the other side’s turf ended as massive failures, but the break led to a major deterioration in the situation. Eventually, Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965.
In the 1969 elections, the Alliance – particularly the MCA – suffered heavily loses, winning only 45% of the vote although they retained their parliamentary supremacy. The PAS and two new predominantly Chinese parties – the liberal Gerakan and the left-leaning Democratic Action Party (DAP, the Malaysian branch of the Singaporean PAP) – made major gains. A Gerakan-DAP victory rally turned rowdy as the Chinese crowds taunted Malay bystanders and hurled racial epithets at them. The next day, angry Malay crowds burned over 6000 Chinese homes and businesses and killed 184 people. The government declared a state of emergency and suspended the newly-elected Parliament, leading to direct rule by the executive branch. At the same time, UMNO hardliners (ultras) who had a more racially exclusive and radical view of Malay supremacy, clamored for Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s resignation – they viewed the ‘father of independence’ as being too soft on non-Malays. Tunku Abdul Rahman, who had been in office since independence, resigned in late 1970 in favour of Tun Abdul Razak, who welcomed the UMNO ultras – such as future Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – back into the party.
The government, ruling with emergency powers, stepped up repressive measures. It strengthened the old Internal Security Act (ISA), which gave the state broad powers to detain anyone suspected of being a threat to national security for up to 60 days and gave the minister authority to detain individuals for up to two years without trial. It amended the Sedition Act, which bans and criminalizes “seditious” discourse. The Sedition Act also bans any public discourse which questions Article 153 and other “matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative” established by the constitution. The Sedition Act acts as a ‘gag law’ which prevents MPs from debating Article 153.
Tun Abdul Razak’s premiership was defined by the New Economic Policy (NEP), a racially-based affirmative action program aimed at correcting the socioeconomic disparity between the Chinese and Malays. In 1971, the bumiputra controlled only 2.4% of the economy, the NEP set a 30% target. The NEP went beyond Article 153, expanding preferential policies to the entire economy. Malays are entitled to a 7% discount on propert, regardless of their income (lower-income non-Malays receive no such discounts). There were quotas for bumiputra students in post-secondary institutions until 2002. Companies listed on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange must have 30% Malay ownership; a number of profitable government-run mutual funds are available to bumiputra buyers only; most government tenders require that companies submitting tenders be bumiputra owned; and bumiputra have preferential access to imported cars. Unlike Article 153, the NEP represented direct state intervention into the economy to promote and enhance Malay privilege.
Parliament reconvened in 1971, and the Alliance was reformed as the Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) in 1973. The BN was an expanded coalition which included the liberal Chinese Gerakan and the Islamist Malay PAS, although PAS left the coalition in 1978. Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak died in 1976 and was succeeded by Hussein Onn. Hussein Onn resigned due to ill health in 1981, and he was succeeded by his Deputy Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, a prominent ‘ultra’ within UMNO.
Mahathir’s long premiership marked the cementing of Malay-UMNO hegemony and an autocratic, corrupt and centralist regime. Mahathir inherited the NEP and continued affirmative action policies. Economically, the country experienced solid economic growth in the 1980s (except 1985-1986), in part thanks to the government’s policies. It sought to protect Malaysian industry, like a nascent auto industry, through protective tariffs. At the same time, it privatized a number of state-owned companies at home – these privatizations were often murky and enriched government supporters.
Mahathir faced challenges to his leadership and to Malay hegemony in 1987. Within UMNO, Mahathir had made enemies and he was challenged by an old rival, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, for the party’s leadership in 1987. Ultimately, Mahathir’s faction – styled ‘Team A’ – prevailed over Razaleigh by a hair, but the party split into two factions. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Razaleigh’s appeal of a lower court’s decision (which, by declaring UMNO an illegal organization due to some branches not being formally registered, allowed Mahathir to create a new UMNO which the old UMNO’s assets with it), the government proceeded to sack the chief justice and other judges and removed the court’s power to conduct judicial review. In the 1990 election, Razaleigh’s dissident party – supported by Tunku Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn – did not pose a serious threat to the BN-UMNO’s power, it won only 15% and 8 seats
At the same time, the government’s decision to appoint non-Chinese speakers to administer Chinese schools provoked an outcry from the Chinese community – including the MCA and Gerakan (UMNO’s two coalition allies). Inflammatory rhetoric swelled on both sides, with UMNO radicals threatening violence and bloodshed. The government responded heavy-handedly, invoking the ISA to arrest opposition leaders.
The NEP expired in 1990. The NEP had fallen short of its 30% target, but Malay control of the country’s economy increased substantially from 2% in 197o to 20% in 1990. Supporters of the NEP credit it with correcting socioeconomic disparities, reducing poverty and increasing the wealth of Malays without negatively affecting Chinese and Indian Malaysians. However, the NEP and subsequent forms of affirmative actions have been widely criticized for having reduced non-Malays to ‘second class citizens’. Furthermore, while the NEP created a new class of Malay businessmen and millionaires, it was in good part due to cronyism. Economic benefits, critics charged, accrued only to the politically connected and widened the gap between rich and poor Malays. The government continued most of the NEP’s policies with the National Development Policy (NDP).
Malaysia experienced rapid economic growth in the late 80s and early 90s (9-10% GDP growth), which continued until the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Most of the credit for the economic growth in the 90s went to Anwar Ibrahim, a former Islamic student leader who had risen to become finance minister (in 1991) and Deputy Prime Minister (in 1993). With Anwar, the government cut corporate taxes and liberalized laws to attract foreign investment. The early 90s were also a period of political liberalization and detente in tense racial relations. The government toned down the old Ketuanan Melayu rhetoric and spoke of reconciliation and common destinies in a multi-racial country.
When the Asian financial crisis hit the country in 1997, Anwar supported the IMF’s austerity policies (spending cuts, raising interest rates). Feeling that Anwar’s policies had exacerbated the crisis, Mahathir sacked Anwar and dropped the IMF’s policies. Anwar was ambitious and started posing a threat to Mahathir’s control of UMNO. Indeed, Anwar and his supporters had started speaking out to denounce (widespread) corruption and cronyism in the ruling party. Anwar was arrested and detained under the ISA in September 1998. In April 1999, he was sentenced to six years in jail for corruption. Two months later, he was charged with sodomy and sentenced to nine years in jail. The two sentences would be served consecutively.
In 1999, an opposition coalition (Barisan Alternatif) formed by the DAP, the PAS and a new party led by Anwar’s wife won 40% of the vote against 56.5% for the BN.
Mahathir stepped down in 2003, handing over power to his anointed successor and Deputy Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi. On an appealing anti-corruption platform, the new Prime Minister won a landslide over a divided opposition in the 2004 election, winning 90% of the seats in the lower house.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was released from prison in 2004, after the sodomy verdict was partially overturned. Anwar was still banned from participating in politics for another five years, since Malaysian law bans political activity for a period of five years after the end of a sentence.
Affirmative action policies in education were replaced by “Malaysian meritocracy” in 2003. While the government argued that its new policy gave every Malaysian, regardless of race, equal access to post-secondary education, critics argued that the new ‘meritocracy’ was sham because admission to university is based on two parallel examination systems (a one-year course or a two-year course), which in practice favours bumiputra students who are disproportionately enrolled in the easier one-year program (matriculation). Continuing the trend started under Mahathir in the 1990s, the government’s rhetoric generally became more multi-racial, emphasizing Malaysian “nationhood” rather than purely Malay culture has it had in the 1970s and 1980s.
Abdullah Badawi was a fairly ineffective Prime Minister, and he faced heavy criticism from his predecessor, who remained active in the background. The opposition made historic gains in the 2008 election, winning 82 seats in the 222-seat lower house. For the first time, the BN lost its two-thirds majority which had allowed it to change the constitution. Anwar Ibrahim was still ineligible when the 2008 election was held, in March, but he returned to Parliament in August 2008 after easily winning a by-election in his old constituency, held by his wife. Anwar faced new sodomy allegations in June 2008, but the court finally found him not guilty in January 2012. Like in the first sodomy trial in 1999, Anwar has maintained his innocence and denounced the charges as being politically motivated. The international community, which holds Anwar in high regard, has been critical of the government’s alleged intervention in the trials.
Abdullah Badawi, pressured by Mahathir and other UMNO leaders, was forced out of office in April 2009 and replaced by Najib Razak, his Deputy Prime Minister who had held various portfolios since the 1990s.
Najib Razak has styled himself as a modern, progressive reformer who has sought to downplay old ethnic tensions, liberalize the economy and loosen some of the old restrictive laws.
Najib introduced wide-reaching economic reforms, aimed at attracting more foreign investment and modernizing the economy. The old minimum quota for Malay ownership in publicly traded companies was lowered from 30% to 12.5%, while additional reforms loosened rules on foreign investment (allowing foreign investors to hold majority stakes in most enterprises). Najib’s Economic Transformation Programme, which aims to make Malaysia a high-income economy by 2020, seeks to boost private enterprise. The government has also implemented wide-reaching reforms to the country’s government subsidies program, either cutting subsidies or eliminating them entirely as was the case for petrol, diesel and sugar subsidies. Malaysia’s economy is growing by around 5% per year.
Najib’s government has pushed forward a fairly ambitious agenda of political transformation, aimed at dismantling repressive security laws which had allowed the BN/UMNO to maintain its hegemony in the past. In 2012, the government repealed the ISA, which had given previous governments wide powers to detain their opponents on flimsy political grounds. It has been replaced by a law which still allows detention for preventive reasons, but for a shorter period of time and on stricter grounds (subject to judicial oversight). The Banishment Act, which allowed the government to deport any non-citizens which it deemed to be a threat to the country, was repealed. The Print and Publications Act was amended so that media organizations no longer need to renew their license every year, which the government argues will make for a freer media. The Universities and University Colleges Act, which had banned students from joining political parties and engaging in political parties, has been amended to allow students to join political parties. Yet it still prevents them from engaging in partisan activities on campus. Moreover, any student can still be barred from joining any organisation that the university deems to be “unsuitable to [his] interests and well-being”. Finally, the government has announced that it will repeal the Sedition Act and replace it with a “National Harmony Act”, although the contents of the new bill are still unknown.
The opposition has tended to be cautiously optimistic about these developments, but they have lamented that some of Najib’s ‘major’ reforms might be little more than cosmetic changes. For example, in July 2011, protesters who demanded electoral transparency were met with tear gas and water cannons. Furthermore, the opposition claims that UMNO itself is unreconstructed, with a strong conservative Malay base which blocks any attempts for more radical changes (such as dismantling affirmative action/NEP).
Najib leads the Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN), the governing alliance of parochial and sectarian-based parties which has governed Malaysia since 1957 and took its current name in 1973. UMNO is, by far, the hegemonic force in the BN equation, dominating all of its junior partners and imposing its direction and agenda on the rest of the coalition.
The UMNO needs no presentation. The three other main national players in the BN are the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Gerakan (Malaysian People’s Movement Party) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). The first two cater to the Chinese electorate, while the later represents Indians; however, in both cases, their legitimacy and support with their intended electorate has been badly weakened by their subordination to the Malay UMNO. Furthermore, all parties have been crippled by years of infighting which have left them pretty much entirely useless. Nevertheless, the MCA remains pretty influential outside of politics – it controls Malaysia’s best-selling English daily newspaper, The Star, and also controls a major Chinese newspaper.
The BN includes nine other parties in addition to the four aforementioned parties, and all but one of them are regional parties based in Sabah or Sarawak – and once again, they mostly represent specific ethnic groups. In Sarawak, UMNO does not run candidates and the political scene is entirely dominated by various regional parties affiliated to the BN – notably Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), which has governed governed the region continuously since the party’s creation in 1973.
The opposition is a three-party coalition known as Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance, PR). The PR was founded before the 2008 election, in the footsteps of a quasi-identical opposition coalition which did quite well in the 1999 election but collapsed before the 2004 election. The PR is made up of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
The PKR is Anwar Ibrahim’s party, founded in 1999 after Anwar’s expulsion from UMNO. Although the PKR’s leadership and clientele is largely Malay, it is probably one of the most multi-racial parties in the very racially polarized world of Malaysian politics. PKR largely focuses on corruption, ‘change’, social justice and democratic reform; a platform which tends to appeal to young secular and/or afffluent urban Malay voters, notably in Kuala Lumpur. Critics often deride the PKR as a family business: Anwar is the parliamentary leader; the party’s president is Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail; Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar is a PKR MP in Kuala Lumpur.
The Democratic Action Party (DAP) was founded in 1965 as the Malaysian branch of Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) after Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965. Whereas the PAP has shifted from socialism to conservative free-market economics, the DAP has remained a left-leaning social democratic party and a member of the Socialist International. The DAP is a predominantly Chinese party, and finds most support in Chinese constituencies (notably in Kuala Lumpur or the Chinese-plurality state of Penang); although it has a few Indian MPs and leaders. Having consistently been in opposition to UMNO since the ill-fated 1969 election, the DAP strongly opposes pro-Malay affirmative action policies (the NEP) and adheres to the 1960s idea of ‘Malaysian Malaysia’, developed by the PAP’s Lee Kuan Yew. The DAP has been accused of racism and chauvinism by the governing parties.
The PAS, as briefly described above, was founded in 1956 as the successor of Islamist Malay nationalist movements which placed Malay nationalism in a Pan-Islamist context. The PAS ostensibly seeks to establish an Islamic state or at least a state structured around Islamic religious law and traditions, but it has tended to moderate its Islamism because of its alliance with the DAP and PKR. However, unlike both of those parties, it has kept silent about affirmative action policies. Because of its alliance with the Chinese DAP and the secular PKR, some Islamic clerics and leaders – a few of which are affiliated to the BN – have been critical of the PAS, which they claim has lost touch with their Islamic values.
Both parties led relatively similar campaigns, both pledging to reduce the cost of living, invest more in social programs (such as healthcare, education, public housing) and crack down on corruption.
The government spent the few months before the election doling out the goodies: various public works projects (in marginal constituencies…), cash handouts for poorer families, pay raises for civil servants and promises of affordable housing or new highways.
The main difference between the BN and PR was affirmative action. The PR, specifically the PKR and DAP (the PAS remained silent), pledged to dismantle affirmative action policies (the NEP) which have favoured Malays and other bumiputra. The opposition, claiming that the NEP has been perverted, it has ended up favouring a select few with little trickle-down effect to other Malays and it has dulled their incentives to excel; they wish to replace the NEP by a real meritocracy, which they claim would encourage Malays to excel and leveling the playing field. The government’s official discourse, in recent years, has been less openly Malay nationalist than in the past (although many UMNO hardliners continue to talk in tones of Ketuanan Melayu). It still opposes doing away with affirmative action entirely, arguing that significant gaps between the ethnic groups still exist. At times, some UMNO leaders – including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – have lamented that some Malays have treated their privileges as a right and neglected their studies. The government has also spearheaded a massive promotional/PR campaign, 1Malaysia, stressing national unity and the country’s multi-racial identity. The opposition has said that 1Malaysia is nothing but another gimmick by the BN; keeping in line with the Malaysian tradition of politicians accusing their opponents of being Israeli lackeys and spies, Anwar said something about 1Malaysia being inspired by an Israeli campaign (One Israel was Ehud Barak’s political coalition in 1999).
BN very much ran two parallel campaigns, reflecting UMNO’s long-standing mastery of political communication. On the one hand, Najib targeted urban and secular voters by presenting himself as a modern and progressive reformer who has been boldly modernizing Malaysian politics since 2009. On the other hand, in rural Malay areas, UMNO ran a whole other campaign – one designed to scare Malay voters away from PR and reassuring its conservative and ethnonationalist grassroots that UMNO will continue to champion Malay rights. UMNO, led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has campaigned alongside the Malay nationalist (many critics would say racist and extremist) Perkasa organization. In its time-honoured strategy of playing races against one another, UMNO tried to warn Chinese voters from voting for the opposition by saying that the PAS would impose Islamic law on the Chinese and that dismantling affirmative action would spark race riots like in 1969 (UMNO has often used the threat of race riots to justify the NEP and affirmative action). At the same time, a former PAS cleric now associated with the governing alliance exhorted Muslims (Malays) to vote for BN, saying – bluntly – that an opposition victory would mean “equal rights for all”.
Turnout was 84.84%, the highest turnout in decades (according to IDEA’s data). The results were:
Barisan Nasional 47.83% (-2.44%) winning 133 seats (-7)
UMNO 29.32% winning 88 seats (+9)
PBB (Sarawak) 2.10% winning 14 seats (nc)
MCA 8.14% winning 7 seats (-8)
PRS (Sarawak) 0.54% winning 6 seats (nc)
MIC 2.64% winning 4 seats (+1)
PBS (Sabah) 0.8% winning 4 seats (+1)
SPDP (Sarawak) 0.5% winning 4 seats (nc)
UPKO (Sabah) 0.6% winning 3 seats (-1)
Gerakan 1.38% winning 1 seat (-1)
SUPP (Sarawak) 1.21% winning 1 seat (-5)
PBRS (Sabah) 0.08% winning 1 seat (nc)
PPP 0.07% winning 1 seat (nc)
LDP (Sabah) winning 0 seats (-1)
Pakatan Rakyat 50.87% (+4.12%) winning 89 seats (+7)
DAP 15.71% winning 38 seats (+10)
PKR 20.39% winning 30 seats (-1)
PAS 14.77% winning 21 seats (-2)
Independents 1.75% winning 0 seats (nc)
The governing alliance, in power since Malaysian independence in 1957, was reelected to yet another term in office. It was, however, as The Economist put it rather eloquently “a tawdry victory”. Indeed, the BN was reelected and holds about 59% of the seats in the new Parliament, but it was also the BN’s worst result in its existence – even worse than the previous record low, set in the last election in 2008. In fact, the BN actually lost the popular vote to the opposition, winning only 47.8% of the vote against 50.9% for the PR.
Therefore, the government lost the election with only 48% of the vote but won nearly 60% of the seats in the Parliament; a result which reflects the extent of malapportionment and gerrymandering in Malaysia, which have given the BN a structural advantage going into any election. Constituencies boundaries are gerrymandered as to give an advantage to the governing alliance. However, the bigger issue is malapportionment – the states which favour the governing alliance are overrepresented, as are the rural Malay seats where the UMNO has strong support. For example, the most populous state in the country, Selangor (5.4 million), which also happens to be an opposition base, has 22 seats. Sarawak, which has a population of 2.4 million, elects 31 MPs. Similarly, the states of Johor (3.2 million), Sabah (3.1 million) and Perak (2.2 million) all return more MPs than Selangor despite having a substantially smaller population. These four aforementioned states also tend to be government strongholds, particularly the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.
The largest swings in this election came from Chinese constituencies. Whereas the opposition parties had won about 55-56% of the vote in predominantly Chinese constituencies (constituencies where both candidates are from Chinese parties) in the 2008 election, they won 64% of the vote and took all but 5 of the 45 seats in which both BN and PR candidates came from the Chinese parties. While UMNO’s vote held its popular vote from the last election and actually won 9 more seats than in the 2008 election, the Chinese parties of BN (MCA, Gerakan, SUPP) suffered the brunt of the coalition’s loses – as had already been the case in 2008 (the MCA already lost 16 seats in 2008, while Gerakan had lost 8 seats then). Similarly, the Chinese DAP was the opposition party which gained the most – it gained 10 seats and its share of the popular vote increased from 13.8% to 15.7% (the PKR’s vote increased from 18.6% to 20.4%, the PAS vote barely increased). At the state level, the PR also made sizable gains in Johor, where the Chinese vote had held up better for the government in 2008 than it had in Penang. The DAP won 4 seats in the state, up from only one in 2008. In the state legislature, the DAP won 13 seats – up from only 4 in 2008. The opposition’s campaign focused on scrapping affirmative action policies clearly appealed to the vast majority of Chinese voters. The obliteration – for the second time in a row – of the BN’s Chinese parties (MCA, Gerakan) places their mere existence into jeopardy.
Nevertheless, the result was a bit disappointing for Anwar Ibrahim and the opposition. They had really felt that they could actually win this election, and they had gone all-in to win it. Anwar even put his own political career on the line. The opposition did win the popular vote, but they only gained seven seats – and all of these gains were made by the DAP with the Chinese vote.
The two “Malay parties” of the PR – PKR and PAS – actually lost seats. The PAS suffered rather major setbacks in Kedah, where the BN/UMNO regained control of the state government which it had lost to PAS in 2008 (overall, PAS lost 7 seats in the state legislature, all to BN; it lost all but one of its six federal MPs); and in Kelantan, the PAS stronghold, where the BN (UMNO) gained 5 seats in the state legislature from the Islamist party. It definitely appears as if the UMNO’s “parallel” campaign in rural Malay areas, playing on ethnic/racial fears and stoking Malay nationalist sentiments, worked out quite well for the party – far more than the 1Malaysia/Najib-the-progressive-reformer stuff did in urban and Chinese areas.
The PR failed to make the gains it would have needed in rural Malay/bumiputra seats in peninsular Malaya and, more importantly, in Sabah and Sarawak. In the two oil-rich Borneo states, both real BN strongholds, the DAP gained urban Chinese constituencies but the PKR and PAS failed to gain the rural seats.
The PR is quite bitter over the loss of these seats, claiming that it lost marginal Malay constituencies because of the BN’s dirty tricks and its generous distribution of goodies (free food, drink, straight cash and even raffling cars; voters in Penang also got a performance of Gangnam Style from PSY himself at a BN rally!). Anwar has said that his coalition considers the election fraudulent and that the election commission failed (again). The opposition also claimed that the government brought it workers from Bangladesh to vote for them. This claim might appear a bit extraneous, but there was a big scandal in Sabah a few years ago where the government gave Malaysian ID cards to many foreigners/immigrants in return for their votes (there is currently a Royal Commission investigating the subject).
At the state level, the BN won 275 state legislators against 229 for the opposition (once again, the BN-ruled states tend to have a slightly larger state legislature; and Sarawak, a BN stronghold, did not hold state elections). The opposition (PAS) lost the state of Kedah, which it had gained from the BN in the last election. However, the opposition parties now have a stranglehold on the three states they still govern – urban Selangor (Kuala Lumpur is a federal territory enclaved within the state, but federal territories have no elected legislature), where they have 79% of the seats; Chinese-plurality Penang where they hold a three-quarters majority and the Islamist stronghold of Kelantan where the opposition still holds a 73% majority (smaller, as noted above, than in 2008). They came within two seats of winning a majority in Terengganu, which had been governed by the PAS between 1959 and 1961 and again between 1999 and 2004. The opposition also made substantial gains in Johor (+12) and Sabah (+10), although the BN is still firmly in control in both states, especially in Sabah where they still hold 80% of the seats despite losing 10 seats! The opposition lost ground, substantially, in Kedah and Kelantan, and lost one seat in Negeri Sembilan (once again, the DAP gained but the Malay PKR and PAS lost ground).
The opposition’s support is threefold: a large urban element, an ever larger Chinese element and a slightly smaller conservative Islamic element in some states. The urban middle-classes, including many urban Malays, are generally more concerned about corruption, good governance and cost of living rather than the BN’s old play on racial and religious identities. The opposition won all but two of Kuala Lumpur’s 11 MPs and it swept the extensively urbanized state of Selangor. Given that the Chinese population tends to be mostly urban, the two elements tend to go hand in hand. The opposition swept the urban Chinese vote in Kuala Lumpur, George Town, Ipoh, Malacca and Johor. There is also an element of conservative Islamic support in the opposition’s coalition. The Islamic party has tended to be quite powerful in Kelantan, Kedah and Terengganu – three relatively rural Malay states. The conservative Islamic tradition in those states is perhaps due to their status under British colonial rule prior to 1946 – these states, along with Johor and tiny Perlis, formed the ‘Unfederated Malay States’ – British protectorates but British rule over these states was less direct than in the Federated Malay States (Pahang, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan).
These results could place Prime Minister Najib Razak is a difficult position, similar to how his predecessor (Badawi) was forced to resign after the BN’s loses in the 2008 election. Most UMNO hardliners never liked Najib to begin with and only halfheartedly backed his reformist and moderate agenda in the hopes that they would allow the BN to win this election. While the BN did win the election, many UMNO hardliners might turn on Najib given the loses incurred by the BN. The UMNO, including Najib, has already blamed the government’s loses on a “Chinese wave” (analysts say it was more of a “urban wave” than anything else) for the opposition. The hardliners, like in 1969, will probably look to oust Najib – perceived as too soft and moderate – and restructure the governing coalition as a defender of Malay interests. Their argument is that Najib’s reformism and moderation on racial affairs failed as the Chinese vote still went to the opposition in droves. Anyhow, the BN is now basically an exclusively Malay affair – the MCA was decimated, and the UMNO and its various Sabah/Sarawak playthings are even more hegemonic within the coalition. It can no longer seriously and legitimately claim that it is a national coalition when it has become an ethnic Malay party. There is no longer substantial Chinese acquiescence for UMNO’s policies, a role which had been played by the MCA and Gerakan in the past.
The BN won another term in office, the preordained result of every Malaysian election since independence; but the result shows that the governing coalition is really nearing the end of its hegemony. It was kept in office thanks to its time-honoured ability to play on ethnic/racial sentiments and appeal to Malay nationalism; but above all only by the simple fact that the electoral system is basically rigged in its favour because of gross malapportionment.
Malaysia is as ethnically polarized as ever, with a quasi-homogeneously Malay governing alliance and an opposition with a distinctively Chinese character. If Najib is able to hold his chair against his party’s hardliners, he might choose to continue his reformist policies; if he is replaced by somebody closer to UMNO’s Malay nationalist hardliners, then the government might prove less friendly towards ‘modernization’. At the same time, the opposition’s defeat begs the question of whether or not Anwar Ibrahim will (or can) continue to lead the opposition. The opposition might benefit from a fresher face, given how it appeals in good part to younger voters; but does it actually have such a face?
Parliamentary elections were held in Greenland on March 12, 2013. All 31 members of Greenlandic Parliament (Inatsisartut/Landsting), elected for four year terms by proportional representation were up for reelection. Greenland is a constituent country within Denmark. It was granted home rule in 1979, and was granted extensive autonomy and self-rule in 2009 following a referendum in 2008. Denmark retains control of foreign affairs, national defense, the police force, the judiciary and monetary policy (Denmark provides a block grant which still accounts for over half of public spending by the regional government). Greenlandic is now the sole official language, and the regional government has full control over the island’s rich subsoil resources. Despite being part of Denmark, Greenland is not part of the EU – it withdrew from the EEC in 1985.
The vast majority (85-88%) of Greenland’s population are Inuits, who speak Greenlandic, an Eskimo-Aleut language. The remaining 12% or so are European Danish immigrants. Huge swathes of Greenland are covered by a vast ice sheet, although climate change is slowly reducing the size of the ice sheet. All settlements are concentrated along the ice-free coast, and almost all of these settlements are located along the western coast. Most of remote northeastern Greenland is unincorporated, forming the Northeast Greenland National Park.
Greenland was colonized by Denmark beginning in the 1700s, and was ruled by Danish colonial administrators until 1953 (it was occupied by the US during World War II). During this time, Danish was the language of the colonial administrators and a small local elite (Danes born in Greenland or assimilated Inuits), while Greenlandic remained widely used in small Inuit hamlets and was taught in schools and used in churches. After Greenland was integrated into Denmark as a county in 1953, a modernization campaign was launched resulting in major migration, often only semi-voluntary, from hamlets to larger urban centres. The government also promoted the Danish language, pushing an aggressive ‘danishification’ campaign which saw Danish rather than Greenlandic taught in schools. Greenland finally gained home rule in 1973. The new regional government reversed the linguistic policies, instead driving a Greenlandization/inuitization campaign which replaced Danish with Greenlandic in schools. In 1994, Danish was relegated to a foreign language in all schools outside the capital, Nuuk, which has a large Danish minority.
Most Greenlanders speak both Greenlandic and Danish, some Inuits even speak only Greenlandic. Nevertheless, Danish is still widely used in business and administration and it remains associated with the upper social strata in local society. Unilingual Greenlandic speakers are often at the lowest level, with poor education and either unemployed or with a low-paying job. Bilinguals and unilingual Danes tend to form the business, political, social and cultural elites. The local population faces challenges such as low education, a lack of opportunities, low wages, unemployment and crime.
Greenland’s natural governing party between 1979 and 2009 was Siumut (Forward), a left-wing social democratic party which had led the charge for home rule in the 1970s. Being in government so long, it was accussed of corruption and nepotism in administration. Such issues contributed to its defeat in the 2009 election, won by Inuit Ataqatigiit (Inuit Community/Community of the People), a socialist and separatist which was founded in 1976. The IA’s leader, Kuupik Kleist, became Prime Minister.
The Democrats (Demokraatit) and Atassut (Feeling of Community) both lost heavily in the 2009 election, losing about 10% of the vote apiece from the 2005 elections. The social liberal Democrats are a predominantly Danish party which oppose independence, most of its leaders are Danes but it does not receive homogeneous support from Danish expats in Greenland. It won 16% in 2002 and then placed second, with 22.8% in 2005, but its support fell to 12.7%. Atassut, a right-wing and agrarian party which is similarly opposed to independence, used to be the main centre-right rival to Siumut in the 1980s, winning over 40% of the vote. But since the 1990s the party has been in free fall, having seen its support shrink from 30% in 1991-1995 to barely 11% and 3 seats in 2009. The smaller Kattusseqatigiit (Association of Candidates, K) has been represented in Parliament since 1995, peaking at 4 seats in 1999 and one seat since then. It is primarily a personalist party led by Anthon Frederiksen, the former mayor of Ilulissat. IA formed a coalition with the Democrats and K after the last election.
Greenland has rich and, to a certain extent, untapped mineral riches – both onshore and offshore. Oil companies have already spent billions exploring for large reserves of offshore oil. On land, mining companies are clamoring for access to gold and iron ore deposits; but also large and unexploited ‘rare earth’ elements which are key ingredients in modern smartphones or weapons. The IA government has stuck to its zero-tolerance policy on uranium mining, which bans the mining or sell of radioactive resources such as uranium. For a remote and sparsely populated country economically dependent on fishing and its former colonial master, Greenland is now swept up by the winds of change as it finds itself at the heart of a mineral boom with major geopolitical ramifications. Foreign mining companies, including giants such as Alcoa, London Mining PLC, are battling for mining concessions. China has taken a particular interest in Greenland, especially in its rare earth reserves. Although China currently has 90% of the world’s rare earth elements, they will not be able to keep up with Chinese, let alone global, demand in the long-term. The EU and Denmark are concerned by China’s efforts to gain a foothold in Greenland’s economy and the Arctic, and have pressured – unsuccessfully – the Greenlandic government to block Chinese access to rare earth elements, some of which are currently explored by an Australian-based mining company.
The Greenlandic Parliament approved the so-called ‘big-scale law’ on mining a few weeks ago. The law makes it easier and cheaper for foreign mining companies to start large projects in Greenland. Under the new law, any project worth over 5 billion Danish kroner would require a license from the regional government and would need to undertake an environmental and social impact inquiry. The most controversial aspect of the new law is that it allows foreign companies to contract cheaper foreign workers. The law requires that the foreign workers be paid at the local minimum wage and would be entitled to local labour rights (right to strike, collective bargaining), but because the law also allows employers to deduct costs such as insurance and food from their wages, they would likely end up being paid less than local workers. That part of the law, however, is in limbo as it will require approval from the Danish Parliament, which retains control over immigration policy. Proponents of the law argue that the law and the new mineral boom will significantly reduce Greenland’s dependence on Danish grants and diversify the country’s economy. Opponents are concerned about the environmental and social impacts of mining development and control by foreign mining giants, but also criticize the speed at which the law was pushed through. The ‘importation’ of 500-700 foreign workers in a country of 57,000 has also raised concerns amongst the local population.
Turnout was 74.2%, up 2.9% since 2009.
Siumut (S) 42.8% (+16.3%) winning 14 seats (+5)
Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) 34.4% (-9.3%) winning 11 seats (-3)
Atassut (A) 8.1% (-2.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Partii Inuit (PI) 6.4% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Democrats (D) 6.2% (-6.5%) winning 2 seats (-2)
Association of Candidates (K) 1.1% (-2.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Others 0% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Four years after being kicked out of office in monumental fashion, Siumut, led by Aleqa Hammond, roared back to power in Greenland. The party increased its vote share by 16%, taking 43% of the vote and 14 seats while the incumbent IA won only 34%, down over 9 points, and 11 seats. The governing IA-D-K coalition also lots its majority, with both of its coalition partners losing votes and seats.
Mining and the prospect of foreign workers were major issues in this elections and they contributed to Siumut’s victory. Most politicians agree on the exploration of mineral resources, but the big-scale law has stirred controversy. Siumut argued that there was too much secrecy about the various mining projects and found the government too eager to push through the law and too soft on foreign companies. Siumut ran on a populist platform which promised to demand more royalties on resources and forcing tougher rules on potential foreign investors. It also tapped into concerns that the new law was giving too much powers to foreign companies.
Inuit fishermen and seal hunters, the traditional backbone of the old economy, feel increasingly marginalized and forgotten with all these new developments. They oppose new fishing quotas, poor market access for seal skins and restrictions over harpoon guns for whale hunting. IA was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to take heed of their concerns; while Siumut promised that it would work to make economic development ‘fairer’ for all, city dwellers and villagers alike. Siumut, however, does not share IA’s steadfast opposition to uranium mining and has said that it would be open to allowing uranium mining if the ore contains a maximum 0.1% uranium oxide..
Cultural concerns also played a role in the vote. The potential ‘massive’ influx of foreign, predominantly Chinese, workers as part of new contracts (including a concession to London Mining PLC which would supply iron ore to China and employ Chinese foreign workers). In a small and largely ethnically homogeneous country, the prospect of 500-700 cheap foreign workers moving in – even on a temporary basis – scared many, who feared that they will take jobs away from locals and undermine Greenland’s ancient hunting and fishing tradition.
IA likely lost some votes to a new party, Partii Inuit, a very left-wing and separatist party formed recently by IA dissidents. The Inuit Party were the most vocal in their opposition to the big-scale law, calling for a referendum on the issue.
On the map, Siumut won every ‘city’ (the second level divisions behind the 3 municipalities) with the exception of Aasiaat (the fifth largest city), Illoqqortoormiut on the east coast (where Atassut won) and Nuuk (the largest city and capital). Siumut swept every other part of the country, likely benefiting from fishermen and hunters’ opposition to the big-scale law. Interestingly, IA did not lose as much in Nuuk – it won first place by a mile and its vote only fell by 5%. The capital city is booming and rapidly changing, benefiting from the mineral boom. Perhaps urban voters in Greenland’s largest city (over 15,000 people) were more favourable to the incumbent government’s mining policies, which has brought them tangible benefits?
Northeastern Greenland, in blue on the map, is covered by the world’s largest national park and has no permanent inhabitants. Unfortunately, polar bears and seals can’t vote. The small blue dot on the northwestern coast is Thule Air Base, a US Air Force base.
Greenland is changing extremely rapidly now, and its economy and society will likely be transformed by the mineral boom. The new status in 2009 brought the island ever closer to full independence, and many have argued that the mining boom will allow Greenland to become more autonomous from Denmark and move towards full independence. Yet, the transition to either full political independence or economic diversification is problematic. The current mining boom could allow Greenland to become a functioning independent state, but many Greenlanders are asking – at what price? There is much reluctance to sacrifice traditions or the old economy in favour of sovereignty, and many fear that Greenland could be exchanging Danish rule for rule by the special interests.
State elections were held in the Austrian states of Carinthia (Kärnten) and Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) were held on March 3, 2013.
The Carinthian state legislature (Landtag) has 36 members elected to five-year terms in four constituencies through proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The Lower Austrian landtag has 56 members elected to five-year terms in 21 constituencies corresponding to the state’s district and cities, the threshold is 4%.
In Carinthia and Lower Austria (along with Burgenland, Styria and Upper Austria), the state government is formed on the basis of the Austrian proporz principle, where each party which won over 10% of the vote receives seat(s) in the state government in proportion to their share of the vote. Although all major parties govern in coalition and hold seats in the state government, there may be unofficial working agreements/unofficial coalitions between parties in the state government to form an absolute majority in the legislature and government, leaving a smaller government party as a de facto ‘opposition’. The state governor (Landeshauptmann) is elected by the state legislature, and often comes from the largest party in the legislature and government.
Carinthia is a largely alpine state in southern Austria, the state capital is Klagenfurt. Historically, the state’s main industries included agriculture, forestry, manufacturing and mining. Today, the state’s economy is more reliant on tourism, electronics (Philips and Seimens have large operations in the state) and engineering. Carinthia has the second largest Protestant population in Austria after Burgenland, representing 10% of the population. Some rural areas in the state resisted the Counter-Reformation which nearly wiped out Protestantism in modern-day Austria.
Of lesser demographic significance but of far more political significance is a small Slovene minority in Carinthia, concentrated in the south of the state between the Karavanke mountain range (the modern border between Austria and Slovenia) and the Drava river. In the nineteenth century, about a third of the Carinthian population was Slovene; in the 2001 census, the official figure was 3% (Slovene minority groups claim that the data is flawed and underestimates the minority). Events which took place in Carinthia immediately after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 have had a major effect on the state’s contemporary political tradition. In 1918, Yugoslavian troops invaded the predominantly Slovene region between the Karavanke and the Drava river, forcing the German-Austrian state government to flee Klagenfurt. After armed clashes between both sides, the Entente powers stepped in to arbitrate a ceasefire. The parties involved agreed to hold a plebiscite in the predominantly Slovene region of the state to resolve the issue. In a 1920 plebiscite in the majority-Slovene ‘Zone A’, 59% of voters chose to remain part of Austria – a significant number of Slovenes, particularly those in the Klagenfurt basin, voted to remain with Austria rather than join the new Yugoslav state.
Despite the resolution of the issue, the armed conflict between Carinthia and Yugoslavia in 1920 (Kärntner Abwehrkampf) has played a major role in forming the state’s contemporary political traditions, by breeding pan-German nationalism and anti-Slavic/anti-Yugoslavian sentiment. Since the days of the Austrian First Republic in the interwar period, Carinthia has been a hotbed of (pan-German) nationalism. During the interwar years, the pan-German national liberal Landbund, which had a strong base with Protestant farmers, often placed second with decent results.
However, during the interwar era and during most of the post-war era, Carinthian politics were dominated by the Social Democrats (SPÖ), strong in the state partly because of its industrial and blue-collar nature. The SPÖ won the most votes in every state election between 1945 and 1999, and even won over 50% of the vote between 1970 and 1984. The longtime SPÖ Governor, Leopold Wagner (1974-1988), was very popular with Carinthian voters because of his populist and nationalist (often anti-Slovene) positions, which often put him at odds with the federal leadership of the SPÖ. However, throughout the post-war era, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) – an erstwhile national liberal party (which welcomed a lot of former Nazis) which has since become Austria’s leading far-right party – was much stronger in Carinthia than in the rest of the country. It always won double digits (in the low 10s between the mid-1960s and 1984).
Since the 1980s, Carinthia has gained national and even international prominence as the stronghold of the Austrian far-right. Jörg Haider, associated with the FPÖ’s right-wing/pan-German camp, gained control of the Carinthian FPÖ in 1983 and went on to gain control of the federal FPÖ in 1986 (defeating Norbert Steger, who had been the party’s unsuccessful liberal leader since 1980). Under Haider’s leadership, the FPÖ shifted rightwards, away from its erstwhile classical liberalism and emphasizing nationalist, Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant positions. This new rhetoric propelled the FPÖ to new heights, beginning in Carinthia. Under Haider, the party increased its support from 11.7% to 16% in the 1984 state election. In the 1989 election, the FPÖ won 29% in Carinthia and became the second largest party ahead of the conservative ÖVP. Haider was able to become governor of Carinthia through a deal with the ÖVP. He was, however, forced to resign in 1991 after his controversial appraisal of the Third Reich’s “employment policies”. In 1994, the Carinthian FPÖ increased its support to 33%. In 1999, the party placed first with 42% (against 33% for the SPÖ) and Jörg Haider became governor again.
At the same time, the FPÖ reached its peak federally (second placing with 27% in the 1999 federal election) and entered the federal government in a coalition with the centre-right ÖVP. Federally, cabinet participation proved unpopular with the FPÖ’s party and caused great strains on the party. In the 2002 federal election, its support dropped to 10% although it remained in government thereafter.
In 2004, Jörg Haider won another term as governor in his Carinthian stronghold, with the FPÖ winning 42.5% against 38% for the SPÖ (the ÖVP’s support collapsed to barely 11.6%). However, in 2005, after an internal row in the FPÖ, Haider left the party and founded his own party – the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), as an ostensibly more moderate version of the FPÖ. The FPÖ, now led by Heinz-Christian Strache, won the battle for control of the far-right against the BZÖ – the former won 11% against only 4% for the latter in the 2006 federal election. However, in the 2008 federal election, Haider took the helm of the BZÖ’s federal list and led the party to 11% nationally (the FPÖ won 17.5%) – and 39% in Carinthia.
Haider was killed in a car accident 13 days after the election, in October 2008. Running on a platform of upholding Haider’s legacy, his successor as governor, Gerhard Dörfler, won an unprecedented landslide victory for the BZÖ in the 2009 state election. The BZÖ won 44.9% against 28.7% for the SPÖ.
In December 2009, as the federal BZÖ under Josef Bucher took a ‘hard liberal’ turn and adopted very liberal on economic and fiscal issues (while remaining Eurosceptic), the state BZÖ under governor Dörfler and state leader Uwe Scheuch split from the federal BZÖ and formed an alliance with the federal FPÖ. The state BZÖ became the Freedom Party in Carinthia (FPK), associated to the FPÖ as a ‘sister party’ like the CDU/CSU relationship in Germany. The federal BZÖ under Bucher later refounded their own state branch, led by Bucher.
Two events marked Austrian (and Carinthian) politics in 2012: corruption scandals and the emergence of a new political party. At the federal level, all major parties – the governing SPÖ and ÖVP but also FPÖ – have been hit by corruption scandals which have eroded their support and credibility. The FPÖ’s support declined from about 27% in spring 2012 to 20-23% today, in part because of corruption scandals involving party members (Martin Graf, a president of the federal legislature, allegedly swindled an old woman). These corruption scandals, some of which date back to the ÖVP-FPÖ government, include cases of bribery, kickbacks, money laundering and trading insider information. In Carinthia, corruption scandals led to early elections this year. Senior FPK, ÖVP and SPÖ state politicians – including Governor Dörfler, former FPK leader Uwe Scheuch and a former ÖVP leader – were named in various corruption cases. Scheuch was forced to resign as FPK leader in August 2012 following revelations that he had partook in a kickback scheme to profit from the sale of state-owned bank Hypo Alpe Adria in 2007. Dörfler is cited in a case involving the use of public funds by the BZÖ state government to send out a large mailer to all Carinthian households during the 2009 election
These corruption scandals have facilitated the rise of a new party in Austrian politics. Frank Stronach, an Austrian-born businessman who moved to Canada when he was only 18 and later founded Magna International, a hugely successful Canadian auto parts company. Stronach ran for the Canadian Liberal Party in the 1988 federal election (but was defeated) and his daughter Belinda served as a Conservative (later Liberal) MP in the Canadian House of Commons. Frank Stronach returned to Austria in 2011-2012 (where he always maintained a foothold and local notoriety) and entered politics last year with the creation of a new party, ‘Team Stronach’. Stronach’s new party has a right-wing, pro-business platform – it supports a 25% flat tax and other pro-business policies (critics contend he wishes to dismantle Austria’s popular welfare state). Stronach wants Austria to leave the Euro and return to the schilling, but on other European issues it tends to be more favourable to European integration. Unlike the far-right, Stronach is not anti-immigration. However, with his right-wing, mildly Eurosceptic and anti-corruption image, Stronach has been able to eat into the far-right’s reservoir of protest voters, left a bit disillusioned following FPÖ/FPK corruption scandals. Stronach’s party recruited cadres from the BZÖ, SPÖ and ÖVP. Team Stronach’s top candidate in Carinthia was Gerhard Köfer, a former SPÖ MP.
These two state elections were Stronach’s first electoral test before the federal elections in the fall.
The Carinthian electoral campaign was marked by the corruption scandals which hurt the FPK but also the SPÖ and ÖVP – the only party with seats in the legislature who were ‘spared’ were the Greens. The campaign also saw a bitter battle between the FPK and Bucher’s BZÖ. The BZÖ ran a notably overwrought and overdramatic campaign, likening FPK governor Dörfler to past dictators (Ceausescu, Ben Ali, Mubarak) calling on voters to “liberate” Carinthia from the corrupt (and awfully dictatorial?!) FPK. The ad concludes in style with the famous image of US soliders raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II – except that they’re raising the Carinthian flag in the ad.
Turnout was 75.15%, down 6.6% since the 2009 election. The final results are as follows:
SPÖ 37.13% (+8.39%) winning 14 seats (+3) > 3 ministers
FPK 16.85% (-28.04%) winning 6 seats (-11) > 1 minister
ÖVP 14.40% (-2.43%) winning 5 seats (-1) > 1 minister
Greens 12.10% (+6.95%) winning 5 seats (+2) > 1 minister
Team Stronach 11.18% (+11.18%) winning 4 seats (+4) > 1 minister
BZÖ 6.40% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Pirates 0.99% (+0.99%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.95% (-3.44%) winning 0 seats (nc)
It was a monumental for the entire far-right edifice and the powerful FPÖ/BZÖ/FPK machine which Jörg Haider had masterfully built since 1983. The FPK, heir to the state BZÖ which had won a big landslide (with 45%) in the 2009 election running on Haider’s legacy, was trounced at the polls and won only 16.9% of the vote. The 2009 election had come as a major surprise since all polling had shown a close race between the BZÖ and the SPÖ; many felt that the polls would be wrong again this year and that the FPK could place first again – the last batch of polls had shown the SPÖ ahead (31-32%) but the FPK not very far behind (25-26%). The polls were indeed wrong again. Except that they were wrong in the other direction: badly overestimating the FPK at the SPÖ’s expense.
The SPÖ came out much stronger than originally predicted, with 37% of the vote – up over 8 points on its disastrous 2009 result – and, for the moment, regaining political domiance in its old Carinthian stronghold. Furthermore, with the addition of the Greens’ 5 seats, the left (SPÖ-Greens) have an absolute majority (19 seats). They will likely form an unofficial coalition with the ÖVP, which would give them a two-thirds majority and the ability to do away with the Proporz system.
It was an unmitigated and unprecedented disaster for the FPK and the whole Austrian far-right. The FPÖ’s national troubles were, it is true, were worsened in the state by the corruption scandal which has badly hurt the FPK. The result was a shellacking for the FPK, which lost 28 points – the largest loss for the far-right in any Austrian election – compared to the BZÖ’s 2009 landslide victory.
Corruption was one of the biggest issues in the campaign. Indeed, according to SORA’s exit poll, 73% of voters said that ‘fighting corruption’ was very important, making it the second most important issue behind jobs. The Greens – the only party in the old legislature which did not get tied up with the corruption scandals – and Stronach were those who gained the most from the focus on corruption. The BZÖ’s hilariously overdramatic campaign focusing on corruption likely helped them save face, taking 6% and 2 seats (they missed out on a third seat, which went to the Greens, by one vote on the final count).
The ÖVP did not do all that well, but it was a decent result for the party. The ÖVP had been hit particularly badly by the corruption scandal, to the point that the ÖVP’s leader in the state was forced to resign and was replaced by a new leadership which managed to clean up the ÖVP’s image a bit before the elections.
Stronach won 11.2%, more or less in line with what the polls had predicted. Should this be considered a good start for a new party, or should it be seen as a sign that Stronach will not be more than a footnote in Austrian politics? The question seems to have divided observers and commentators. It is clear that Stronach will not win a national breakthrough this year, unless something important happens; if Stronach was expecting to revolutionize the country’s politics and score a phenomenal breakthrough, he was clearly wrong. Austrian politics are relatively stable, political ascension take place over time and not overnight, and even if there’s much discontent in Austrian politics the country is not in a state of crisis which would favour the phenomenal emergence of a brand new party (unlike in Italy). Similarly, if observers and commentators were looking on Stronach to be a top contender in this year’s federal election with a strong chance at actually winning, they were mistaken – it was clear from the beginning that while Stronach had (and still has) much potential, he would not be able to rival the dominant ‘SPÖVP’ this year. Therefore, there would be reason for Stronach and his supporters to be pleased: 11% is a good result for a new party.
SORA’s exit poll revealed interesting information. Only 29% of the BZÖ’s 2009 voters backed the FPK this year, with 23% not voting at all (explaining the huge decrease in turnout) and 22% voting for the SPÖ – not all that surprising in Austrian politics given how the SPÖ and far-right fight for the same blue-collar electorate. 11% of the BZÖ’s 2009 voters turned to Stronach this year; about half of Stronach’s voters voted for the BZÖ in 2009. The Stronach party also gained some substantial support from non-voters (21% of its voters did not vote in 2009) and the SPÖ (18% of its voters supported the SPÖ in 2009).
The Greens, according to SORA, gained ground by taking votes from basically every corner. Only 29% of its voters this year had voted for them in 2009 – 19% had supported the BZÖ in 2009, 18% had backed the ÖVP and 16% voted for the SPÖ. These gains compensated for fairly substantial loses to other parties – while 62% of those who voted Green in 2009 did so again this year, SORA reports that 19% voted for the SPÖ instead, another 19% did not vote this year and 10% (?!) even voted for the FPK on Sunday.
According to the exit polling, the average Stronach voters seems to be a young (under 30) or middle-aged male, who probably voted for the far-right parties in the last state election. For a party led by an 80 year old man, Stronach has turned out surprisingly popular with younger males: he won 20% of the under 30 vote, and with males under 30 he was only one point behind the SPÖ for first place (at 23%). Stronach’s support declined with age: 11% with those aged 30 to 59, only 6% with those over 60. This demographic profile is not dissimilar to that of the far-right: the FPÖ has tended to do very well with younger males, and less so with women or seniors. The major difference between Stronach and the far-right seems to be that while the far-right does very well with blue-collar workers (32% for the FPK vs 36% for the SPÖ) and poorly with pensioners or white-collar employees, Stronach’s support is not markedly stronger with any social category (although he does not do well with pensioners) – he polled 13% with blue and white-collar voters alike. It can be inferred that Stronach gained a lot of votes from young voters (primarily males) who had flirted with or voted for the far-right in the past. Unsurprisingly, younger voters are always more likely to form the ‘protest vote’ element of any far-right party than the ‘ideological hardcore’ element.
‘Control of maladministration’ was the most common reason given by Green and Stronach voters to explain their vote. 59% of Green voters and 69% of Stronach voters said that controlling maladministration (a reference to corruption, obviously) was a factor in their vote; in both cases, this reason placed far ahead of all other explanations and it also placed much higher than with other parties’ voters.
You can explore the results by municipality on a map here. The SPÖ did well in Klagenfurt, Villach and Wolfsberg – the state’s largest cities – although it did not do as well in Spittal. The FPK did very poorly in both Klagenfurt and Villach, falling third behind the Greens in both cities. In general, the SPÖ did best in the south and east of the state, particularly in towns with a large Slovene minority population or in old blue-collar towns. The FPK and the far-right performs best in small mountainous communities in the north and west.
Lower Austria is a large state located in northeastern Austria. It is the second most populous state in the country after Vienna, a city-state which is entirely surrounded by Lower Austria. The state is economically and politically diverse; Vienna’s influence is very perceptible in the areas surrounding the city, and the region located directly south of the capital, the Industrieviertel, is an urbanized and industrialized region. One of the largest cities in that region is Wiener Neustadt. The area around the state’s administrative capital, Sankt Pölten, is also rather industrial. Outside a few isolated industrial centres, the rest of the state has historically been a predominantly agricultural region – with a large wine growing industry.
At the federal level, Lower Austria tends to be a closely disputed between the SPÖ – which does very well in the Industrieviertel, Wiener Neustadt, Viennese commuterland to the northeast of the city and Sankt Pölten – and the conservative ÖVP – which polls extremely well in the more rural Catholic areas in the western half of the state. However, at the state level, Lower Austria has been thoroughly dominated by the ÖVP since 1945 – it has won the most votes in every state election and has always held the governor’s office. Its worst result in a state election was 44% (in 1993). Since 1992, the governor of Lower Austria has been the ÖVP’s Erwin Pröll. Pröll has governed with an ÖVP absolute majority since the 2003. In the 2008 election, the ÖVP won 54% against 25.5% for the SPÖ, marking the worst result for the SPÖ.
Erwin Pröll has remained exceptionally popular throughout his 20 years in office, and is rather influential at the national level. His nephew Josef Pröll was the leader of the national ÖVP and Vice-Chancellor between 2008 and 2011. By virtue of his absolute majorities, Erwin Pröll is also a very powerful governor who has managed to run Lower Austria as his own personal fiefdom, the detriment of his ‘allies’ in the state’s Proporz government. His opponents claim that he is a quasi-dictator and intolerant of criticism.
A fifth successive term in office for Erwin Pröll was never in jeopardy in this election. The SPÖ is weak and increasingly irrelevant. The FPÖ had a prominent but poor top candidate, 2010 presidential candidate Barbara Rosenkranz. Team Stronach’s top candidate was Frank Stronach himself.
Turnout was 70.75%, down 3.76%.
ÖVP 50.80% (-3.59%) winning 30 seats (-1) > 6 ministers
SPÖ 21.59% (-3.92%) winning 13 seats (-2) > 2 ministers
Team Stronach 9.83% (+9.83%) winning 5 seats (+5) > 1 minister
FPÖ 8.21% (-2.26%) winning 4 seats (-2)
Greens 8.04% (+1.13%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Others 1.53% (-1.20%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In contrast to Carinthia, Lower Austria’s election was unremarkable and boring. It was the customary landslide for Governor Erwin Pröll’s ÖVP and the increasingly customary shellacking for the SPÖ (which won its worst result ever again). The FPÖ, hurt by its poor standing nationally and its poor local candidate, lost fairly substantially. In the 2008 election, it had recovered a bit (10.5%) from the drubbing it suffered in the 2003 state election (4.5%) but still fell short of its record, 16.1% of the vote in the 1999 state election. The Greens, meanwhile, won their best result to date.
Team Stronach did not do as well in Lower Austria as it did in Carinthia (this was not a surprise), likely because it was not boosted by corruption scandals like those which had destroyed the credibility of the Carinthian far-right.
The exit polls were rather boring as well. In Lower Austria, most of Stronach’s vote came from those who had not voted in 2008 (39% of his 2013 electorate) but also from the FPÖ (21% of his electorate), ÖVP (18%) and SPÖ (14%). The FPÖ held only 43% of its 2009 voters, 21% voted ÖVP and 19% went to Stronach. The drop in turnout seems, mostly, due to 2008 SPÖ and Green voters not showing up.
Unlike in Carinthia, the Stronach vote did not show any correlation with youth; but it did show a very strong gender gap: 14% with men and only 5% with women. It performed best with young males but also males over 60.
You can explore the results by municipality here. The SPÖ only won a handful of towns, and the ÖVP basically won every major city in the state – even traditional left-wing strongholds such as Sankt Pölten or Wiener Neustadt. Stronach did particularly in Viennese commuterland, which is where he lives.
The next elections in Austria, before the federal elections on September 29, will be early state elections in Salzburg (in May).
Legislative elections were held in Italy on February 24 and 25, 2013. All 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and 315 members of the Senate (Senato della Repubblica) were up for reelection. There were also regional elections (direct election of the regional president and the regional legislature) in Lazio (Latium), Lombardy and Molise.
I explained Italy’s confusing electoral system, its unique political history since 1946 and the plethora of parties and coalitions competing in this year’s election in a long preview post here.
Italy is a rare example of ‘perfect bicameralism’, where both houses of the legislature hold equal powers and a government needs the confidence of both houses and legislation needs to pass in both houses. The electoral system in use since the 2006 election, however, has created an opening for political instability since both houses are elected using a different system. In the lower house (the Chamber of Deputies) the coalition (but not party) which wins the most votes nationally automatically receives a majority bonus of 340 seats, corresponding to 54% of the seats in the Chamber (hence, a solid absolute majority). The remainder of the seats (besides one FPTP member for the Aosta Valley and 12 separate seats for Italians abroad) are allocated by proportional representation. In the Senate, however, the ‘majority bonus’ applies separately at the regional level, so that different coalitions end up winning the regional majority bonuses in different regions. This can mean that no single coalition will emerge with a working majority in the Senate.
There were five major contenders in this election. Pier Luigi Bersani led the centre-left coalition, which is spearheaded by Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD). Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (1994-1995, 2001-2006, 2008-2011) led the centre-right coalition, which notably includes Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party and Roberto Maroni’s regionalist Northern League (LN). Outgoing technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti led a centrist coalition which was backed by two established centre-right parties. Sharp-tongued populist comedian Beppe Grillo led the 5 Star Movement (M5S), a new anti-establishment and anti-system populist party which became popular in 2012.
The last polls, including ‘leaked’ polls which could not be legally published in the last two weeks, showed Bersani’s centre-left coalition with a consistent lead between 3 and 5 points or so over Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition. The main changes compared to the last legally published polls came with the two smaller groupings: Beppe Grillo’s support increased from about 15-16% in the last polls to 20-21% in the ‘leaked’ polls while Monti’s support fell from about 13% to 9-11%.
Turnout was 75.19% for the Chamber of Deputies and 75.21% for the Senate, down 5.31% and 5.25% from the last election in 2008 respectively. Italy’s political elite has long been perceived as corrupt, self-interested career politicians or hopelessly out of touch with their constituents. In the past, these feelings had often proven secondary for many voters. However, the economic crisis – austerity and prolonged recession – has significantly heightened feelings of alienation or resentment towards the political elites. Given how these same politicians are asking their constituents to ‘sacrifice’ themselves for the sake of economic recovery (when many have already suffered heavily from the crisis with job losses, pension cuts, lower wages and so forth), endemic political corruption and self-serving politicians filling their pockets are less easily accepted. Like in Greece, one of the first political effects of the economic crisis has been to alienate a substantial number of voters from the political system in general, leading to a significant decrease in turnout. Turnout is historically extremely high in Italy, always over 80% (often over 85%) and it used to be over 90% in the 1970s. Therefore, 75% is the lowest turnout in a legislative election since the end of the war – and by quite a distance. Turnout in the two Greek elections in 2012 had also been the lowest in that country’s democratic history.
Bad weather – including snow in the north – may also have dragged down turnout.
Chamber of Deputies
|Party / Coalition||% vote (excl. Aosta, abroad)||Change||Seats (+abroad)||Change (dissolution)|
|PD||25.42%||-7.76%||292 (+5) – 297||+94|
|Centre-left (Bersani)||29.54%||-4.05%||340 (+5) - 345||+131|
|PdL||21.56%||-15.82%||97 (+1) – 98||-111|
|Centre-right (Berlusconi)||29.18%||-20.06%||124 (+1) - 125||-158|
|M5S (Beppe Grillo)||25.55%||new||108 (+1) - 109||+109|
|SC||8.30%||new||37 (+2) – 39||+39|
|With Monti for Italy (Monti)||10.56%||+4.94%||45 (+2) - 47||-13|
|Fermare il Declino (Giannino)||1.12%||new||0||nc|
|All others||1.8%||-2.3%||4 (1 Aosta, 3 South America)||-56|
|Party / Coalition||% vote (excl. Aosta, TAA abroad)||Change||Seats (+Aosta, TAA, abr.)||Change (dissolution)|
|PD||27.43%||-6.26%||105 (+4) – 109||+5|
|Centre-left (Bersani)||31.63%||-2.93%||113 (+10) - 123||+16|
|PdL||22.30%||-15.87%||98 (+1) – 99||-14|
|Centre-right (Berlusconi)||30.72%||-18.69%||116 (+1) - 117||-45|
|M5S (Beppe Grillo)||23.79%||new||54||+54|
|With Monti for Italy (Monti)||9.13%||+3.44%||18 (+1) - 19||+3|
|Fermare il Declino (Giannino)||0.9%||new||0||nc|
|All others||2.04%||-0.76%||2 (1 Aosta, 1 South America)||-16|
Italy’s much anticipated election on February 24-25 ended with no clear winner, a potentially ungovernable country and results filled with surprises after a tense and nail-bitingly close night. Bersani’s centre-left bloc, led by the PD, emerged as the single largest coalition in both houses – with an absolute majority in the Chamber (naturally) but only a thin plurality in the Senate where it is a long way from the 158 seats needed for a majority. Berlusconi’s centre-right performed better than expected and came closer to winning than anyone had imagined – in fact, for a while it looked like Berlusconi could actually pull off a win in both houses. The only clear winner of the night, however, was Beppe Grillo’s upstart M5S, which won about a quarter of the vote nationally.
The first exit polls at 15:00 on Monday afternoon corroborated the last (leaked) polling numbers, with the centre-left coming ahead of the right by about 3-5 points. As in 2006, however, the exit polls were off. TV channels released ‘projections’ based on the trends emerging from the votes actually being counted, and these projections (for the Senate) gave the lead to Berlusconi‘s coalition rather than Bersani. Grillo’s M5S was also performing much better than in the first exit polls. Updated projections maintained this state of affairs for quite some time, and the left’s lead in the actual vote count (first in the Senate – which was counted first, then in the Chamber) shrank consistently and by a considerable amount throughout the night. The final vote ‘projections’, however, showed that the left would be able to eek out a tiny win (in the popular vote) in both houses.
On the final count, the centre-left won the Chamber of Deputies (and the 340 seats ‘bonus’) by 0.36% (124,494 votes) and the Senate by a slightly wider margin of 0.91% (281,004 votes). This is a very tight margin, but the 2006 election was even closer: the left won the Chamber by only 0.11% and actually lost the national popular vote for the Senate (but the crucial popular vote is in the Chamber). The votes received by the centre-right regionalist South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP) in the Chamber (146,804) are greater than the left’s winning margin. If the SVP had run independently, for example, Berlusconi would have won the 340 seat bonus instead.
The left ‘won’ in the technical sense, but it didn’t really win. It was very much a Pyrrhic victory for the left, with a very underwhelming result which is almost as bad as a defeat.
The Berlusconian right didn’t win, because in losing over half of its support from the last election it is definitely one of the biggest losers in this election. But it can pride itself in having lost the election by an unexpectedly tiny margin when almost everybody had bet that they would lose by a significantly larger margin.
The real winner of the election was Beppe Grillo, whose party did not even exist in the last election five years ago and which came out of nowhere in about a year to elect 163 parliamentarians and win about 25% of the vote.
The clearest loser in all this was the outgoing technocrat Prime Minister, Mario Monti, whose first (and likely only) political foray ended in disaster for nearly everybody involved. His pro-European reformist agenda which had excited his European colleagues, The Economist and the Financial Times didn’t excite anybody in his home country, where his tough medicine (austerity) for economic growth was unquestionably rejected by voters.
What happened? The final official polls, the “horse race” and “conclave” leaked polls and the exit polls on the day of had all shown Bersani’s centre-left leading by at least 3 to 5 percentage points over the centre-right.
La Repubblica still has (for now) the results of the first exit polls (in this case for the Chamber) online here. Compared to the actual results, the exit polls (which were basically identical to the final leaked polls) overestimated the centre-left coalition by at least 4.5 points. The Sky-Tecnè exit poll predicted that Bersani would win 34% of the vote, the Rai-Piepoli had given the left between 34 and 38% of the vote.
While the margin between the left and the Berlusconian right was overestimated in the left’s favour by exit polls, it was not because Berlusconi did better than what the exit polls or the final polls had indicated. The right won 29.2% of the Chamber vote and the Sky exit poll gave him 29% (Rai’s fork was 28-32%). In most of the last leaked polls, the right stood between 28 and 30% as well. It would be tempting to explain the surprising result away by saying that a “shy Berlusconi” vote, which nobody could pick up, came out. Except that it’s not what really happened. Berlusconi did not overperform his polling average, rather the left woefully underperformed its polling average.
Compared to the exit polls and final leaked polls, the biggest overperformer was Beppe Grillo’s M5S. The first exit polls had given him 19% (or 19-21%), underestimating the M5S by about 5 points. I can only guess at the various reasons for why even the exit polls proved terrible and badly underestimated M5S while overestimating the left. Perhaps there is some major flaw in the various pollsters’ methodology which made it hard for them to accurately capture the full scale of the M5S tide. Grillo appealed to a younger net-generation which distrusts traditional media sources and established institutions in civil society. It would not be unreasonable to guess that some of these voters might either choose not to respond to pollsters.
This election also had a huge number of last minute deciders. According to Demopolis, even if 52% decided over a month ago, 25% decided in the last 15 days (including 11% in the last 2-3 days). According to a similar poll by ISPO, 35% of voters decided at the last moment (only 20% did so in 2008) and 35% (rather than 53% in 2008) decided over 2 months.
The defeat of the traditional coalitions
The immediate explanation for the left’s near-defeat is that the pollsters are horrible (like they were in 2006) and that we should learn to take them for what they’re worth. But the centre-left needs to shoulder a heavy part of the blame for their horrible result. Once again, the Italian left proved how utterly inept it is at winning elections and how it almost always manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. An election which could have been theirs by a landslide turned out to be a near-loss, a narrow victory that it was practically a defeat.
Even before the election results brought even more bad news to the centre-left, it was clear that the centre-left would win by default rather than by having successfully built a wider coalition behind an popular leader and platform.
The centre-left’s leader, chosen by centre-left voters in an open primary late last year, was a poor choice. Pier Luigi Bersani is probably, at the least, a mildly competent administrator, but he is a poor politician and a low calibre leader who is a poor fit for the post-1994 ultra-personalized politics. Bersani is one of those sleep-inducing stale ‘old guard’ career politicians which the PD has a lot of (too much); a reasonably competent administrator who barely excites anybody beyond his core supporter and who find himself completely crushed by charismatic politicians like Berlusconi or Grillo. The centre-left voters last year made a poor choice with Bersani and many are likely regretting it now; his main rival in that primary, the young mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi is probably tempted to say “told you so”. It is hard to know these things for certain and we can’t change the past, but Renzi with his reformist energy and more centrist (liberal) image would probably have won this election in a much more convincing way than Bersani.
Not only did the centre-left choose the wrong candidate, the PD also led a horrible campaign after the primary. Bersani won the primary and his party dropped out of sight for a while after that, seemingly thinking that if it stayed above the fray it could glide to an easy victory. When Bersani did campaign, he unsurprisingly failed to excite anybody. Against similarly stale and unexciting opponents, this strategy would probably have worked. But again Berlusconi and Grillo, masters at their trade? It was a strategy destined to fail. Despite carrying around heavy baggage and a controversial record (to say the least), Berlusconi proved that he had remained a shrewd politician and that he still mastered television unlike anybody else. Like in the past, Berlusconi quickly seized the initiative from the left and made himself the central figure of the campaign. His simple solutions to Italy’s profound economic woes did not convince everybody, but it allowed him to reignite the Berlusconian right; his much trumpeted promise to abolish and refund Monti’s unpopular new property tax (IMU) was one of his most popular planks and he knew how to make good use of that promise. Grillo has an aversion towards television, but he knows – unlike any other politician in Italy – how to make good use of social media and new technologies to mobilize large crowds and how to seize the spotlight from his rivals. His unorthodox campaign, mixing new technologies and old electioneering (mass popular rallies in the piazzas), turned out to be a success.
Indeed, according to a post-election poll by Demopolis, only 12% of voters felt that Bersani had run the most convincing campaign (against 19% for Berlusconi and 34% for Grillo). The result of a poor candidate, a terribly-run campaign and a boring moderate platform (in sharp contrast to Berlusconi and Grillo’s outlandish promises) was that the left’s support gradually declined from about 40% following the centre-left primary late last year (when the PdL, left without il cavaliere for while, was at rock-bottom) to the low thirties in the last polls. It then severely underperformed its polling numbers on February 24-25.
The ISPO post-election poll showed that the PD had held 61% of its 2008 voters (it lost 4% of its 2008 voters to the SEL or CD). 16% voted for Grillo, 8% voted for Monti and 1% voted for Ingroia’s RC. Only 9% of 2008 PD voters did not vote in 2013.
Within the left, the PD received about 86-87% of the votes which went to the centre-left coalition. Nichi Vendola’s SEL won only 3% of the vote, and a lot of those came in the form of personal votes for Vendola is his political base of Apulia (and surrounding regions). Despite a poor showing, the SEL’s alliance with the centre-left has allowed the ‘radical left’ (ex-communist) to regain a foothold in Parliament, after the Left-Rainbow’s 2008 disaster. Within the governing centre-left coalition, Vendola is also in a fairly strong position to influence government policy, pressure the PD into adopting a more left-wing agenda or extracting (limited) concessions from the PD. However, the SEL might have suffered electorally from its alliance with the moderate centre-left, especially given the constant talk that it would probably form a post-electoral alliance with Mario Monti’s centrist block in order to govern. ‘Radical left’ and far-left voters had little interest in Bersani and his generally moderate centre-left rhetoric. The M5S attracted a lot of radical left and far-left voters who had voted PD or for the Rainbow in 2008; Antonio Ingroia’s Civil Revolution (RC) ended in a trainwreck but it too attracted some radical left voters who cared little for Bersani or the SEL.
The tiny centrist Democratic Centre (CD), allied with the centre-left, was intelligent enough to calculate that it would only survive in a coalition and, indeed, it managed to survive with a handful of seats by virtue of being the largest coalition party below the 2% threshold. Most of its support came from southern Italy. On the other hand, the rump PSI proved how utterly irrelevant it was. The Megaphone, Sicilian regional president Rosario Crocetta’s personal list which ran for the Senate in Sicily, managed to win a single seat. Crocetta’s list won 6.2% of the vote in Sicily.
Berlusconi’s result is rather spectacular, no doubt about it. But making it seem as if he was the big winner of the election and that his story is that of yet another remarkable comeback by a man who has often been presumed politically dead by his opponents is an exaggeration. His result can only be considered to be a victory when compared to the lows where his party and the broader right stood only a few months back in the summer and fall of 2012. In November and December, the PdL sat at lows of only 14-16% in polls (the PdL+Lega together polled between 20 and 25%). About two months later, he won 29.2% (and 30.7%) of the vote with 21.6% (and 22.3%) for the PdL itself. Berlusconi made a comeback during the campaign, but his gains are not as phenomenal and unprecedented as they have been made out to be. His main victory in this election was that he proved that the Berlusconian right remained a relevant actor and that it was not dead in the water, contrarily to what many might have thought (and wished) last year after the right’s abysmal results in the local and regional elections.
That being said, the Berlusconian right still lost heavily – it lost about half of its 2008 support – which makes it hard to read his result as some unquestionable victory. The established parties, both on the right and the left, lost considerable support in this election and were both victims of the Grillist surge. Berlusconi’s only success was that he beat expectations (which he is quite skilled at doing, electorally), polling better than most had thought he would and remaining a relevant and influential political actor. But he still lost over half of his support from the last election and the PdL’s result – only 22% – was a long way from the results of its predecessor parties in any election between 1994 and 2008. The Italian political system no longer revolves entirely around him, and he has lost a significant part of the electoral base which had backed him since 1994.
ISPO’s post-election study showed that Berlusconi held 49% of 2008 PdL voters (only 1% switched to the Lega). About 3% voted for the left instead, 13% voted M5S and 7% voted Monti. Compared to the PD, it is interesting that a lot more 2008 PdL voters did not vote this year (23%).
Within the right-wing coalition, one of the major losers was the Lega Nord. The northern regionalist party won only 4.1% (4.3% in the Senate), losing over half of its votes since the last election. This is the Lega’s second worst result in a general election – only the 2001 election in which it won a bit less 4% The Lega was crippled by the explosive embezzlement scandal which forced the party’s iconic and controversial boss, Umberto Bossi, to resign in April 2012. Prior to the scandal, a year ago, the Lega was riding high – polling about 8-10% in most polls, benefiting from its opposition to the increasingly unpopular Monti cabinet and its austerity measures. However, the Lega fell abruptly (down to 4-6%) following revelations that Bossi and his inner circle had massively embezzled the party’s public financing funds and used them for personal and illicit ends. This scandal was so massive that Bossi, who had been thought to be firmly entrenched as the Lega Nord’s lider maximo and was oftentimes the most prominent ‘face’ of the party, was forced to resign. Roberto Maroni, Bossi’s rival for the party’s leadership, taking the reins did not help the party overcome its abrupt fall from grace in the eyes of the electorate. The scandal destroyed the party’s image. The Lega Nord, like the M5S today, first burst onto the scene in the early 1990s as an anti-system populist party which virulent denounced the moral bankruptcy of the First Republic’s governing elites and the corruption at the highest echelons of powers. Since then, the Lega has continued to benefit from its positioning as a populist, somewhat anti-system force and often got away with consistently trying to have the cake and eat it (acting as a critic of Berlusconi while remaining in his government). The scandal hence destroyed the Lega’s image as the ‘clean’ anti-corruption, anti-system populist force. When any politician or party which presented itself as ‘anti-corruption’ is mixed up in a major corruption scandal, the stench sticks and it really hurts.
Since 1992, the Lega had also served as a receptacle for protest votes in northern Italy. It benefited from popular regional grievances against Rome and the Mezzogiorno, but also attracted protest or anti-system votes on the right (in the north). The emergence of M5S was the first major challenge to the Lega’s hegemony on the protest vote/anti-system playing field and, as a result, it is no longer the natural home for many anti-system ‘protest voters’.
Paradoxically, however, the Lega – regionally – is stronger than ever. Roberto Maroni, supported by the PdL, won the regional elections in Lombardy. With Maroni’s victory, the Lega now controls the regional presidencies of the three most important regions in northern Italy – Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont. As the Lega tries to heal its wounds and rebuild itself, its strong base at the regional level will come in handy.
Despite its horrible performance this year, writing the Lega’s obituary would be premature. The party has already faced such lows, although the presence of M5S as a powerful and more credible competitor for anti-system votes is new and could significantly hinder the Lega’s ability to rebuild. The regional grievances expressed by the Lega since the 1980s remain a potent political factor in northern Italy.
For the time being, the coalition with the PdL will probably stick. The alliance between the PdL and the Lega is a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. For the PdL, without an alliance with the Lega it would face a tougher time in the politically decisive powerhouse regions of Lombardy and Veneto. For the Lega, without the alliance with Berlusconi it would be much less influential in national politics and its representation in institutions at all levels of government would be significantly reduced. For example, in this election, without the last-minute deal with Maroni, Berlusconi would not have come close to winning a majority in the lower house and his political future would be much bleaker. For the Lega, with an alliance with Berlusconi this year, Maroni would not be president of Lombardy and the Lega would have come out even more marginalized and weakened from the election. Both parties would face a much tougher time in the case of a lasting divorce.
ISPO’s post-election study showed that the Lega retained only 42% of its 2008 voters. 14% switched to the PdL instead and 3% went for other parties in the centre-right coalition; 19% did not this year, 11% backed the M5S, 8% voted for Monti and only 3% switched to the centre-left this year (most for the SEL apparently!).
There was a tough three-way contest on the right to be the largest coalition party under the threshold. Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), a new party created by ex-AN members of the PdL with Berlusconi’s blessing, won less than 2% but it held on to a handful of seats (a bit less than it had just before the election) thanks to the ‘largest coalition party below the threshold’ clause. Not a bad result for a brand new party with less a dozen sitting parliamentarians; but the FdI-CN is less an attempt to recreate the AN of yesteryear than a political calculation by Berlusconi to shore up his support on the right.
La Destra – Francesco Storace’s right-wing nationalist party – and Grande Sud – a vaguely regionalist party in the south – did poorly; winning 0.6% and 0.4% respectively. La Destra had actually won 2.4% of the vote in the 2008 election, it likely lost some of that support to FdI (whose geographical patterns were rather similar). Grande Sud managed to win a single senator (in Calabria, with 3.2%) but the party, which – as an alliance of various regionalist parties from the southern and southern dissidents from major parties (Gianfranco Micciché) – had held a sizable number of seats in the legislature at dissolution, was swept out. In the Chamber, the GS did best in Calabria (with about 3%) but in Sicily, it won only 1.9%. Running separately for the Senate, former Sicilian regional president Raffaele Lombardo’s MPA took only 2.2% of the votes on the island, an unmitigated disaster which shows how thin support for Lombardo’s ostensibly regionalist party was.
The Grillo Phenomenon
The big winner of the election was Beppe Grillo’s upstart Five Star Movement (M5S), which was founded less than four years ago (in 2009) and which only started to receive substantial support barely a year ago (in the May 2012 local elections). Even if the M5S lacked the resources of the major parties and even if it was derided by political leaders and established media sources alike; it managed to achieve a phenomenal result – 25.6% in the Chamber of Deputies and electing a total of 163 parliamentarians. The M5S’ dramatic emergence onto the Italian political scene is comparable to Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to political power in the 1994 election, in which his new party – Forza Italia – came out of nowhere to win the most votes (21%). But Grillo’s success is even more remarkable than Berlusconi’s first success in 1994. Berlusconi was already a wealthy businessman backed by an influential media (TV) empire and he built ties with old political actors; in contrast, Grillo was ‘only’ a popular activist blogger who used his popular blog to launch his party. He could only count on the support of dedicated online and offline activists, he received no support from established politicians and did not even have any ‘star candidates’.
Grillo’s rise from blogger/activist to the leader of the single most voted party in the lower house, which happened in less than a year (in February 2012, the M5S polled about 3-6%), is the result of Italy’s contemporary socio-economic condition and the expression of deep-seated popular anger at the political class and the Italian political system in general.
The economic crisis, the tough austerity measures and reforms supported by Mario Monti’s cabinet, a prolonged recession and record-high unemployment created a climate of social frustration and anger. The impact of austerity (which included tax increases in a country with a very heavy tax burden or major cuts in pensions) on the middle-classes, low income earners, retirees and small business owners alike has been particularly tough and caused major social discontent. Austerity was resented as a diktat imposed by the country’s political elites (the casta) and foreign decision-makers (the ECB, IMF, Germany).
Like in Greece or in Spain, the political effect of austerity and its social effects was that the established political parties, which had predominated the political system for decades beforehand, lost most of their credibility in the eyes of the electorate. They are considered as the culprits for the economic mess, and their response to the crisis was deeply unpopular with the electorate.
The economic crisis and austerity in these countries, Italy included, has also led to a significant decline in public trust of democracy, political institutions and politicians. Anti-system, anti-establishment and ‘anti-politician’ sentiments which had been dormant in the past are being expressed politically through different means in different countries.
Italy’s political problems and flawed political system predate the economic crisis and denunciations of corrupt politicians, the political elites and the political system is nothing new in Italian politics – in fact Silvio Berlusconi used that rhetoric in his initial rise to power in 1994. However, the economic crisis has created new deep-seated popular anger at the political elites (la casta) who are seen as ‘parasites’ who do no good and serve their own personal interests on the back of the people. The economic crisis and the resulting credibility crisis faced by all established politicians have allowed for these sentiments to burst onto the scene.
Grillo’s campaign spewed vitriol on the entire Italian political system and its entire political leadership. Grillo does not differentiate between the left and the right because he insists that the entire Italian political system and constitutional model is rotten to its core and that the only solution to these problems would be to get rid of all these ‘parasites’ and replace the system with bottom-up direct democracy. In a climate of social anger, frustration and resentment directed towards la casta, that privileged caste of political and administrative elites which have ridiculously generous conditions and benefits while many voters suffer the weight of austerity measures and economic reforms. These same politicians ask their constituents for ‘sacrifices’ in order to restore economic stability, but at the same time political parties still receive public funding, la casta benefits from lifelong pensions and corrupt politicians continue to run wild. Grillo’s populist anti-system and anti-politician rhetoric, combined with a radically anti-austerity platform – cutting waste, giving monthly stipends to the unemployed, shortening the workweek to 20 hours, a referendum on the euro and debt renegotiation – hit the right notes with voters, both on the left and the right.
Grillo’s surge fed thus fed on three key factors: unpopular austerity, an economic crisis which has bred popular anger against privileged political elites and the discredit of traditional parties on both the left (PD) and right (PdL, Lega). Voters are tired of austerity, high taxes, endemic corruption and the widening disconnect between politicians and the electorate.
The post-election poll by Demopolis reflected that Italians, in large majority, voted for change – oftentimes drastic change. 42% said that the need for a radical renewal of the political leadership was the main influence on their vote, another 31% said that it was the need for different economic, fiscal and labour policies. Only 24% said that the top candidate or party leader was the main influence on their vote, and 9% said that local candidates were the main influence on their vote.
Grillo’s success also shows the growing political power and influence of the internet, more specifically social media. At the heart of the Grillo phenomenon is Grillo’s very popular blog and his own mobilizing power on the internet (when few Italian politicians have embraced social media) has played a key role in the Grillist surge and whirlwind success. The internet forms the backbone of the M5S, whose actual ‘headquarters’ are Grillo’s blog. The party selected its candidate through an open online primary, and Grillo has used his strong presence on social media platforms such as Facebook to mobilize dedicate activists and rally large crowds to his rallies and to his causes. Without such a strong web presence and an ability to organize support through social media platforms, the M5S would likely have had a tougher time organizing itself into a relevant and influential political actor.
The internet is no substitute for traditional political action and electioneering, however. That being said, Grillo also showed that controlling or having a strong presence on television – like Berlusconi has consistently enjoyed since 1994 – is not a necessity. Grillo bans his party’s members from appearing on television, effectively boycotting all political shows or talkshow programs on TV. In late 2012, a Bologna municipal councillor was expelled from the party after appearing on a talkshow on TV. Instead, Grillo’s offline political action and campaigning has come in the form of large rallies in the piazzas. These rallies, often organized online, predate the M5S: Grillo first organized vaffanculo days (fuck off days, rallies for political reform and opposition to the system) in 2007 and 2008. These V-days allowed Grillo’s movement to reach a much wider (offline) audience. During the campaign, Grillo managed to rally thousands to hear his speeches – loud and angry tirades against politicians, the system and the socio-economic situation – throughout Italy. A huge crowd turned out for his final rally on a packed public place in Rome on February 22.
What is the nature of the Grillo phenomenon? Who are the people behind the Grillist surge and who voted for Grillo on February 24-25? Unfortunately, there is only limited information on the demographic or even political background of Grillist voters; research on electoral sociology and related matters seems very sparse in Italy compared to other countries.
A study (done in August 2012) on Grillist supporters on Facebook by UK-based think tank ‘Demos’ offers some interesting insights into the Grillist phenomenon. The study’s findings are based on a survey of over 1,800 Grillist supporters on Facebook.
The Demos study revealed that the movement’s online supporters tended, disproportionately, to be males. A full 63% of the movement’s supporters on Facebook are males (about 54% of Italian Facebook users are males). This is in line with studies done after the 2012 local elections which found that Grillist voters tended, in large part, to be male. What is more surprising, however, from the Demos study is that the M5S’ supporters are actually older than the average Italian Facebook user: 64% of its supporters are over 30 years old (compared to 51% with all Italian Facebook users), and the M5S is actually underrepresented with the youngest age groups (16-20, 21-25). Although 12% of their supporters on Facebook are over 51 years old (against 10% of Italian Facebook users who are over 51), their supporters tend to be largely middle-aged. Other populist movements in Europe, including many far-right parties, tend to find their strongest support with middle-aged males.
The Grillist phenomenon in Italy has been linked to the brief Pirate phenomenon in Germany in 2011-2012. The M5S’ support is certainly deeper and stronger than Pirate support in Germany, given that the Pirates largely responded to ephemeral distaste with the entrenched political system while the M5S is based on deeper distrust of and opposition to the political system and entrenched political corruption. But the M5S might be attracting a similar demographic that the Pirates attracted in Germany: left-leaning males, who are rather well educated and live in urban areas, but many of whom are also unemployed or lower-income (which was the main difference between Pirate and Green support in Germany). However, the Pirates attracted mostly first-time voters, young males (many of whom were unemployed) and many students. The M5S certainly appeals to students and younger age groups as well, but the Grillist voter definitely seems to be older than the Pirate voter – perhaps a result of the M5S’ electorate being far larger than the German Pirate electorate was, even at its height.
The Demos study also showed that the M5S’ supporters on Facebook tended to be considerably more educated than the average Italian. This may reflect, in part, the digital divide. 54% of Grillo’s supporters online have a high school diploma (compared to 35% of Italians) and 27% have a university degree (compared to 12% of Italians). On this count, M5S supporters have more in common with Pirate voters in Germany (well educated) rather than right-wing populist movements in western Europe (who attract those with less education and are weak with the most educated voters).
However, the study also showed that the M5S attracted a considerable number of unemployed voters. 19% of the movement’s Facebook supporters sampled in the study were unemployed, against 8% of Italians at the time of the study. Only 50% were employed full time. 18% were students, which is much higher than the share of students in the Italian population (3%) but also much lower than the share of students in the Pirate Party’s online supporters in Germany (about 35% are students).
On political matters, the study confirms what we could have guessed: Grillist voters are pessimistic, extremely dissatisfied towards the state of Italian democracy and exhibit very deep distrust towards politics, politicians, parties and democratic institutions. The movement’s supporters more favourably disposed to activism (signing petitions, boycotts, unauthorized strikes, occupying factories or buildings) than the wider public.
66% feel that the country’s economic situation will get worse in the next 12 months, compared to 43% of Italians who think likewise. 31% even think that their own lives will get worse, compared with only 18% of Italians who say the same (and while 55% of Italians say their lives will stay the same, only 26% of Grillists say likewise.
Only 4% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the state of democracy in Italy (compared to 32% of Italians) and a full 83% said they were very dissatisfied (only 19% of Italians think likewise). Most (78%) also feel things are going in the ‘wrong direction’ in Italy and in the EU (70%).
M5S supporters, unsurprisingly, exhibit deep distrust towards various institutions, organizations and traditional media outlets. 94% distrust political parties (84% of Italians), 86% distrust government (80% of Italians), 80% distrust big companies (54%), 92% distrust banks, 62% distrust the EU (49%), 82% distrust religious organizations (43%) and 75% distrust unions (56%). They also display a deep aversion towards traditional media outlets and older technologies, but are extremely keen on new technologies. 91% distrust the TV (49%), 83% distrust the press (53%) and 56% distrust the radio (40%). But 76% of Grillists trust the internet, compared with only 37% of Italians. They also tend to be more supportive of SMEs than the average Italian (61% trust vs 53% Italians trust SMEs). Interestingly, however (and in contrast with right-wing populist parties again), Grillists are not disproportionately distrustful of other people – in fact, they seem to distrust others less than other Italians do.
The top two most important issues for Grillist supporters on Facebook were the economic situation (62%) and unemployment (61%). 43% of respondents also cited taxes as one of their top two issues, 36% said rising prices/inflation, 33% were concerned about education or the environment. Immigration, housing, terrorism and foreign policy were less important for most supporters. On the particular topic of immigration, there is a clear difference with right-wing populists in other European countries: most M5S supporters favour immigration, with 56% (compared to 28% of Italians) saying that immigration is more of an opportunity for Italy.
When asked why they backed the M5S, 41% of Facebook Grillists said they backed the movement because they were disillusioned with the main parties and political system and/or wanted change. 28% adhered to the M5S’ values, 20% felt it represented ‘the people’ and 6% support the M5S because of Beppe Grillo’s personal integrity. Only 2% said that they backed the M5S because of economic concerns.
What are the political origins of Grillist voters? Prior to the 2012 local elections, the M5S’ few supporters were clearly on the left of the spectrum (48% of M5S supporters at the end of 2010 placed themselves on the left, only 11% on the right) and the M5S represented a fairly attractive option for left-wingers dissatisfied with the PD and its mediocre performance in opposition. After the 2012 local elections, the M5S’ electorate diversified politically, attracting much more support from the right and weakening the presence of left-wingers within the M5S electorate.
The Demos study in August 2012 still found that the party’s Facebook supports skewed to the left of the wider Italian electorate (the average placement on the 1 left-10 right scale was 3.88). The study’s sample had mostly voted for left-wing parties in 2008: 23% for Antonio Di Pietro’s anti-corruption IdV, 22% for the PD; but also 13% for the PdL and 5% for the Lega. 25% had either voted for other parties, not voted at all or had been too young to vote.
An ISPO study after the 2012 local elections (see here) revealed that 24% of M5S voters in 2012 had voted for the PD in 2008, 16% for the Lega, 13.6% for the PdL, 6% for the Left-Rainbow and about 4% for IdV. 30.5% had not voted or cast invalid ballots.
Demopolis’ post-election study this year analyzed where M5S had come from. 32% of them had voted for the PdL in 2008, 23% had voted PD, 13% had not voted (or were too young), 12% had backed the Lega, 11% supported Di Pietro’s IdV and 9% had voted for other parties. ISPO’s post-election study also asked a similar question to all voters. Overall, 24% of M5S voters this year had backed the PD or IdV in 2008 (21% PD, 5% IdV) and 23% had voted for the right (19% PdL, 4% Lega). 16% voted for the first time this year and 19% did not vote in 2008 (or cast invalid ballots). 16% and 13% of the PD and PdL’s 2008 voters, respectively, voted for the M5S in 2013. 11% of the Lega’s 2008 voters also voted M5S.
Mario Monti’s failure
The biggest loser in these elections was certainly Mario Monti and his centrist coalition. Monti’s decision to enter electoral politics and support a centrist coalition in these elections had excited the Italian centre-right (Casini’s UDC and Fini’s FLI) and foreign observers (the European centre-right and The Economist mostly). Monti and his allies’ goal was clearly to renew the Italian centre-right and recreate the political structure of the First Republic, with a moderate and vaguely centrist DC-type party at the core of the system which could govern either with the moderate centre-left or the right (most often with the centre-left, of course). Casini and Fini both saw in Monti their political saviour, the ostensibly popular non-politician who would lift their fortunes and allow them to retain influence over Italian politics. The Casini-engineered Third Pole with the UDC and FLI never took off and died before it reached maturity; Gianfranco Fini’s dream of renewing the Italian right and preparing it for the post-Berlusconi era had not worked out and his FLI had very low support in polls.
Things did not work out as planned for anybody in the centrist coalition. Mario Monti commanded the respect of many voters only because he was a technocrat who stood above politics and did not associate with any of the established political parties, he lost this significant advantage when he joined partisan politics himself (even if he always denied he was not really joining traditional left-right partisan politics). Monti was campaigning on an unpopular pro-European and liberal/reformist agenda which unambiguously endorsed his cabinet’s unpopular austerity policies and economic reforms/liberalization agenda. On the right, when voters faced between a charismatic populist who promised to solve problems by refunding an unpopular tax and ‘creating jobs’ or a gloomy technocrat who preached austerity and more sacrifices; the choice was quite easy.
Monti also had the misfortune of running a terrible campaign which never got off the ground – his campaign was even worse than the centre-left’s disastrous campaign (only 5% of voters felt that Monti ran the most convincing campaign). The reason for all this is quite simple: Monti is an economics professor and a pure technocrat, not remotely close to being an actual politician. He is uncharismatic, his rhetoric and demeanor is boring and stale, and he was awkward on television. This election confirmed the heavily personalized nature of Italian politics since 1994. Those politicians who do well in elections are those, like Berlusconi and Grillo, who are charismatic larger-than-life figures who master political communications. Those who don’t do well are politicians like Bersani and Monti, who are not telegenic and who are not very charismatic at all.
The result was basically a disaster for Monti’s coalition. It won 10.6% of the vote in the Chamber (barely clearing the 10% threshold to be recognized as a coalition for seat allocation purposes) and only 9.1% for the Senate. It will have a small caucus in both houses of Parliament.
In the Chamber, where the coalition’s three components each ran separate lists, about 78% of the coalition’s voters supported Mario Monti’s civic list (Civic Choice, SC) – which won 8.3%. Casini’s UDC won only 1.8% (down 3.8% since 2008) and Fini’s FLI won a disastrous 0.5%. The UDC fell below the 2% threshold a coalition party needs to win seats, but it salvaged 8 deputies by virtue of the ‘largest coalition party below the threshold’ rule. However, by winning less than 2%, the UDC destroyed the FLI. Gianfranco Fini’s party lost its two dozen seats in the Chamber of Deputies (it might have saved a few senators through the coalition’s common list for the Senate). Both the UDC and FLI felt that allying themselves with Monti would be their political salvation; it backfired on both of them. Gianfranco Fini lost reelection – interestingly, he is the second President of the Chamber of Deputies in a row to lose reelection, the communist Fausto Bertinotti lost reelection in 2008.
Other parties fell flat
Civil Revolution, a left-wing anti-corruption list led by former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio Ingroia and which included the two moribund communist parties, Di Pietro’s IdV, Naples mayor De Magistris’ new party and the irrelevant greens, fell far short of winning seats. It won 2.3% and 1.8%, underperforming its polling numbers. RC suffered from competition from M5S, which took many potential left-wing and/or anti-corruption voters the RC would have needed to win. Beppe Grillo was a far more popular option for those voters, RC never really broke out and unlike the Grillists it never attracted lots of media attention or coverage during the campaign. The RC’s failure likely spells the end of the road for Di Pietro’s IdV, already half-destroyed by deep divisions and internal rifts. Di Pietro resigned as IdV leader following the election, it is tough to see how his party would be able to survive without any parliamentarians and its long-time standard bearer. The two communist parties, PRC and PdCI, will remain deeply irrelevant.
Oscar Giannino’s neoliberal/libertarian Act to Stop the Decline went nowhere, barely winning 1% of the vote. It attracted a very economically liberal/libertarian right-wing voters, but little else besides that.
Geography of the Vote
Geographically, the election saw both persistent old traditions and voting patterns (such as the left-right divide) but also a lot of new patterns, linked to the emergence of the M5S. Grillist support was one of the most important and interesting aspect of the election, and its geographic distribution could be instructive as we try to decipher the nature of Grillo’s support.
YouTrend (and igraphics.gr, the Greek company which did those similarly fantastic map of the Greek elections last year) has produced a fantastic interactive map of the result, which allows you to explore results down to the comuni level but also visualize the support for coalitions and parties or compare 2013 results to those of the last election in 2008.
Under the current electoral law, control of the Senate is decided by elections in individual regions. The left is somewhat penalized by the concentration of some of its votes in the Red Quadrilateral, it won by about 20 points in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany and about 13 points in Umbria (in all three cases, the M5S placed second). It also won Basilicata, the centre-left’s usual southern stronghold (largely because the local DC cadres turned to the left after 1994), by 11 points over the right.
The centre-left was able to pull off important victory in “swing regions” – it won by 3 in the Lazio, Marche, Liguria, Sardinia (in the latter three cases, the M5S was second), by 0.5 in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Piedmont. However, the right was able to walk away with a bare plurality of senators (excluding the Aosta Valley, TAA and the abroad seats elected by a different system) because it managed to sweep the main ‘swing regions’ including Lombardy, Veneto, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. The left severely underperformed in Lombardy (in the senate contest), the right took the region by 7 points. It also won Veneto by 8 points. The left also did much worse than expected in Campania, the region surrounding Naples, it lost that region by an unexpectedly large 9 point margin to the right. The right won Apulia by 6 and Sicily by about 4 points (6 points over the left, which placed third). It also won Calabria by 4 points. The left’s unexpectedly weak performance nationally served as a major drag on the centre-left in individual regional Senate races and allowed Berlusconi to walk out with many more seats than originally predicted.
The centre-left won a bare plurality of seats in the Senate thanks to its results in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtiro, where the PD and its local allies (the SVP, the PATT and the UPT) won 6 seats, against only one for the PdL-Lega; and abroad, where the PD won 4 seats (out of 6).
In northern and central Italy, the traditional left-right divide remained visible. The centre-left coalition won 40.1% in Emilia-Romagna, 41.5% in Tuscany and 35.5% in Umbria (for the Chamber). The right won 35.7% in Lombardy and 31.8% in the Veneto. Piedmont remained a swing region, with the left winning the region in the Senate contest with 29.8% against 29.3% for the centre-right (it also won 28.3% in the Chamber of Deputies in Piedmont). At the provincial and municipal level, the old Red Quadrilateral/Red Zones of central Italy – the PCI’s strongholds during the First Republic – are naturally quite visible, and provided the centre-left with some of its best results in the entire country.
The centre-left won most major urban centres in the country. In the core of the Red Quadrilateral, it won 48.3% in Florence and 46.9% in Bologna. It won in Rome, with 33.7% against 27.3% for the M5S, but lost nearly 13 points compared to the 2008 election. In Milan, the Berlusconian right lost over 20 points (the left lost ‘only’ 5.6) can placed second with 29% against 33.6% for the left. The centre-left also won Venice (with 33.9% against 27.6% for M5S), Trieste (by a hair – M5S and the left both took 28.7%), Turin (34.6% against 25.6% for M5S) and Genoa (35.2% against 32.2% for M5S). In southern Italy, however, the right won Naples by a hair (30.3% vs 30% for the left) and M5S won Palermo in Sicily (with 32.8%). The right also won Bari (Apulia) and Catania (Sicily). The largest city won by the right in the north was Verona, the largest city won by the left in the south was Cagliari (Sardinia).
In the Senate, the M5S did not win any region; but in the Chamber, the M5S topped the poll in Liguria (32%), Marche (32%), Abruzzo (29.9%), Sardinia (29.7%) and did best in Sicily (33.5%). The party’s worst results, outside German-speaking Bolzano, were in Lombardy – particularly the Prealpine provinces where the Lega does best, the inland regions of the Red Quadrilateral in Tuscany and Emilia and parts of the south including Campania and the tip of Calabria. Although the Grillists won up to 40.2% of the vote in one province (Trapani in Sicily), their vote was fairly homogeneously distributed throughout the country – the worst province (besides Bolzano) was Bergamo (Lombardy) and the M5S still took 16.8% there.
The M5S’ support reveals how heterogeneous its electorate is. The party broke the traditional left-right patterns, doing best in right-wing regions (Sicily, parts of Liguria, parts of rural Lazio, parts of Veneto) but also in left-wing regions (Marche, parts of Piedmont, parts of Sardinia). It did well both in urban areas and in some rural areas, it won both left-wingers and right-wingers, both middle-class voters and working-class voters.
Regional patterns and local factors certainly played an important role in the M5S’ vote. Grillo himself is from Genoa and his movement did very well in Liguria. In the province of Turin, where M5S won 29% of the vote, it did extremely well in the Val di Susa – a valley extending westwards from Turin – taking over 40% in most comunis in that valley. In this particular case, the M5S benefited from a particular local issue: opposition to the TAV, a proposed high speed train which would connect Turin to Lyon (in France), the proposed route would go through the Val di Susa. The M5S opposes the TAV and a few of its new MPs from Piedmont are linked to the anti-TAV social movements.
Throughout the north but also in parts of central and southern Italy, it is interesting to point out that M5S did best not in the urban cores (Milan, Turin, Venice, Rome etc) themselves but rather in all surrounding suburban or exurban municipalities, so that its support forms a kind of halo around major cities. This does not mean that the Grillists did poorly in major cities – it won 25.6% in Turin, 27.6% in Venice, 28.7% in Trieste, 32.2% in Genoa and 27.3% in Rome – but it did even better in municipalities surrounding these cities. This is particularly clear in Venice, where the left won the city itself but the M5S swept surrounding areas, including Chioggia, Mira and Mirano; but also in Milan, where the M5S won only 17% in Milan itself but won well over 20% in surrounding municipalities – most of which formed part of a solidly left-wing proletarian hinterland (‘Red Belt’) under the First Republic. In Rome, the left won the capital city itself but the M5S won a lot of the city’s suburban areas; including working-class Guidonia Montecelio and Monterotondo (33% in both) but also Fiumicino (36%), Aprilia (35%) and Civitavecchia (35%). It also won Tarquinia (33%), Viterbo (32%) and Rieti (32%). In parts, there appears to be a superficial correlation between municipalities were the PCI did well in the 1970s and the 1980s and the municipalities won by the M5S.
Urban and suburban areas concentrate well educated young and middle-aged voters, which seem to have formed the core of the Grillist base. The M5S clearly won both working-class and middle-class voters in urban and suburban areas. It would be interesting to compare the M5S’ support at a municipal level in these areas with variables including unemployment. Urban and suburban areas would likely be the most sensitive to Grillo’s style of campaigning; middle-aged voters, lower middle-classes and the working-class have also suffered disproportionately from austerity measures and economic reform, and their Grillist vote expresses the despair of well-educated voters who have lost their jobs and many of whom are forced to seek employment in other regions or in other countries.
Southern Italy is a politically volatile regions, and factors such as ideology play a less important role in forming voting patterns than in northern Italy. In the 2012 local elections, the M5S did not really do all that wel in southern Italy, leading some to think that it would have a tougher time breaking through the old walls of clientelism and political traditionalism in southern Italy. But in the Sicilian regional elections in October 2012, it surprised all observers by winning 18% of the presidential vote and 15% of the list vote. In some cases, the M5S still had some trouble breaking through in rural areas of the south, particularly in Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and parts of Apulia; at the same time, however, the Grillists did extremely well in most urban areas in southern and insular Italy.
Sicily was the M5S’ best region, winning 33.5% of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies and the Sicilian provinces of Trapani (40%!), Ragusa (39%), Siracusa (37%), Caltanissetta (36.6%) and Agrigento (36%) were the M5S’ five best provinces in the country. The Sicilian results are extremely interesting, and somewhat puzzling. The Grillist’s strong performance may be due to them already having a base of elected officials in Sicily since October 2012 – the M5S also did quite well in Parma province (29%), where they have held the mayoralty of Parma since last year.
Politics in Sicily and other parts of the Mezzogiorno tends to be less ideologically-driven and more volatile than politics in northern Italy. Ideology and partisanship is a factor, but the personality of the candidate tends to play a much stronger role in the south and voters tend to be drawn to populism. The SEL’s strong performance in Apulia (6.5%), Basilicata (5.9%) and Molise (5.5%) confirms this; these are three Catholic and small-c conservative regions which are not usually associated with the SEL’s ecosocialist ideology. Rather, the SEL’s vote in these regions was a friends-and-neighbors vote for regional favourite son Nichi Vendola (regional president of Apulia).
Hence, southern and insular voters were likely drawn to Grillo because of his strong personality and his populist style – two things which southern voters tend to like in their politicians. In Sicily and the south, the Grillists likely took most of their votes from the Berlusconian rights (though they took a lot from the left as well).
In Sicily, the results at the comuni level tell us some things about the nature of Grillist support on the island. Even if his support was, once again, spread relatively homogeneously, there are a few regions which stand out. Firstly, the five aformentioned provinces are located on the southern or southeastern/southwestern coast of the island; he did not perform as well along the northern coast, particularly in the province of Messina (25.7%). Secondly, the Grillist vote was – once again – strongest in urban and suburban areas – 33% in Palermo (and even higher in some surrounding towns), 39.6% in Trapani, 38% in Marsala, 43% in Mazara del Vallo, 41% in Sciaccia, 37% in Agrigento, 39.7% in Caltanissetta, 43% in Vittoria, 41% in Ragusa, 40% in Modica, 35.3% in Siracusa, 42% in Augusta (an industrial area with a big petrochemical refinery), 32% in Catania (even higher in surrounding towns) and a low of 27.7% in Messina. He did not do as well in small towns and villages, especially in mountainous areas in the province of Palermo and Messina. Thirdly, and rather interestingly, the M5S’ map shows a superficial (although quite imperfect) correlation with those municipalities where the PCI used to poll well in the 1970s and 1980s. Trapani was also the only Sicilian province to vote for the republic in 1946; the republican vote was also stronger in those southern provinces where the M5S performed best.
While the Grillist took more from the right than from the left in Sicily and southern Italy – a region where the Berlusconian right has usually performed better than the left since 1994 – the M5S likely took more from the left in Marche, a traditionally solidly left-wing region in the Red Quadrilateral. Marche and Abruzzo are two other rather puzzling results.
Interestingly, in both regions – particularly Abruzzo – it is striking how the M5S performed best in urban/suburban areas, along the coast and in other low-lying areas while it did not do as well in mountainous regions. Similar patterns are also apparent in parts of northern and central Italy – for example, in Emilia-Romagna, the M5S did not do as well in the Apennines; and it performed poorly in the Alps. Is this only a pure coincidence and geography cannot explain anything about Grillist support? After all, the Grillist vote was very high in a bunch of rural mountainous villages in Liguria.
Or could it still be the beginnings of a (partial) explanation of the Grillist vote? Perhaps mountainous villages were more permeable to Grillo’s unorthodox style of campaigning – based on the internet and organizing large rallies in the piazzas of main towns (both of which would be more likely to reach a urban or suburban clientele) – and perhaps did not experience a ‘late swing’ to Grillo as a result? Could relative isolation from the main modes of communication and transportation still have an impact on the diffusion of new political ideologies in 2013?
In northern Italy, the M5S certainly stole a lot of votes from the Lega Nord – particularly in the Veneto. However, exploring the results at the comuni level reveals that there is no correlation – on the contrary, if there is a correlation it is probably a negative one – between the Lega Nord’s results and the Grillist vote. In Lombardy and the Veneto, the M5S polled best in urban and suburban areas – there is a noticeable ‘halo’ effect around Milan and Venice – or in other low-lying areas, such as the province of Mantova (the most left-wing province in Lombardy) or the province of Pavia (these areas are often old small industrial centres, which were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in northern Italy). On the other hand, the Lega Nord usually finds its strongest support in rural areas, particularly the Pedemontana, the region at the feet of the Prealps and in mountainous regions themselves. The Lega won 22.5% in Sondrio, 19.7% in Bergamo, 17.6% in Brescia and 16.1% in Varese – with the exception of Varese, the M5S’ result was below the regional average (19.7%) in all those provinces.
The Grillist vote is a fascinating new political phenomenon, and it certainly merits a much more thorough explanation. Unfortunately, Italy tends to lack academic interest in electoral geography and electoral sociology. The M5S movement is a new populist movement quite unlike the traditional far-right populism seen elsewhere in western Europe; but also different from the left-libertarian populism represented by the Pirate Party in Germany. A more thorough study of its vote, down to the comuni level, would be fascinating and reveal tons about modern Italian society and the socio-political effects of the crisis in Italy.
Monti’s map was rather interesting. In part, it resembles the old map of the DC – strongholds in the north (Veneto, rural Lombardy and Piedmont) and in the conservative south (Campania and Basilicata). Monti did well in northern Italy. He won his best result, 20.7%, in the Trento – but that was largely due to an alliance with Lorenzo Dellai’s local Union for Trentino (UPT) for the Chamber of Deputies. But he still won 11-15% in most northern provinces in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Lombardy and the Piedmont. Monti’s reformist and liberal agenda was a fairly good fit for some voters in the north, traditional Christian democrats or reformist right-wingers drawn to Monti’s pro-European centre-right and more repelled by the PdL and the Lega’s shift towards populism and anti-austerity rhetoric. Northern Italy has a strong and vibrant culture of ‘progressive Catholic’ small business owners and entrepreneurs who formed the backbone of the northern DC up until 1992 and have traditionally backed the right.
By virtue of his alliance with the UDC and the FLI, whose supports lies primarily in the south and Sicily (regions where the DC vote held up better than in the north in the 1990s and where the post-DC centre has been able to do best), Monti performed quite well in the south as well. He won 19.5% in the Campanian province of Avellino, where the DC’s networks of political patronage and clientelism proved surprisingly resilient after 1994 (the PPI won Avellino in 1994 and 1996); and took 10-12% in much of the Mezzogiorno. However, Monti’s performance in the south was quite mediocre. Despite his alliance with Casini and Fini, Monti was unable to hold traditional centrist voters in the south. In these poorer and more populist regions, Monti’s liberal, elitist and pro-European style likely turned off a lot of voters.
Monti’s best results came from Italians abroad – he won second place with 18.4% of the vote in the international vote in the Camera. He took 27% in Europe, 27.8% in North and Central America and 31.2% in Asia/Africa/Oceania (it did not run in South America). This should not be too surprising: a lot of expats, particularly those who lean to the right, tend to be educated professionals or affluent businessmen and these voters would naturally love a centre-right candidate like Monti. By living abroad, they were also relatively unaffected by austerity (therefore less likely to dislike Monti because of it) and perhaps somewhat disconnected from the campaign back home.
Voting Shifts since 2008
An important key to understanding these results is the shift in votes since the 2008 election. YouTrend/igraphics.gr’s maps gives you the ability to visualize the voting shifts since the 2008 election. These shifts are extremely important in helping us understand the ideological and political nature of the Grillist electorate.
The map on the left shows the ‘trend’ in the centre-left since the 2008 election: municipalities shaded in green indicate areas where the swing against the centre-left was smaller than the national average; those shaded in red indicate areas where the swing against the centre-left was larger than the national average. Nationally, according to YouTrend’s calculations, the centre-left lost 9% since 2008. In my calculations above, I excluded the IdV from the centre-left’s vote share in 2008; YouTrend’s map includes the IdV in the centre-left’s 2008 vote share.
The left suffered heavy loses along the Adriatic coastline in Marche, Abruzzo and Molise. It also suffered similarly heavy loses in the Val di Susa in Turin province, around Genoa and Savona in Liguria, in the Lazio, in parts of Calabria (Cosenza and Crotone), Sicily and Sardinia. In Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, the left generally suffered some large loses as well; though it resisted well in mountainous regions (the Apennines) and in Piacenza (Bersani’s native province in Emilia).
From the map, it is quite clear that the Grillist vote along the Adriatic in Marche and Abruzzo fed heavily on the left. In the Lazio, the Red Quadrilateral, Calabria (and other parts of southern Italy), parts of Liguria and the islands; the left also lost a good number of votes to the M5S. Even in Sicily, the huge Grillist vote also came from the left – notice how the northern parts of the island (Messina and Palermo province) had swings lower than the national average.
In Molise, the loses are due to the IdV being counted as part of the centre-left coalition in 2008. The PD itself actually improved its vote share in the region, where the IdV vote was extremely strong in 2008 (Molise is Di Pietro’s native region).
In the north, the left’s vote generally held up a bit better. The lowest swings against the left came from Lombardy and eastern Piedmont, where the Grillist vote likely came disproportionately from the right. The centre-left had also performed poorly in those regions in the 2008 election, and it could not fall much lower.
Berlusconi’s PdL saw its share of the vote drop by about 15.8% since the 2008 election. The PdL’s heaviest loses came from Sardinia, the Lazio, parts of Sicily and Campania, and the provinces of Imperia and Savona in Liguria. The PdL vote held up much better in the north, particularly in the Veneto and eastern Lombardy. In the north, it likely managed to gain a few votes from 2008 Lega Nord voters; helping to limit the bleeding. The PdL could not fall much lower in the left-wing strongholds of the Red Quadrilateral.
Sardinia is fairly interesting. Clearly, both the left and the right lost heavily to Grillo on the island; but the PdL had been doing quite poorly in Sardinia ever since the 2009 European elections (which followed the right’s victory in snap regional elections in Sardinia). In the Lazio, the particularly heavy loses suffered by the PdL – which once again benefited Grillo. The swing in the Lazio was perhaps exaggerated by the dismal state of the PdL and the right in the Lazio after regional president Renata Polverini was forced to resign following a scandal involving embezzlement of public funds by right-wing regional councillors. In Liguria, the Grillist vote – in part a favourite son vote – gained a lot of votes from the right, particularly in the conservative provinces of Imperia and Savona.
While the Grillist vote in the Marche and Abruzzo was clearly a left-wing vote in large majority, the PdL was not immune to the Grillist surge in those regions either.
The Lega Nord lost about 4.2% nationally. Obviously, the swing was largest in those northern regions where it was strongest while the swing was much lower in central regions where it is quite irrelevant.
The Lega accounts for most of the centre-right’s loses in the Veneto, where the right’s general performance was surprisingly well. The Lega polled extremely well in the Veneto in 2008 and 2010, doing better than in Lombardy (27% in Veneto and 21.6% in Lombardy in 2008). This year, the Lega won only 10.5% in Veneto, while it won 12.9% in Lombardy. In the Veneto, the Lega mostly lost votes to the M5S, but also to the PdL and Monti.
There were also regional elections – for the regional president and regional legislature – in Lombardy, Lazio and Molise on election day.
Nicola Zingaretti (PD) 40.65% winning 10 seats
Francesco Storace (La Destra-PdL) 29.32% winning 1 seat
Davide Barillari (M5S) 20.22%
Giulia Bongiorno (FLI-Centre) 4.73%
Sandro Ruotolo (RC) 2.17%
Simone Di Stefano (Casapound) 0.79%
Alessandra Baldassarri (Fare) 0.57%
Giuseppe Rossodivita (amnistia giustizia libertà) 0.44%
Roberto Fiore (Forza Nuova) 0.37%
Luca Romagnoli (Fiamma tricolore) 0.34%
Luigi Sorge (PCL) 0.27%
Giuseppe Strano (Rete dei cittadini) 0.08%
Zingaretti Coalition 41.63% winning 18 seats
Storace Coalition 32.80% winning 11 seats
M5S 16.64% winning 7 seats
Centre (Bongiorno) 4.42% winning 2 seats
RC 2.09% winning 0 seats
Casapound 0.65% winning 0 seats
Fare 0.5% winning 0 seats
Amnistia giustizia libertà 0.39% winning 0 seats
Forza Nuova 0.27% winning 0 seats
Fiamma tricolore 0.26% winning 0 seats
PCL 0.2% winning 0 seats
Rete dei cittadini 0.09% winning 0 seats
As expected, centre-left Nicola Zingaretti – the president of the province of Rome – was elected regional president of Lazio by a solid 11% margin over Francesco Storace, a former AN regional president (2000-2005) who is now the leader of La Destra. The outgoing PdL regional president, Renata Polverini, was forced to resign following a scandal concerning the embezzlement of public funds by right-wing regional councillors who used those funds for personal purposes or to organize lavish purposes. The scandal left the regional right in disarray, deeply weakened. The young and fairly charismatic Nicola Zingaretti, the popular president of the province of Rome, ran a good campaign, and won easily.
The M5S did not do as well in the regional elections; it won 28% in the Chamber election, but its candidate took only 20% of the vote. Given that the right performed only marginally better regionally, many M5S voters at the national level must have voted for the centre-left’s candidate at the regional level. The centre, which won 8.8% in the Chamber election, also did significantly worse in the regional election.
Many Roman politicians go on to play prominent roles in national politics – Francesco Rutelli and Walter Veltroni, two former centre-left mayors of Rome both went on to lead the centre-left coalition in general elections (in 2001 and 2008 respectively). Zingaretti’s victory makes him a potential player nationally.
Roberto Maroni (Lega Nord-PdL) 42.81%
Umberto Ambrosoli (PD) 38.24%
Silvana Carcano (M5S) 13.62%
Gabriele Albertini (Monti) 4.12%
Carlo Maria Pinardi (Fare) 1.18%
Maroni Coalition 43.07% winning 48 seats
Ambrosoli Coalition 37.27% winning 21 seats
M5S 14.33% winning 9 seats
Centre-UDC (Albertini) 4.05% winning 0 seats
Fare 1.26% winning 0 seats
In the most disputed and important regional election, Roberto Maroni – the national leader of the Lega Nord – scored an important win for the Lega and the centre-right in Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region and economic powerhouse. Lombardy is a right-wing stronghold, but the resignation of longtime centre-right president Roberto Formigoni because one of his allies was accused of buying votes from the Calabrian mafia had allowed the left to hope that it could finally score a big win. It was thus a high-stakes contest for both sides: the left hoping for a major win in a right-wing stronghold, and the Lega Nord trying to conquer – with the PdL’s backing – its birthplace and the most important region in northern Italy.
Maroni won by a bit less than 5 points, a wider margin than predicted by polls (all had basically shown a close race) although the centre-left still performed decently considering the national circumstances. The M5S’ candidate did not do as well as her party did in the national election – she won 13.6% (the regional list won 14.3%) while the Grillists won 19.7% in the Chamber election. This proves that a fair number of Grillist voters preferred to vote for the traditional left or right in the regional election. Many of them likely voted for the Lega Nord: the Lega and Maroni’s personal list won 23.2% of the regional list vote put together (13% for the Lega itself), while the Lega won only 12.9% in the Chamber election. Still, a substantial number also voted for the left, which did about 10% better in the regional election than in the general election. One party which did horribly, however, was Monti’s centrist coalition. Although it had a solid candidate (Albertini is a MEP and former Berlusconian mayor of Milan), it won only 4% of the vote – while it won 12.1% in the Chamber.
Maroni’s victory is a major boon for the Lega, which paradoxically finds itself in control of northern Italy’s three most important regions while it is in a precarious shape at the national level.
Paolo Di Laura Frattura (PD) 44.70% winning 3 seats
Angelo Michele Iorio (PdL-UDC) 25.8% winning 1 seat
Antonio Federico (M5S) 16.76%
Massimo Romano (Centre-Fare) 11.01%
Antonio De Lellis (Rivoluzione Democratica) 1.12%
Camillo Colella (Lavoro Sport e Sociale) 0.59%
Frattura Coalition 50.14% winning 9 seats
Iorio Coalition 27.54% winning 4 seats
M5S 12.18% winning 2 seats
Romano Coalition 8.67% winning 1 seat
Rivoluzione Democratica 0.93% winning 0 seats
Lavoro Sport e Sociale 0.52% winning 0 seats
Angelo Michele Iorio, the incumbent centre-right regional president of the small southern region of Molise (since 2001) lost reelection by a wide margin. He had won reelection by a tiny margin in the 2011 election, but the 2011 election was overturned because of irregularities in the election. The PD’s Paolo Di Laura Frattura, who had narrowly lost the 2011 election, won in a landslide.
In the general election (Chamber), the centre-left won 28.9% against 28.4% for the right, with the M5S at 27.7%. Iorio actually did worse than his coalition did in the general election – despite his alliance with the UDC at the regional level. The centre-left candidate did much better than the centre-left did in the general election, about 16 points better. Given how the M5S underperformed at the regional level, most of these additional voters simultaneously voted for the M5S in the general election.
The regional elections all show that a substantial number of M5S voters are quite ready for the centre-left (or centre-right). Although the Grillist rhetoric is uncompromising towards other parties, the new Grillist electorate is not as uncompromising as it might appear.
What next for Italy?
On the basis of these results, Bersani’s centre-left coalition has a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies because of the electoral system and the national supermajority bonus. However, the Senate is deadlocked. Bersani’s centre-left coalition narrowly emerged with a plurality of seats – 123 – but fell far short of the 158 seats needed to form an absolute majority on its own.
Before the election, when it looked as if Bersani would win by more than a point, most had predicted that even if the centre-left was to lack an absolute majority, it could easily form an alliance with Mario Monti’s centrist coalition in the Senate and cobble together a more or less solid governing majority. That was not to be. Both Bersani and Monti did horribly, and the result is that even when put together, the centre-left and the centre lack an absolute majority on their own. They hold 142 seats in the Senate, and at least 158 seats are needed for an absolute majority (and, ideally, a stable government in Italy needs more than a bare absolute majority in the Senate to protect itself from defectors – just ask Prodi).
In a lot of bicameral countries – like in Spain for example, this would not be a major problem because the lower house is often the more powerful of the two houses and a government is able to govern even if it lacks a majority in the Senate. Italian bicameralism, however, is ‘perfect bicameralism’ – both houses are equals, they must both approve bills (and no one house can override the other house’s opposition) and – most importantly – a government may only be formed and then continue to govern as long as it enjoys the confidence of both houses. A government, however, does not necessarily fall if one of its bills is rejected by one house.
The new legislature only convenes on March 15, so Bersani and the other parties have until that date to try to reach an agreement. As per the Italian constitution, the President – Giorgio Napolitano – would likely appoint Bersani to form a government. The constitution gives him ten days following his appointment to receive the confidence of both houses.
Bersani needs to find at least 16 senators to obtain the confidence of the Senate, where abstentions seem to be counted as votes against the government. Bersani could either turn to Berlusconi’s PdL and form an unprecedented and unruly Grand Coalition with the right, or he could turn to the M5S and lobby individual M5S senators to gain their support.
A coalition with Berlusconi would have been disastrous for both sides – and it would have been the best thing ever for Grillo. There are differences between Bersani and Berlusconi, and a government which includes both of their parties would have been unruly, chaotic, unstable and unable to take action on any major issue (economic reform, corruption etc) because of deadlock between both parties. A coalition between the two old coalitions of Second Republic politics would have been perfect, politically and electorally, for Grillo. Neither the centre-left nor the centre-right were ever warm on the idea to begin with. SEL leader Nichi Vendola flatly opposed any coalition with Berlusconi and Bersani recently closed the door on any such deal.
The only option for Bersani is now to seek the confidence of at least 16 (if not more) Grillist senators. Beppe Grillo has always refused any electoral coalitions or political alliances/deals with the traditional parties, always preaching “a plague on both their houses”. Grillo’s rhetoric brands both traditional parties/coalitions on the left and right as corrupt parasites which must be overthrown and replaced with a new political order and a new political system. Bersani has recognized his precarious position and has said that he is willing to offer various concessions to the M5S – supporting a Grillist to be President of the Chamber, electoral reform and new laws against corruption. He has also more or less signaled that this would be a short-lived government, which would focus on electoral reform and anti-corruption legislation, before quickly returning to the polls – perhaps as early as the fall.
Grillo, as noted above, is the central icon of his movement. Although he claims to reject traditional party discipline and partisan hierarchy, and claims that the M5S is a movement rather than a political party; it is quite clear that Grillo is the leader of the movement/party/whatever and that he controls the M5S with an iron hand. For example, he expelled two M5S members in December 2012 – one local councillor for appearing on TV, and one regional councillor for daring to speak out about internal democracy in the M5S. The only other rather prominent and well-known figure in the M5S is Grillo’s right-hand man, Gianroberto Casaleggio – an entrepreneur and businessman. Casaleggio is a controversial figure, his opponents say he is a shadowy and mysterious ‘guru’ who controls the Grillist machine from behind the scenes.
However, the Grillist movement is thrust into uncharted waters now. The M5S now has 163 parliamentarians (109 deputies, 54 senators). Almost all of them are political novices with no prior parliamentary or even political experience. Its new caucus includes a wide array of students, businessmen, activists, environmentalists, academics, researchers and young men and women. Their leader, Beppe Grillo, did not run and will not be in Parliament – he will continue to control the movement through his blog, from the outside.
The movement’s new parliamentarians are newbies in Parliament, but they are the real kingmakers who will make or break any government and decide the country’s future. How will they act? Grillo is ‘radical’ and intransigent. He has refused any deal or parliamentary pact with Bersani, and has announced that Grillists will not give their confidence to the centre-left or anybody else. Will the new Grillist deputies follow the words of their leader and flatly deny confidence to any other party?
As a new movement born – in large part – on the internet and recruiting from different social horizons, many in the M5S’ caucus have made clear that they will act independently as parliamentarians, and vote their conscience rather than adhere to any party line or subject themselves to partisan discipline. Not much – if anything – is known about the new Grillist parliamentarians, but perhaps a good number of them are more pragmatic than their leader, and more inclined towards reaching consensus. Apparently, by the comments on his blog, Grillo’s announcement that he would not vote in favour of any government, did not go down all that well with many Grillist activists. There are signs that the Grillist electorate and perhaps the caucus is more pragmatic and would be amenable to endorsing a short-term Bersani government which focuses on electoral reform and anti-corruption laws. Some new Grillist deputies have openly said that they would support legislation which they judge to be ‘good’.
Canadian readers will be familiar with the experience of the Progressive Party in Canadian politics in the early 1920s. The M5S is by no means identical – the Progressives were always a sectional party, the M5S is anything but a sectional or regional party. However, like the M5S, the Canadian Progressives were a new movement which burst onto the scene. It represent political interests and voters which other parties had not been able to represent or accommodate, and expressed the alienation of a certain segment of voters from the traditional party system and their policies. And although the issues behind the rise of both parties are separated by over 90 years and were quite different, there were still some similarities. Like the M5S, the Progressives made a big splash in their first election (in 1921, they were the second largest party ahead of the Conservatives) and their novice MPs were forced into assuming major political responsibilities. The subsequent experience of the Progressives might be parallel to that of the M5S today.
The Progressives were quickly wrecked by internal divisions. You had the so-called “Liberal-Progressives” whose focus was on redressing short-term economic conditions for their region/electorate and integrating the traditional partisan system; many of these MPs later joined the governing Liberal Party. On the other hand, you had the “Gingers”, a radical group of novice MPs which wanted a whole new political system (they opposed representative democracy and supported some kind of group government/corporatism) and wanted more far-reaching social reforms. They refused to subject themselves to partisan discipline. Many Gingers went on to form what is today the NDP.
Could the M5S, which also has a large caucus of first-time novice parliamentarians, have the same experience as the Progressive Party? Could more pragmatic members integrate the traditional party system or at least collaborate with the traditional parties, like the Liberal-Progressives did in Canada in the 1920s? Seeing M5S parliamentarians ‘institutionalize’ themselves by integrating the current political system is certainly what the centre-left and other established parties would love to see.
For now, Bersani’s path to confidence in the Senate is to win the support of individual M5S senators. Grillo has virulently attacked him, but Bersani – to his credit – has appeared quite good at maneuvering these treacherous waters thus far and he understands that while he will not be able to convince the entire M5S or its leader, he could be able to win individual M5S senators to his side. If he does succeed in winning the confidence of the Senate, he will rely on individual M5S parliamentarians who will offer him case-by-case support for legislation. This is what is currently happening in Sicily – the regional governor, on the centre-left, lacks a legislative majority, but he wins supports on a case-by-case basis from M5S representatives. This could provide a major divide within the M5S, but it seems to be the option which most Italians – and most M5S voters – prefer.
Nevertheless, whatever emerges from the Senate after March 15 will not last for very long. The main word coming out from these election is ‘ungovernable’. Indeed, the country appears to be ungovernable and early elections by the end of 2013 seem nearly inevitable.
The two houses will need to elect a president (speaker) once they convene. Their next task – which they cannot ‘duck’ – is the election of a new President once President Napolitano’s seven year term draws to a close in April-May. Napolitano is eligible to run for reelection, but he has said that he will not seek reelection. The Italian President is elected by Parliament and regional delegates; any candidate requires a two-thirds majority to be elected on the first three ballots and only an absolute majority in the fourth and subsequent ballots. Therefore, electing a President will require a deal between the centre-left, the M5S and/or the centre-right. Mario Monti was once seen as a favourite for the ceremonial office, after his participation in this election it seems less likely. A number of names are swirling around, one of the favourites might be Giuliano Amato, a former centre-left Prime Minister who might be acceptable to the centre-right.
The constitution does not allow for the Parliament to be dissolved in the last six months of the President’s term, meaning that dissolution and early elections are impossible until May-June at the least.
Interestingly, the Italian constitution allows for the President to dissolve one or both chambers. This could allow for a snap election only for the Senate; this seems rather unlikely as there have never been elections for only a single house of Parliament in Italy, and it would likely be poorly received by the electorate.
If Bersani is able to cobble together a short-term government to prepare for new elections at the end of the year or early next year, one of the main issues he will face will be electoral reform. This election proved how unfair and unrepresentative the current electoral system is. The 2006 and 2008 resulted in a Parliament more or less representative of the voice of the electorate, because two large coalitions won – by far – most votes (99% in 2006, 84% in 2008). This year, no coalition won more than 30% of the vote and the traditional left and right blocs won only 59% of the vote together. The supermajority bonus in the Chamber of Deputies allowed the centre-left, on 29.5% of the vote, to win 54% of the seats.
The Gallagher Disproportionality Index, which measures for ‘disproportionality’ in election results by comparing the popular vote to the seat totals, was 17.34 for this election – higher values represent a more disproportional outcome, and indices above 10 tend to be quite disproportional. The indice for the 2008 Italian election was 5.7 and this is, by far, the most ‘disproportional’ election result in Italy since the war. Quite tellingly, with this result, Italy currently has the second most ‘disproportional’/unrepresentative legislature in the EU after France (17.66) and ahead of the United Kingdom (15.1). But unlike either France or the UK, Italy officially uses proportional representation.
Almost everybody agrees on the need for a new electoral law, which might be in place before any new election. But there is probably a lot of disagreement as to what electoral system should be used instead. The PD seems partial to the “French” system, with two-round voting in single-member constituencies. The M5S has often criticized the disconnect between MPs and their constituents, a disconnect made worse by the fact that a single individual may run for election in multiple constituencies and then choose which constituency they will represent. Italy already experimented with single-member constituencies between 1994 and 2005, when most deputies and senators were elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies and a smaller number elected by a PR list vote. The PD would like any electoral system which would narrow the field to two major parties, but Italy is always going to be a multi-party system. The experience with FPTP in the 1990s did not see a narrowing of the field to two parties, rather the coalitions on both sides distributed seats between the various component parties. And now, with the rise of M5S, the establishment parties might prove cooler on single-member constituencies.
Other options likely include a “German” system (either MMP or parallel voting), purer proportional representation, a reform of the current system with either a much smaller majority bonus (and changes in the Senate majority bonus system) or a “Spanish” d’Hondt PR system at a constituency level which would advantage larger parties.
In the meantime, Italy’s economy is still is a perilous position. The news of the results – Berlusconi’s near-victory, the rejection of Monti’s policies by voters, the Grillist wave and ungovernability – sent financial markets into panic mode. European markets dropped, the Euro dropped and Italian sovereign bond yields jumped. The results in Italy may have brought the Euro crisis back to centre stage and reopens the door of a Eurozone breakup. Foreign reactions to the results of the Italian election were almost overwhelmingly negative. The Economist opined that “confronted by the worst recession in their country since the 1930s and the possible implosion of Europe’s single currency, the people of Italy have decided to avoid reality.” Peer Steinbrück, the gaffe-prone candidate of the German SPD in the German federal elections this fall created a mini-crisis when he called Grillo and Berlusconi ‘clowns’.
Although Italians will probably return to the polls before long, this election will likely mark a decisive in Italian political history. Berlusconi was not eliminated and trounced as many had predicted and wished, but he is no longer the ‘central’ figure of Italian politics (although he remains very influential and important). The traditional left-right polarization was disturbed by the Grillist wave, which represents a fascinating new form of populist movement unlike other existing populist movements in western Europe. This election may not be as significant and epoch-making as the 1994 election, but it does mark at least the beginning of the end of the ‘Second Republic’ political system.
What will replace it is very unclear. Will the M5S be a passing fad and go the way of so many other populist movements, or will it become a major political actor for years to come? Where will the Italian left and right go from here? How will the Italian right manage the necessary transition to a post-Berlusconi era when Berlusconi fully retires or leaves politics? Italian politics is entering uncharted waters, and it is more unpredictable than ever.
Regional elections were held in the German land of Lower Saxony on January 20, 2013. The Landtag of Lower Saxony has at least 135 members, of which 87 are elected in single-member constituencies and the rest are allocated proportionally to parties winning over 5% of the vote in the state. In the German MMP system, the proportional element (second votes) seeks to correct disparities between votes and seats which may be created by the single-member system (first vote). There are additional seats in the legislature if a party wins more single-member seats than it is entitled to in the proportional distribution of the seats. After this election, the Landtag will have 137 seats, 15 less than the outgoing legislature, elected in 2008.
Lower Saxony is the fourth most populous state in Germany. The state is fairly important in German federal politics. Not only as it produced prominent national politicians such as Gerhard Schröder, Christian Wulff, Sigmar Gabriel and Ursula von der Leyen; it is also seen by some as a good bellwether for the rest of the country. Lower Saxony is a mix of rural and urban/industrial, Protestant and Catholic. The southern region of the state is a working-class Protestant region where the Social Democrats (SPD) have traditionally been very strong, in some cases since the days of the Kaiserreich. The SPD has always performed strongly in Hanover but also industrial towns such as Salzgitter, Peine, Wolfsburg (the home of Volkswagen) and Holzminden. In this regards, it is similar to the neighboring poor, rural or working-class Protestant regions of northern Hesse or Lippe (NRW). In the north, along the coast, the industrial harbours of Wilhelmshaven and Cuxhaven Since the end of the war, the rural and isolated Protestant region of East Frisia has also been one of the SPD’s strongest regions in the whole of Germany. On the other hand, the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) often win some of their best results anywhere in Germany in the rural and devoutly Catholic Oldenburg Münsterland, around Cloppenburg and Vechta.
Lower Saxon politics used to have a strong rural, conservative and Protestant regionalist movement, which existed from 1869 until the 1950s. At the outset, a German-Hanoverian Party during the Empire and Weimar represented the dethroned House of Welf, the dynasty which ruled the Kingdom of Hanover until it was annexed by Prussia in 1866. After the war, the German Party (DP) briefly carried on with this tradition, winning a few direct seats in the first three federal elections. In large part, this rural, conservative Protestant support has gone to the CDU. Post-war, the state’s politics were also heavily influenced by the Heimatvertriebene population (ethnic Germans displaced from the east after the war), who made up around 30% of the state’s population. The heimatvertriebene‘s impact of the state’s politics nowadays is more limited, but they have played a large role in the state CDU.
The SPD governed the state between 1946 and 1955, 1959 and 1976 and most recently between 1990 and 2003. Gerhard Schröder, who became Chancellor of Germany in 1998, was the state’s Minister-President between 1990 and 1998, he was succeeded shortly thereafter by Sigmar Gabriel, who is now the SPD’s federal leader. The CDU’s Christian Wulff won the 2003 elections, defeating a worn out and unpopular SPD government. Since then, the state has been ruled by a black-yellow right-wing coalition with the liberal FDP, the same coalition which is in power federally with Angela Merkel. The black-yellow government was reelected with a reduced majority in 2008. Christian Wulff resigned to become Germany’s President in 2010, but he was forced to resign from the presidency in disgrace in 2012. The state’s current Minister-President is David McAllister, a dual British-German citizen with a Scottish mother.
McAllister is described as a rising star in the CDU and a potential successor to Angela Merkel. As premier, he is quite popular – according to the exit polls, his approval rating was 68%. Like Merkel, who is personally very popular in Germany, his government itself is considerably less popular. A bit less than 40% approved of the state government. The SPD’s top candidate was Stephan Weil, the mayor of Hanover.
Education, particularly college tuition fees (the state is one of the few in Germany to still charge tuition fees), was the most important issue for voters in this election. 45% rated it as the biggest issue, against 24% who were concerned about unemployment and 13% about the economy. Family policies and nuclear energy closed the list, with 12% and 10% respectively.
These state elections have been painted as a first test for Angela Merkel before the September 2013 federal elections, in which she will be running for a third term. It was a high stakes election for the federal government, because Lower Saxony is ruled by the same coalition as the federal government (CDU/FDP). Most said that a black-yellow victory in the state would confirm that Merkel’s victory in September is a near-certainty, but a victory by the red-green opposition could indicate a more disputed contest federally.
As is the case federally, the CDU itself remained quite popular and its vote was holding up. The danger, however, for the CDU laid with its junior partner, the liberal FDP, which has been in dire straits for some two years now. Most polls, for now, show that it is polling below the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag. In government, the party had hoped to push Merkel’s economic policies to the right and promote its own low-tax agenda, but it has been outmaneuvered all the way by the Machiavellian Merkel, who is quite talented at shifting her policy to meet the current mood. It has been weakened by infighting, unpopular low calibre leadership at the federal level and a series of policy blunders and miscalculations which has caused it to lose most of its 2009 support to Merkel’s CDU. In Lower Saxony, the polls had shown the CDU polling well – roughly 40% – which was about 2.5% less than what it won in 2008. On the other hand, the polls showed the FDP hovering at the 5% threshold, which meant that there was a serious risk that the FDP would not get in. If the FDP had not passed the threshold, even if the CDU itself had done quite well; the red-green (SPD-Greens) would certainly have won a majority on their own. To ward off this possibility, McAllister and the CDU more or less openly called on right-wing voters to “lend” their second vote to the FDP, to allow the party to break the threshold and retain representation. A FDP clearing the threshold and a rather healthy CDU result would, they hoped, allow McAllister to win reelection.
Turnout was 59.4%, up from 57.1% in 2008. The results were:
CDU 36.0% (-6.5%) winning 54 seats (-14)
SPD 32.6% (+2.3%) winning 49 seats (+1)
Greens 13.7% (+5.7%) winning 20 seats (+8)
FDP 9.9% (+1.7%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Linke 3.1% (-4.0%) winning 0 seats (-11)
Pirates 2.1% (+2.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 1.1% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.5% (-0.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
David McAllister’s incumbent black-yellow coalition was defeated in a race which went down to the wire and provided for lots of nail-bitting suspense on election night. The red-green opposition won 69 seats, the incumbent black-yellow coalition won 68 seats; giving the new government a one-seat majority.
The government’s defeat can be attributed to a wide array of factors. The SPD had a clear advantage over the CDU on the important topic of education, campaigning with the Greens on a promise to do away with college tuition fees. Exit polls showed that 45% of voters preferred the SPD on education, against only 33% for the CDU. Discontent with the federal government (which is not that popular, unlike Merkel) also played a role; state elections in Germany often double as opportunities for voters to register disapproval of the federal government. However, McAllister’s strategy to save his government by encouraging his voters to loan their second votes to the FDP backfired spectacularly on him and his party.
The CDU lost over 6% of the vote compared to the 2008 election, and won 36% – which is about 4-5% less than what the final polls had predicted. The loan strategy certainly worked out very well, given that the FDP not only managed to clear the 5% threshold easily but also managed to increase its support compared to the 2008 election by nearly 2% (amusingly, 9.9% is also the best state election result for the FDP…). The FDP has been able to save its skin quite well in recent state elections (NRW and Schleswig-Holstein in 2012), but in this case it owes its miraculous result to McAllister’s strategy of propping up the FDP in a bid to save his government. The exit polls confirm that the FDP’s ‘strength’ in this election came, in large part, from CDU/right-wing voters who voted for the FDP to save the CDU/black-yellow government. 91% of FDP voters said they could just have well voted CDU, 68% (!) said that their vote for the FDP was a classic “borrowed vote”. Only a minority of the FDP’s voters cited reasons which indicates that the FDP is their natural home: only a third of the party’s voters said the FDP was the party they felt closest to. One can also notice the nature of FDP second vote support by looking at the direct votes: the FDP won 3.3% in the direct votes, which in this case is down from both 2008 (5.6%) and 2003 (4.4%).
The result of McAllister’s FDP vote loaning campaign was that the CDU’s vote fell considerably and that the FDP did way better than anybody could have predicted. Certainly, the government was sunk by other factors, but the FDP vote loaning campaign backfired badly on McAllister and the CDU. It is questionable whether or not McAllister’s strategy, regardless of its actual outcome, was actually a good strategy. If he had not said anything about propping up the FDP, would the FDP have scraped together enough voters to clear the threshold? It is quite possible. The FDP was polling 4.5% or 5% in all the final polls, which would probably have been enough for it to save face. In addition, there were enough CDU voters to pull them over the threshold if they did not do so “on their own”. If the FDP had won 5% or so, enough to retain its foothold in the legislature, the CDU would not have lost 6.5% support; making the reelection of the black-yellow government slightly more likely (though still a tough fight).
Germany’s ‘vote transfer’ analyses are always quite interesting, even if they need to be taken with a grain of salt. According to the analysis for this election, the CDU gained 49k votes from 2008 non-voters, and 10k (?!) from the Linke. They lost a non-negligible amount of support to the SPD and Greens (37k and 20k respectively), but they bled a full 104 thousand votes to the FDP – strong movement which shows the ‘loaned votes’ to the FDP. The SPD lost 6000 votes to the Pirates and a more hefty 49k to the Greens, but they gained from non-voters (90k), the CDU (37k), FDP (20k), Linke (15k) and others (7,000). This means that black-yellow was also sunk by non-negligible direct loss of support to SPD (and Greens, as noted above). The higher turnout also helped the SPD quite a bit, the analysis says that they gained 90k votes from non-voters.
The FDP lost votes to all parties (even Linke?!) but the CDU, accounting for 42,000 votes altogether – but that was more than compensated by the loaned votes (104k from CDU) and some 9,000 non-voters who voted for the FDP this year. The Linke’s most substantial loses were to the ranks of abstention – 40,000 voters who had backed the party in 2008 did not vote this year. It also lost significantly to the Greens (17k), SPD (15k) and even CDU (10k).
The SPD and the Greens had a good night, especially the Greens. The SPD were not hurt by the SPD’s troubles federally in the past few weeks, after a series of blunders and gaffes from the party’s unpopular hapless chancellor-candidate, Peer Steinbrück. Its positions on education and family policies, as well as the relative popularity of its top candidate (Stephan Weil) helped the party increase its support compared to the last election, in which the party won its worst result in any state election. Nevertheless, in a longer historical perspective, 32.6% isn’t all that great – it is lower than 2003 (33.4%, a very bad result for the party already) and worse than every other state elections besides the last one. This reflects, in part, the Greens’ success. They won 13.7%, by far their best result in a state election (the first time they break 10% in a state election as well). Their support increased by over 5 percent. Nationally, the Greens have been benefiting from the uninspiring and mediocre leadership and opposition of the SPD. The collapse of the 2012 Pirate surge should also help them recover lost support. The lingering importance of nuclear energy in German politics, post-Fukushima, has also helped the party. In Lower Saxony, they benefited from controversy surrounding the proposed nuclear waste dump site in Gorleben (they won 20.4% in that constituency).
On the other hand, the Linke, which had won 7% in the 2008 elections (on the back of the SPD, in good part), fell below the threshold and lost all its seats. This result confirms Linke’s downswing in those western states where it had entered state legislatures in 2007-2009. As noted above, many of the party’s lost voters did not turn out, others returned ‘home’ to the SPD. Its brief foray outside of East Germany (and Saarland) will have proven quite short-lived.
The Pirates won 2% and fell far short of winning seats. This result confirms that the Pirate surge, which began after the Berlin state elections in September 2011 and lasted until the summer/early fall of 2012, is over. The Pirate surge carried over to state elections in Saarland, NRW and Schleswig-Holstein in 2012, but the party’s support has since collapsed. The Pirate surge was destined to be a fad, which still lasted for a surprisingly long time. It attracted politically disoriented or ‘homeless’ voters, non-voters, first time voters and a lot of more working-class youths who did not identify with any of the parties. Its surge was not based on any concrete political ideology, platform or ideas (besides the vague appeal of direct democracy, privacy and left-libertarianism). The party’s general lack of a defined platform and policy played a major role in its collapse. In the exit polls, 83% of voters agreed with the statement that the Pirates lacked positions on important issues.
Der Spiegel has a map of the results here. As expected, the CDU did best in rural areas, but particularly the rural Catholic Oldenburg Münsterland, where the CDU won over 50% of the vote – including 57.6% in Cloppenburg and Vechta. It also performed well in the Catholic Eichsfeld, and the rural Protestant areas between large metro areas. Likewise, the SPD’s support was quite traditional. It did very well in its East Frisian and southeastern strongholds, peaking at 46.4% in Emden (East Frisia) and hovering above 40% in its working-class bases in the southeast. The SPD performed quite well in Hanover, though its performance in other cities (Göttingen, Brunswick, Wolfsburg, Hildesheim, Osnabrück, Oldenburg) was weaker because of the Greens’ strong performance. The Greens peaked at 28.5% in the university town of Göttingen, and naturally their strongest results came from cities – 25.1% in Lüneburg, 25.8% in central Oldenburg and 25.3% in central Hanover. As noted above, in the Elbe constituency (20.4%), they benefited from controversy around the nuclear waste dump site in Gorleben. The FDP’s support was strongest where the CDU’s support was also strong, with some differences (they were not as strong in the Oldenburg Münsterland, though they still did quite well). Their strongest constituencies were some peripheral suburban areas, and a rural Protestant area to the west of Bremen.
What are the implications for the federal election in September? The CDU-FDP’s defeat is unwelcome negative media coverage for the CDU and Merkel. David McAllister, like her, was a very popular premier himself but his government was unpopular and most voters were eager for a change in government. Could Merkel suffer a similar fate in September? It is more doubtful, given that the federal SPD is not in the best of shape and their current candidate (Steinbrück) doesn’t measure up to Merkel. The CDU would like to insist that its defeat in Lower Saxony was due to local state issues, and does not indicate anything for the federal election. Nevertheless, her black-yellow finds itself in a similar position. Her CDU is polling very strongly (40-42%, against 33.8% in 2009) while the FDP is polling 2-4% support, which would shut it out of the Bundestag. The consensus is that she would form a grand coalition with the SPD; a red-red-green left-wing federal coalition with the Linke still seems a long way away. The disastrous result of McAllister’s FDP vote loaning campaign will scare CDU/CSU politicians away from endorsing such deals in September; the CSU has already said that it would not encouraging vote loaning for the FDP in the Bavarian state elections this fall. The FDP had some tense closed-door meetings after the election, ultimately Rainer Brüderle will be the FDP’s top candidate for the federal election but his rival, and incumbent party chairman, Philipp Rösler will keep his spot as party leader. Is the federal election more open than expected?
A whole bunch of elections – most significantly a presidential election – were held in the United States on November 6, 2012. Given the international interest in this election and considering how almost every political observer around the world knows at least a little about American politics and political history, I figured that I should approach the post-election coverage of these American elections in a slightly different way. We know the candidates, we know the background to this election and we know how the campaign went along. Rather than covering the results in my usual fashion, this post has a mish-mash of my observations about the results, the exit polls, the surprises, the trends and the geography of this all. This post is extremely long, but it has been divided into headers so you can pick and choose what interests you.
It must be noted that the results used in this post are not final; there are still tons of absentees and early votes yet to be counted. The final, hard results should only be known in December. I don’t really like talking about results when we are only dealing with unofficial and incomplete results, but it will have to do for now. Please keep in mind that the numbers used here are not the final results and that they will be different from the final results when they come out.
Some media sources have apparently been a bit lazy at updating their results with the full results from each state’s updated results, but the US Election Atlas appears to be the best at keeping up with results from each state. Fox News (sorry liberals!) has the best layout for presenting the results of the exit polls.
Barack Obama/Joe Biden (D) 50.79% winning 332 EVs
Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan (R) 47.49% winning 206 EVs
Gary Johnson/James Gray (L) 0.99%
Jill Stein/Cheri Honkala (G) 0.36%
All others winning less than 0.1%
Obama (D) +3.31%
Yes, I do not use the “blue Dem-red GOP” colour scheme (I use the opposite).
The status-quo and polarization prevails
The conclusion was, regardless of one’s feelings about the results themselves, fairly anti-climatic. After a grueling campaign which lasted for over a year in total, after tons of money spent, after bombarding every swing state vote with ads depicting the other candidate as the anti-Christ; the end was very anti-climatic, all over by 11:15 on election night (less than half an hour longer than in 2008). The results presented fairly few surprises, indicating that the polling averages were on the whole fairly correct in calling each state.
Ultimately, the status-quo prevailed: President Obama was reelected fairly comfortably (in the electoral college), the Democrats retained the Senate but the Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives. A lot of voters were thirsty for “change” of some kind, but in the end, what they got was, more or less, a return to square one, where they stood prior to November 6.
Obama’s victory was not inevitable. With sluggish economic growth, unemployment hovering at 8% for months (even if the economy is slowly improving) and rising concern over the United States’ huge public debt, Obama was not in an overly strong position. While it was certainly not a case of not scoring on an open goal, Obama’s reelection was not inevitable and the Republicans – with a better candidate – could have won this election. Romney’s failure speaks to his own problems as a candidate but also the problems the Republicans as a party face with the wider electorate.
Romney was not a good candidate, but despite the wild fantasies of some Democratic partisans, being a fairly bad candidate did not sink his candidacy. His image as an “elitist rich guy” who did not understand the problems of the “middle-class”, an image which he himself contributed to with comments such as “the 47%” did not help his case, but it did not sink him either. His past as a “flip-flopper” and the view that Romney did not really have any personal, deeply ingrained personal ideological convictions but rather opportunistically adopted the policy positions which would provide him with the most political benefits hurt his image as well. To a certain extent, the Democrats were able to define Romney before Romney defined himself; but they were unable to scuttle his candidacy (a la McGovern ’72 or Mondale ’84).
Romney had been able to significantly improve his image following the first debate, during which Obama sleepwalked and allowed Romney to walk all over him. If the polls were correct, Romney’s strong performance in the first debate narrowed the race down to a tie in the national popular vote (down from a major Obama advantage, post-DNC). In retrospect, looking at the results, it appears as if the first debate ultimately made little difference. Obama swept every swing state except North Carolina, including even Florida.
The first debate may have only rekindled Republican enthusiasm and motivation, which had been severely depressed by Romney’s terrible campaign in September (notably ’47%’) and Bill Clinton at the DNC. While Romney, as it currently stands, actually won less raw votes that John McCain in 2008, he will probably end up with more votes than McCain when all the votes have been counted.
Romney’s debate victory narrowed the race, but it is possible that it would have narrowed anyway, only later in October, as conservatives got more motivated to vote as the election got closer. Therefore, Romney possibly surged too early and narrowed the race too early. He was unable to sustain his momentum, even if the race remained close.
If one agrees that Romney was a weak candidate and that relatively few of his own voters were overly, 100% enthusiastic about him; the fact that he still pulled 48% of the popular vote indicates two things: that American politics are extremely polarized and that the sluggish economy hurt Obama.
The weak economy of course precluded Obama from winning a landslide re-election, even against the worst imaginable candidates (of the Sarah Palin genre), but American politics has become so polarized since 2000 that it is extremely hard to imagine either Republicans or Democrats winning a presidential election with over 58-60% of the popular vote. Politics and the parties have changed since the days of Reagan’s 1984 landslide over Walter Mondale or Nixon’s 1973 shellacking of George McGovern, making a repeat of these elections near-impossible in the modern day.
Both parties have become less ideologically diverse: moderate or centrist Republicans (“Rockefeller Republicans” and the like) are very much a dying breed, chased out by conservatives hell-bent on ideological purity; while conservative/moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats and Southern white Democrats in general are also facing rapid extinction, while many liberals are increasingly hostile to these “Blue Dogs” who don’t necessarily abide to the Democratic agenda. Obama’s presidency has increased polarization, with the radicalization of the conservative movement (the Tea Party) while the Democrats continue their transition to some kind of “true progressivism”, notably with Obama endorsing gay marriage.
Romney was a flawed and poor candidate, but in the field of Republican contenders in 2012 he was likely one of their strongest, which can say a lot about how they stand as a party. Newt Gingrich turned into a weird crackpot during the primaries and would have lost by an even bigger margin; Rick Santorum might have played better with white working-class voters but his social conservatism and obsession with homosexuals would likely mean that he would still have lost (at least) by a similar margin as Mitt Romney. Ron Paul is harder to quantify, with some insisting that he would win a phenomenal landslide and others insisting he is totally unelectable. Jon Huntsman is similarly hard to quantify: more centrist, pragmatic and moderate he could have performed well in the general election, but at the same time he would probably have struggled with conservatives.
The fairly close finish in the popular vote (Obama has won by a margin a bit bigger than Bush’s 2004 2.7% PV margin over Kerry) and the electoral map confirms that American politics remain deeply polarized and divided along deep fault lines.
A nation divided by race
One of the biggest fault lines in American politics remains race/ethnicity. Whites made up 72% of the electorate according to the exit poll, down from 74% in 2008. Mitt Romney won whites by 20 points (59-39), whereas John McCain had won whites by 12 points in 2008. Obama’s victory in 2008, as in 2012, was dependent upon a strong coalition of ethnic minorities. Blacks still made up 13% of the electorate on November 6, the same percentage as four years ago, and Obama won them by 87 points (93-6), down slightly from a 91% advantage over McCain in 2008.
The most crucial part of Obama’s winning “rainbow” coalition were Hispanics/Latinos, who made up 10% of the electorate (up from 9% in 2008). In the 2008 election, Obama had won a decisive advantage over John McCain with Hispanics, carrying them by 36 points whereas John Kerry had won them by only 13 points over George W. Bush in 2004. This year, Obama actually increased his margins with Hispanic voters, carrying them by a huge 44 points (71 to 27) over Mitt Romney. The electoral weight of Hispanics proved decisive in the swing states of Nevada (19% of voters, Obama +47), Colorado (14% of voters, Obama +52), Florida (17% of voters, Obama +21) but also in other states such as California (where exit polls report that Romney won whites by 10). In Florida, the Republicans even lost their historic advantage with Cuban voters: the exit poll in Florida reveals that Cubans, who made up 6% of the electorate, voted for Obama by 2 points (49-47). This is the first time that Florida Cubans have backed a Democrat; Bill Clinton in 1996 lost them but likely came close to even.
Latino Decisions, a Hispanic-based pollster with a very good track record with Hispanic voters (they accurately predicted that Obama would increase his margin with Hispanics), had similar results in their exit poll. They found that Obama won them by 52 points (75-23), though they say that Cubans voted for Romney (in Florida, he supposedly won them by 29 – 64-35?; and by 10 nationally, 54-44). In contrast, they say that Mexicans voted 78-20 for Obama and Puerto Ricans backed him 88-14.
Asian-Americans made up 3% of the electorate, up from 2% in 2008. Here again, Obama actually increased his margin of victory; from 27 points to 47 points in 2012. We should be careful in interpreting this data, given that this year’s exit poll is a bit dodgy: only 31 states (rather than all 50) had a complete exit polls, and they called only enough people in the 19 other states to get a statistically significant sample. Therefore, the Asian sub-sample might be a bit heavy on California; but it is clear that there was a significant swing to Obama with Asian-Americans. Obama had won them by 29 in California in 2008, he won them by 58 (79-21) this year. Precinct-level results in predominantly Asian towns in the Bay Area and LA will confirm whether this is true or not, but I would be surprised if the exit polls were wildly off.
What might explain the swings to Obama with Hispanics and Asians? The Republican Party’s right-wing positions on immigration issues, most notably Arizona’s SB 1070 and Mitt Romney saying that illegals should “self-deport” before applying for citizenship did not help matters with Republicans. Even if some Hispanics like Puerto Ricans are natural-born US citizens, they might perceive the GOP’s policies and controversial laws such as SB 1070 as an attack on themselves. On the other hand, Obama has not followed through on his 2008 promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but his administration recently launched a program to allow young undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary work permits.
Asian-Americans, highly educated, white-collar, affluent and in some cases fairly small-c conservative, could be expected to be Republicans. In fact, they used to be Republicans: Asians backed George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole in 1992 and 1996; but since then the GOP’s share of the vote with Asian-Americans has declined election after election. However, the GOP’s shift to the right – particularly towards Christian conservatism/traditionalism, has been very poorly received by Asian-Americans, who tend to be secular (or whose religious values are different than those of traditional Abrahamic religions) and highly value education. In addition, the “anti-science” rhetoric of some Republicans is another big turn off for Asian voters. Finally, immigration likely played a role. While Hispanics are more directly affected by immigration policy, a lot of Asian-Americans are also recent immigrants and they are, as a result, allergic to some of the GOP’s quasi-nativist rhetoric on immigration.
Asian-Americans, similar to Asian societies, are less distrustful of prevailing institutions – notably government – than “white Americans” tend to be. As a result, Asians are very pro-incumbent and supportive of the existing order.
The Republicans have a clear demographic problem. Mitt Romney could have won the election with his 20 point margin over Obama, but it would have required a decrease in minority turnout since 2008. A lot of Republicans and those behind the “unskewed polls” hogwash were banking on whites increasing their share of the electorate, but minority turnout remained at 2008 heights. They should have read the trend lines: the share of white voters in the whole electorate has declined almost consistently since 1980, from nearly 90% of the electorate to barely over 70% of the electorate. Nothing in politics lasts forever, and Obama’s “rainbow coalition” could very well disintegrated somewhat by 2016, but one thing which seems fairly certain is that minorities will make up an increasingly large proportion of the electorate in upcoming elections. Therefore, the Republican Party’s overwhelmingly white electorate is, in the long term, unsustainable unless they win over even more whites (but at 60% of the vote, they will soon hit a ceiling).
It is urgent that the Republicans reach out to Hispanic and Asian voters, the two fastest-growing minorities in the US. Appealing to Hispanics does not mean merely packaging their current rhetoric and ideology differently, with a Hispanic candidate or running-mate. It means, in good part, taking a deep look at where they stand ideologically and re-evaluate their party’s political positioning – especially on issues such as immigration. It is not impossible, after all, George W. Bush lost them by only 13 points in 2004 in part because he emphasized more moderate positions on immigration reform. However, it probably requires moderation on issues such as immigration. While a lot of potential 2016 GOP candidates, most significantly former FL Governor Jeb Bush have moderate positions on immigration reform, it is easier said than done. The GOP primary electorate is conservative and (very) right-wing, it forced Mitt Romney to the right. Even if he returned to more centrist positions in the first debate, he was unable to shake off some of his baggage inherited from a grueling primary in which he needed to prove that he was not a “Massachusetts liberal”. In 2016, it is conceivable that even more “moderate” candidates like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie would be pushed to the right by the primary electorate if they were actively determined to win the nomination.
Appealing to Asian voters is not overly difficult – a lot of them are fairly fiscally conservative and would probably vote for a more moderate GOP which places emphasis on fiscal conservatism rather than arguing semantics of rape. However, in this case, again, it requires the GOP to re-evaluate where it stands and move in a more moderate direction.
That being said, the post-election talk about GOP collapse is likely overhyped. There was similar talk of the GOP being “doomed” after Obama’s victory in 2008, while observers had said the same thing for Democrats after the 2004. The GOP is not facing electoral oblivion or anything close to collapse, and no electoral coalition in the United States should be taken as permanent. However, the GOP does face long-term demographic and structural problems in winning elections.
Race remains the most salient divide in American politics. The exit polls confirm that race neutralizes some of the effect of age, gender and religion on vote choice. All white age groups, from 18-29 to 65+, voted for Romney with margins ranging from 7 points to 23 points. Both white men and women voted for Romney, even though there was still a major gender gap: white men backed Romney by 27, white women ‘only’ backed him by 14 points. Finally, even though Obama won Catholics (by 2), he lost non-Hispanic Catholics by a full 19 points (59-40).
Black and Hispanic men and women both backed Obama by huge margins, but it is interesting to point out that while Obama lost 8 points with black men and gained only 1 point with Hispanic men compared to 2008, he remained at those levels with black women and gained a full 8 points with Hispanic women. He lost the most ground with young (18-29) and middle-aged (45-64) blacks. With Hispanics, he gained the most with young adults (30-44) and middle-aged adults (45-64).
A gender gap
There was a stark gender gap in this election (10 points up from 7 in 2008; the difference between the men’s D-R margin and the women’s D-R margin is 18 points, up from 12 in 2008), as in the 2008 election, which is nothing new in American elections but which has become fairly rare in other Western democracies. Women backed Obama by 11 points, men backed Romney by 7 points; and even when race is taken into account, as noted above, the gender gap is not eliminated. In 2008, Obama had won women by 13 and males by a single point. As mentioned above, both white men and women voted for Romney, but white men backed him by 27 points and women backed him only by 14 points.
Obama lost 4 points with males, falling from 49% support in 2008 to 45% support this year. However, he only lost 1 point with women, falling from 56% to 55%. He lost a full 6 points with white men but shed a more modest 4 points with white women. Obama’s stable support with women voters nationwide is due in large part to a substantial increase in support (+8) with Hispanic women. There is now a stark 11-point gender gap with Hispanics, up from a small 4-point gender gap between Hispanic men and women in 2008. Latino Decisions did not find a sizable gender gap in their exit poll, however.
Democrats talked a lot about the GOP’s “war on women”, a term referring to the policies of various Republican governors (notably in Virginia and Pennsylvania) seeking to restrict access to abortion (mandatory ultrasounds, gestational limits on abortion). Obama’s campaign targeted women voters and placed a large emphasis on “women’s issues”, including notably pay equity and access to contraception. In contrast, Romney struggled with women and his answer on a pay equity question in the second presidential debate (“binders full of women”) became the butt of many jokes. The Democrats criticized Romney for wanting to defund Planned Parenthood and seeking to restrict women’s access to contraception. His position on pay equity and the Lilly Ledbetter Act was also very vague. The GOP’s precarious standing with women was further weakened with the rape comments from Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Tom Smith.
Marital status, as in 2008, had an impact on vote choice. The 60% of voters who were married backed Romney by 14 (56-42) and the 40% of voters who were not married backed Obama by 27 (62-35). Both married men and women backed Romney, but the gender gap was persistent: married men backed him by 22, married women only backed him by 7. Both unmarried men and women backed Obama, with another large gender gap: unmarried men backed the President by 16 but he had a huge 36 point margin over Romney with unmarried women.
Mothers backed Obama by 13 points (56-43), a larger margin than women without children (he won them by 9). Fathers backed Romney by 8, men without children backed him by 3.
In addition to his “rainbow coalition” of minorities and white liberals, Obama’s strong support with women – especially non-white women – was another major factor which contributed to his victory. The gender gap also helped Democrats in key Senate races.
Age and vote choice
As in 2008, Obama’s support decreased with age. He won 60% of the 18-24 vote, but lost the 65+ vote by 12 points (56-44). Obama hence retained his unusually high levels of support with younger voters (who, while traditionally Democratic, did not historically back Democrats with such margins) even though he did shed 6 points off his 2008 records with those 18-24 and 25-29. We need to remember that age categories change from election to election, a lot of those who were 18-24 in 2008 are now in the 25-29 category and so on and so forth. There was much less youth enthusiasm about Obama this year, although it remained high and he was succesful in mobilizing a large amount of younger voters.
Obama’s support with those 30-39 and 40-49 remained essentially stable: up 1 with the former, down 1 with the former. I am not sure what this may indicate, if anything, but is Obama’s very strong showing with those aged 30-39 a rare example of a cohort effect? It is noteworthy to point out that those aged 50-64 and 65 and over did not budge all that much either: Obama lost 3 with the former and and 1 with the latter. Paul Ryan and his “Ryan plan” did not scare seniors away, though they barely swung to Romney.
Therefore, Obama lost the most support with younger voters, including a sizable number of which are first-time voters. It is sometimes said that those who come of voting age during a recession tend to be more conservative, and this year’s result could indicate that. Was the weak economy, higher youth unemployment and fears about finding a job post-graduation of particular concern to younger voters, hence turning them away from Obama?
Keep in mind, as noted above, that Obama gained support with Hispanic young adults (30-44) and middle-aged adults (45-64).
The importance of income, class and education
Family income and the level of education had a significant impact on vote choice, as in previous elections. This year, Obama’s support ranged from 63% with the poorest 20% (a total family income under $30,000) to 42% with the “top 4%” (total family income over $250,000). However, as is traditionally the case, Obama’s support by income level formed a bit of a parabolic curve. He performed best with the poorest Americans, those earning under $30,000, beating Romney by 28 points (63-35) and his support decreased in each successive income level under $200,000: 57% and a 15 point win with those earning $30,000 to $49,999; 46% and a 6 point deficit with those earning $50,000 to $99,999 and 44% and a 10 point deficit with those earning $100,000 to $199,999. However, Obama’s support picked up with those earning $200,000 to $249,000 – he lost them, but only by 5 points (52-47). His support falls significantly with the top 4%, he lost them by 13 points and won only 42% of their vote.
Compared to the 2008 exit polls, Obama resisted better with lower-income groups while he lost more heavily with higher-income groups. His support with the lowest 20% did fall by a fairly significant amount, from 66.5% to 63% (-3.5); but he gained 2 points with the next level ($30,000-$49,999). Going up the income ladder, Obama’s losses become larger and larger: -3.5 with those earning $50k to $100k, -4 with those earning $100k to $200k and -7.5 with those earning over $200k. Looking at the results through larger categories, common to both the 2008 and 2012 exit polls (the decimals in the comparisons above are due to averaging two income categories in the 2008 exit polls) confirm that Obama shed the most support with the higher-income groups: he remained at 2008 levels with those earning under $50,000 but lost 4 points with those earning over that amount.
Obama’s stronger resistance with lower-income levels in general and his heavier loses with wealthier Americans, particularly those in the top 2 echelons, likely reflects Obama and Romney’s comparative appeal as candidates. Romney’s “elitist rich guy” image, combined with the “47%” probably hurt his image with lower-income Americans, but an observation of the results by counties reveals that he did not suffer much from that image problem in lower-income white areas. Obama’s more populist campaign and fears of higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans certainly hurt his standing with the upper middle-class and the top 4%, weakening his strong appeal, in 2008, to liberal/moderate upper middle-class suburbanites. That being said, it is unfortunate that the exit polls did not break down income groups by race, as they had done (to a limited extent) in 2008. It is clear that more affluent blacks and Hispanics are slightly less Democratic than their poorer counterparts, but it would be interesting to have some data on the white vote by income levels. To a large extent, Obama’s strong support with lower-income levels (and his strong resistance with them) reflects his strong support (and strong resistance) with blacks and Hispanics, who are poorer than the average white American.
Education level is correlated with income, and Obama’s support forms an even clearer parabolic curve (as in 2008 and previous elections). He beat Romney by 19 points (64-35) with those without a HS diploma, he won HS graduates by 3 (51-48), won those with some college by 1 (49-48) but lost college graduates by 4 (51-47) to Romney. He won those with a postgraduate degree by 13 points (55-42). Again, this parabolic curve reflects the modern Democratic coalition: lower-income minorities who tend to have more limited education combined with middle-class suburbanites and urban white liberals who are highly educated. It would be interesting to control for race in this question, as it would reveal a different story with white voters only (in the 2008 exit polls, Obama did far worse with non-college grad whites than white college grad whites).
Compared to the 2008 election, the education levels also reflect Obama’s resistance with lower-income groups (who tend to have less certifications) and his heavier loses with higher-income groups (who tend to be more educated). He gained 1 point with those 3% who have no HS diploma, but lost 3% with those with a postgrad degree.
A nation divided by religiosity (and religion)
Religion – more specifically the lack thereof and one’s religious practice (religiosity) – retained their strong influence on voting patterns in this election. At the headline level, Protestants backed Romney by 25 points (62-37) and Catholics backed Obama by 2 (50-48). Obama retained his strong hold on those with no religion (70-26), those with another religion (73-24) and Jews (69-30). He won “other Christians” by 1 (50-49). Mitt Romney, the first Mormon presidential candidate for a major party, won 78% of the Mormon vote (2% of the electorate), trouncing Obama by 57 points with his correligionists. However, these headline results hide many things.
When controlling for race, Obama lost both white Protestants/other Christians and white Catholics by large margins (39 points and 19 points respectively), while he won white Jews, ‘others’ and ‘none’ by big margins. Obama lost a significant amount of support with white Catholics, down 7 points from 47% in 2008 to 40% this year. His administration’s policy compelling religiously-affiliated employers to cover contraception and birth control costs led to a rift with the Catholic Church earlier this year and led Republicans to speak of a “war on religion”. Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage might have alienated some white Catholics, but it certainly had no effect on predominantly Catholic Hispanics.
Obama also lost significantly with Jewish voters, losing a full 9 points – from 78% to 69%. In this case, Obama’s fairly conflictual relationship with the Israeli government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have played a role. Some Jews might have seen Romney as more pro-Israeli than Obama (Israel is a major issue for Jewish-American voters).
Romney’s huge advantage with white Protestants hides something else: white evangelical Christians. Romney won white evangelical or born-again Christians by 57 points (78-21). Obama lost 3 points with these voters, and Romney regained George W. Bush’s 2004 level of support with these voters (despite the historical tension between Mormons and evangelicals). Their share of the electorate remained the same, at roughly 26% of all voters - indicating that Romney’s Mormon faith did not depress turnout with evangelicals. With non-evangelical Protestants, Romney beat Obama by about 10 points – the same amount by which McCain had beaten Obama with those voters in 2008.
It is interesting to point out that while Romney’s support with Mormons is huge, it is actually slightly smaller than Bush’s 2004 support with Mormons. In 2004, Bush won them by 61 points (80-19).
Religiosity/religious attendance remained major variables, especially with Protestants. Romney won Protestants who attend church weekly by 41 (70-29) but won those Protestants who do not attend weekly by 11. Obama won Catholics who do not attend church weekly, by 14, but lost those who do by 15. Therefore, there is a big gap between those voters who attend church on a weekly basis and those voters who either never attend church (Obama’s strongest demographics) or attend church less often.
A lot was said about ‘party ID’ (voter self-identification with a political party or as an independent) this year, especially in regards to polls. A lot of Republicans never bought into most polls showing Obama leading Romney because they doubted that Democrats had a significant edge over Republicans in party ID, leading a few of them to “unskew” the polls by removing the Democratic edge on party ID. Republicans insisted that their base was far more enthusiastic in 2012 than in 2008, while Democrats would be less motivated this year. Prominent Republican strategists, right-leaning pollsters (Rasmussen) and conservative pundits (notably the huge airhead Dick Morris) used models with a tied party ID to predict a Romney victory.
Their delusions were proven wrong. According to the exit poll, the electorate was “D+6″ (meaning that there were 6% more Democrats than Republicans in the electorate), which is in line with what other pollsters (PPP among others) had usually predicted and similar to the partisan ID of the 2008 electorate (D+7). Democrats made up 38% of the electorate, down 1% from 2008, and Obama won them 92-7 (up from 89-10 in 2008); Republicans made up 32% of voters, and Romney won them 93-6 (up from 90-9 in 2008). Independents made up 29% of the electorate, and Romney won them by 5 points (50-45), whereas Obama had won them by 8 in 2008. The “independents” have shifted to the right since 2008, in good part because a fair number of Republicans and a lot of Tea Party activists identify as independents rather than Republicans.
The share of both self-identified liberals and conservatives in the electorate increased at the expense of self-identified moderates. Liberals grew from 22% to 25%, conservatives grew from 34% to 35% while moderates went from 44% to 41% of voters. Moderates backed Obama 56-41.
Issues and Candidates
Unsurprisingly, 59% of voters identified the economy as the most important issue facing the US, out of a choice of four issues (foreign policy, federal deficit and health care were the other issues). Romney actually narrowly won those who identified the economy as their top concern, by 4 (51-47). The 18% who said health care was the most important issue heavily supported Obama, by 51 points (75-24) and the 15% who were most concerned by the deficit backed Romney by 34.
In terms of economic problems, an equal number of respondents cited unemployment and rising prices as the biggest economic problems (38% and 37% respectively, 14% said taxes and 8% said the housing market). Obama won those most concerned by unemployment (by 10) and both Obama and Romney tied with those concerned about rising prices. Unsurprisingly, the small minority who cited taxes as the biggest economic problem backed Romney by 34 points.
The exit poll also asked for voters’ views on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage, Obamacare, taxes, the economy and government intervention. On abortion, 59% of voters agreed that it should be legal either in all cases or most cases with 36% who felt it should be illegal in all or most cases. Not surprisingly, each candidate’s electorate diverged significantly on abortion: 67% of those who said it should be legal backed Obama, 77% of those who said it should be illegal backed Romney.
Obamacare polarized both candidate’s supporters while the overall electorate was split on the issue, a narrow plurality (49%) wanting to repeal parts of it or all of it (44% wanted to either expand it or keep it as is). Only 11% of Americans who want to keep Obamacare (or expand it) backed Romney and only 15% of those who want to repeal parts/all of it backed Obama.
On the issue of tax rates, 47% of voters want tax increases only on those earning over $250,000 but a sizable 35% do not want any increases in taxes, for anyone. 70% of those who agreed with the first statement voted Obama, while 75% of those who agreed with the latter statement voted for Romney. Interestingly, among the small 13% who want tax increases for all, the two candidates were more closely matched (52-44 for Obama).
Americans remain pessimistic about the current economy but a bit more optimistic about the future. While only 23% thought the economy was excellent or good, 39% said the economy was getting better. Then again, 30% said the economy was getting worse. Those whose view of the current economy is the bleakest and who are the most pessimistic about the future backed Romney: 85% of those who said the economy’s condition was “poor” (31% of voters) backed him as did 90% of the 30% who thought it was getting worse. This is, unsurprisingly, the reverse of 2008, when Obama was the challenger to the incumbent party. Obama was able to beat Romney by 13 (55-42) with the 45% of Americans who said the economy’s condition wasn’t so good.
Likewise, those who said that their family’s financial situation improved since 2008 (25%) backed Obama heavily (84-15) and those who said their family’s financial situation got worse since 2008 (33%) backed Romney (80-18). The 52% of Americans who said that things in the US were off on the wrong track backed Romney 84-13, Obama won with the 46% who though things were in the right direction (93-6).
Luckily for Obama, 53% of voters blamed George W. Bush more for the country’s current economic problems and only 38% blamed him more.
On government intervention, most voters (51%) said that government is doing too many things that are better left to businesses and individuals while 43% said it should do more. Obama did manage 24% of the vote with the 51% who said government is doing too much, Romney won only 17% with those who said it should do more.
On gay marriage, 49% of respondents felt that their state should ‘recognize’ gay marriager and 46% said it should not. Obama won the former group by 48, Romney won the latter by 49. The exit poll, for the first time, asked respondents if they were gay, lesbian or bisexual. 5% said that they were, these voters backed Obama by 54 points (76-22) while the two tied with the 95% who identified as heterosexual.
On “candidate qualities” which mattered most, no one category dominated though “has a vision for the future” and “share my values” were the top two qualities. In both cases, Romney won voters who said that either of these qualities mattered most to them, in both cases by roughly 10 points. However, 21% of voters said that a candidate who “cares about people like me” was the most important quality in a candidate, and Obama crushed Romney with those voters – 81 to 18. Romney beat him 61-38 with the 18% who said being a “strong leader” was the most important quality for them.
For the two in ten voters whose candidate choice was made, in part, on empathy, Obama trounced Romney. However, asked of all voters, 43% said that Romney was most in touch with people like them (against 53% for Obama).
Romney won a one-point edge over Obama on handling the economy (and a two-point edge on the deficit), but Obama had a 8-point advantage on handling Medicare. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s strongest suit was foreign policy and handling an international crisis. 57% of voters trusted him to handle an international crisis, against 50% who said the same of Mitt Romney.
With the electorate on November 6, Obama’s approval rating spread was +9 (54 approve, 45 disapprove). That being, those who disapprove of Obama strongly disapprove: 33% strongly disapproved against only 13% who somewhat disapproved of his job as President. Obama had a +7 favourability rating, while Romney’s favourable rating with the electorate was underwater, slightly (-3). Obama had an edge, but America remains closely polarized. A final example: voters split 49-49 on their opinions of Obama’s administration.
Obama’s Swing State sweep
Even as the race tightened up seriously after Romney’s victory in the first debate, Obama remained an edge in what really matters in American elections – the electoral college map. His campaign had been able to build up a “firewall” in the electoral college, giving the President an advantage over Romney in the case of a tied popular vote (or even a narrow Romney victory in the popular vote). Obama’s firewall included, in the Midwest, the key swing state of Ohio (the tipping state of 2004) where Obama maintained a narrow but consistent lead in nearly every single opinion poll throughout the 2012 campaign. In the west, Obama’s firewall included Colorado and Nevada while New Mexico – a swing state as late as 2004 – was safely in Obama’s column. Romney’s campaign hoped that the Paul Ryan pick would swing Wisconsin in their direction, and while it did tighten a bit after the Ryan pick and after the first debate, it remained out of reach for Republicans. Similarly, as in 2008, Republicans got tempted by fool’s gold in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota – feeling that those three traditionally Democratic but not overwhelmingly so states were within reach.
There’s not much point in reiterating what was said during the campaign, but Obama’s firewall was solid. Obama could have won with all the Kerry 2004 states, plus Ohio and Nevada. In contrast, while Romney could do without Bush 2004 states such as Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada; Ohio and Florida were basically must-win states for him.
Going into November 6, Obama had the lead in every state he won back in 2008 except Indiana (a repeat of Obama’s spectacular 2008 victory in traditionally solidly Republican Indiana was never a real possibility), North Carolina (the second tightest of the Obama 2008 states) and Florida. On election night, Obama successfully swept every single swing state – including Florida – except North Carolina.
What is more, Obama outperformed his polling average in almost every single swing state. RealClearPolitics (RCP) had him up 1.7 in Colorado (won by 5.5), down 1.5 in Florida (won by 0.9), up 2.4 in Iowa (won by 5.8), up 4 in Michigan (won by 9.5), up 2.8 in Nevada (won by 6.6), up 2 in New Hampshire (won by 5.6), down 3 in North Carolina (lost by 2.1), up 3.8 in Pennsylvania (won by 5), up 0.3 in Virginia (won by 3.7) and up 4.2 in Wisconsin (won by 6.7).
The only state where Obama did not outperform his polling was in Ohio – yes, Ohio. RCP had him up by 2.9 in Ohio, but he only won the state by 2. As more votes get counted in Ohio – largely votes from Democratic counties – that may change, but Obama’s result in Ohio is still slightly underwhelming. What happened in Ohio? Was the result in Ohio one of the very, very rare incidences of the “Bradley effect”? For example, PPP’s last poll out of Ohio, showing Obama up 5, had him losing the white vote by 4 when the exit polls indicate that he lost the white vote in Ohio by 17.
Ultimately, Ohio did not end up as the crucial state – the so-called “tipping point state” (the state which puts a candidate over 270). Instead, Pennsylvania was the tipping point state which placed Obama over 270; while Ohio was less Democratic than the nation (as of now) and would have gone to Romney in a tied race (assuming a UNS).
On the other hand, Obama did outperform his polling in every other swing state. The best explanation is that undecided voters and late-deciders broke in his favour by a relatively solid margin, an explanation confirmed by the exit polls. They found that 3% of voters decided on election day, and Obama won them by 7 points over Romney. He also won the other 6% who said that they had decided “in the last few days”, this time by 5 points over Romney.
The conventional wisdom is that undecided voters end up breaking heavily against the incumbent, in favour of the challenger; the so-called “incumbent rule”. If an incumbent is polling below 50%, the rule argues, it is a bad omen for him/her, because undecided voters tend(ed) to break heavily against the incumbent. The veracity of this so-called ‘rule’ has not held true in recent elections, specifically the last direct incumbent-challenger battle – the 2004 election between Bush and Kerry. Bush held a 2 point lead over Kerry going into election day but was consistently below 50%, leading some to speculate that Kerry could win the election if undecideds decided heavily in his favour. Unfortunately for him and the “incumbent rule”, they did not. Kerry did not get any “undecided boost” on election day, and lost the PV by roughly 2 points. Earlier this year, polling God Nate Silver found no evidence that most undecided voters broke against the incumbent.
Ultimately, the “incumbent rule” was proven wrong in this election, as it had been in a few previous elections. In fact, Obama seemingly outperformed his final polling numbers, especially in the swing states (especially Ohio). This can either mean that undecided voters broke for him, which seems likely, and that some pollsters were simply wrong, another good possibility. In states with a large Hispanic population such as Nevada, Democrats tend to underpoll because pollsters have a notoriously hard time with their Hispanic samples – some Hispanics do not speak English or don’t speak it well.
Geography of the Vote: Obama’s Rainbow Coalition
In my discussion of the exit polls, I referred to Obama’s “rainbow coalition” of minorities, women, the youth and white liberals and how this broad and heterogeneous coalition ensured his victory. A geographical view of the results, for now at a county level, illustrates the nature of this coalition and confirm its importance not only for Obama but also the Democratic Party. At the same time, the electoral map also confirms that some of the last vestiges of the old Democratic coalition, the New Deal coalition, have completely disappeared.
The shape of this new Democratic coalition was first seen in the 2000 election and confirmed in subsequent elections. In 2008, Obama was able to expand this coalition and turn it into a winning coalition by motivating unprecedented minority and youth turnout all while reaching out to new constituencies with his unique appeal. In 2012, some parts of the Obama ’08 coalition have fallen off, but the core remains: racial/ethnic minorities, complemented by what we can call “white liberals”.Minorities were crucial to Obama’s victory in almost every single swing state and beyond, considering that the general view seems to be that Obama lost the white vote to Mitt Romney in basically every state outside New England, the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington) and parts of the Upper Midwest (Iowa/Minnesota). Even in California, the exit polls say that Romney won whites by 10 (54-44) after Obama had won them by 6 in 2008. While Romney winning whites in California (only 55% of the electorate) can make sense, a 10-point gap and an 8 point improvement over McCain’s performance is still a bit doubtful.
The county map allows us to see the key elements in Obama’s coalition. First and perhaps foremost, Democratic support is predominantly urban rather than suburban or rural. This is certainly not a recent development, but Obama has been able to strengthen the Democrats’ stranglehold on major urban areas but also expand into other urban areas which had historically been Republican. In major cities, ethnic minorities have played a major role in entrenching or strengthening . Almost all major cities in the United States are either majority-minority or have a large non-white population. Growing minority populations, specifically Hispanics, have shifted historically Republican urban areas such as Harris and Dallas Counties (Houston and Dallas, TX) into the Democratic column.
Furthermore, white voters in urban areas – young professionals, artists, students/academia, unmarried young men and women, LGBT – tend to be cosmopolitan, socially liberal and hence strongly Democratic. Obama, especially in 2008 but again in 2012, had a particularly strong appeal to these type of voters, who are, alongside minorities, a key element in the new Democratic coalition.
Obama carried basically every major urban county in the United States. While they are reliably Democratic, their large population and the large number of votes they provide for Democrats means that the Democrats cannot afford to do without strong turnout and maximized support in these urban stronghlolds. Obama’s campaign was able to mobilize the base in its urban bases very effectively, as it had been able to do in 2008.
Obama won 77.6% in Suffolk County, MA (Boston); between 79% and 91% in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (NYC; 85% in Philadelphia County, PA (Philadelphia); 87% in Baltimore City; 91% in Washington DC; 54.5% in Wake County, NC (Raleigh); 60.8% in Mecklenburg County, SC (Charlotte); 64.2% in Fulton County, GA (Atlanta); 61.6% in Miami-Dade County, FL (Miami); 52.8% in Hillsborough County, FL (Tampa); 58.7% in Orange County, FL (Orlando); 62.6% in Shelby County, TN (Memphis); 68.8% in Cuyahoga County, OH (Cleveland); 51.8% in Hamilton County, OH (Cincinnati); 73.1% in Wayne County, MI (Detroit); 74% in Cook County, IL (Chicago); 66.8% in Milwaukee County, WI; 62.5% in Hennepin County, MN (Minneapolis); 82.7% in St. Louis City, MO; 49.4% in Harris County, TX (Houston), 57.1% in Dallas County, TX (Dallas); 73.5% in Denver County, CO; 56.4% in Clark County, NV (Las Vegas); 68.6% in Los Angeles County, CA; 83.4% in San Francisco County, CA and 68.8% in King County, WA (Seattle).
Many of these cities – NYC, Philly, DC, Atlanta, Miami, Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Vegas or LA – have very large minority populations which are heavily Democratic; their voting Democratic is not surprising so Obama’s success is more his ability to mobilize turnout and maximize Democratic support. In other urban areas which are more politically diverse and which had helped Obama carry the White House in 2008, the Democrats usually resisted very well this year. They were able to mobilize their base – generally Hispanics, blacks or younger “white liberals” – as they had done in 2008.
Outside of urban areas, the Democrats find very strong support in more rural (or suburban) areas with a large minority population. The old Black Belt in the South, but also the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley (Texas), native American counties in the Dakotas or Montana and the old Spanish country in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado are quite perceptible. The Black Belt in Alabama or Mississippi are not of strategic importance in the Democratic strategy, because they cannot ‘swing’ the state, but again, minorities – particularly Hispanics – proved crucial in swing states. We will come back, for example, to the key role played by Hispanics in Obama’s surprise victory in Florida.
In 2008, Obama, with an appealing brand of consensual, cosmopolitan moderate liberalism, had been able to make major inroads into affluent, politically moderate suburban counties across the country which had historically been Republican strongholds. He was the first Democrat since LBJ in 1964 to carry affluent suburban counties such as Loudoun (VA), Prince William (VA), Arapahoe (CO), Jefferson (CO), Somerset (NJ) and Chester (PA); only the second since LBJ to carry Lake County (IL) and the first Democrat since Franklin Pierce (in 1852) to carry DuPage County (IL). At the same time, he also performed very well in other affluent counties which had already been in the Democratic column such as Fairfield (CT), Westchester (NY), Montgomery (PA), Fairfax (VA), Marin (CA) or San Mateo (CA).
While growing minority populations in these counties can serve to explain part of these shifts, the major story in all of these major suburban counties is the shift of well-educated, middle-class professionals in suburban areas from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party as a result of the GOP’s shift to the right and towards socially conservative “culture wars” politics.
Romney with his businessman image not overly concerned by the culture wars, in addition to Obama’s more populist rhetoric in 2012, was presumed to be a good match for these counties. Ultimately, however, Obama was able to hold all of the aforementioned counties except Chester County, PA which he lost by a very close margin. There was no major swing, as we will see, in these counties where many had assume Romney’s businessman reputation would play well with swing voters.
At the same time, the Republicans fortified their hold on the “heartland” – white rural areas and small towns across most of the United States. There are, to be sure, still a good number of Democratic-leaning “white” rural areas – New England and the Driftless Area in Iowa/Wisconsin/Minnesota – but, by and large, the Republicans are dominant in (white) rural and small-town America. Any old Democratic tradition have almost completely died out, especially in the South but also in other parts of the country.
The urban-rural widened this year. The difference between the Obama vote in the largest areas (cities over 50k) and the smallest areas (small cities/rural) grew from 18 points to 23 points. Obama’s support remained stable in the largest cities, losing only one point in the cities over 50k. In cities over 500k, he won 69-29 and won 58-40 in cities with a population between 50k and 500k. The suburbs voted for Obama in 2008 (50-48), he lost two points there this year as they switched back to the GOP (Romney won them 50-48). Mitt Romney’s strongest gains came in small city and rural areas, which McCain had won by 8 (53-45) but which he won by 20 this year (59-39). He killed 61-37 in rural areas and won by 14 (56-42) in cities with 10k to 50k inhabitants.
Southern white Democrats are very much a dying breed outside of major urban areas. States such as Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia but also Alabama or Oklahoma had large pockets of (white) Democratic support at the presidential level until the 1990s and early 2000s, and while their shift to the right predates the Obama presidency – it began in 2000 and sped up in 2004 – his presidency has seen a near-annihilation of these remnants of support.
In other regions of the country, white working-class (WWC) voters – a core component of the old New Deal coalition, have swung to the right. Urban, heavily industrialized and traditionally unionized working-class areas – a lot of them with a large non-white population – remain solidly Democratic; but smaller white working-class areas which had traditionally been Democratic-leaning have shifted to the right.
The Democratic Party moved further to the left, towards a brand of progressive social liberalism embodied by the likes of Gore, Kerry and especially Obama. Traditionally conservative white Democrats in the South and throughout the country have felt, since 2000, that the Democratic Party has abandoned them and has become too liberal. At the same time, starting with George W. Bush, Republicans have been successful at reaching out to lower-income/working-class white voters, primarily in the South and the Midwest, by playing up “culture war” rhetoric and using “wedge” issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun control to motivate and mobilize religious and conservative lower-income whites.
As a result, these voters have drifted further and further away from the Democratic Party – especially at the presidential level – while the Democratic Party has itself slowly drifted away from these voters towards their new “rainbow coalition”.
Democratic support in predominantly white rural areas in the South, Appalachia and the Plains has really dried up. In 2008, Arkansas and Tennessee – two states where white voters had remained Obama was never a good candidate for these voters. Already in the Democratic primary battle in 2008 he had done terribly with WWC voters and Southern whites; in the general election, there was a major countercyclical swing towards the GOP in wide swathes of heavily white rural counties in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky and parts of West Virginia (see the maps under ‘voting shifts’). Kerry had already done quite poorly in those areas in 2004 and their rightward trend predates Obama, but white support for Democratic presidential candidates had been holding up better in those Upper South states with fewer blacks (and hence lesser racial polarization and tensions) than in Deep South states such as Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. The 2008 and 2012 results show that these states are “catching up” with other states where the realignment, at the presidential level, had come with Reagan in 1980/1984.
Rural whites, lower-income whites (especially in the South) and most of the non-urban WWC have abandoned Democrats in drove, and this election – like 2004 and 2008 – only fortified the GOP hold on these voters. The novelty since 2010 (a bit earlier in some states), confirmed again this year, is that the realignment is extending to the congressional and state level. Blue Dog and white Democrats in the South are a dying breed, at all levels. The GOP gained Alabama and North Carolina’s state legislatures for the first time since Reconstruction in 2010, followed by Mississippi and Louisiana. Even in Arkansas, where the state Republican Party was in shambles until recently, Democrats are being swept out of office at the state level: the GOP gained the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction this year. In West Virginia, it is only a matter of time before the Republicans gain the state legislature, in Democratic hands since the Great Depression.
The question remains whether this GOP coalition is sustainable in the long-term without significant Republican inroads with non-white (primarily Hispanic and Asian) voters. If the Republicans can continue to peel off more and more white working-class voters, historically Democratic white “ethnics” (Irish, Polish, Italian etc) from the Democratic Party, then Rust Belt states could become more Republican. The GOP coalition as it presently stands will have a hard time winning presidential elections (where turnout is higher) unless future Democratic candidates cannot mobilize their electorate as efficiently as Obama. Any winning GOP coalition will need to make gains where they are most needed: middle-class, moderate suburban voters; Hispanic and Asian voters and younger voters.
The Shifts since 2008
The raw results of any election must be put into perspective – historical perspective – to be better understood. It is always quite instructive to look at how the different states and counties swung compared to the last election.
This map (a bit outdated), based on individual state county maps from the aforementioned US Election Atlas (under each state, rollover the ‘swing’ and ‘trend’ buttons) shows the “swing” from the last election. In this case, the “swing” refers to the change in the D-R margin compared to the 2008 election. For example, the United States as a whole had a +7.26% margin for Obama in 2008 and this year it had a +2.96% margin – the US swung by 4.3% towards the Republicans. The “trend” map is the change in the D-R margin relative to the change in the national margin (states which swung by less than 4.3% in the Republican direction “trended” Democratic). The New York Times, with even more outdated results, shows the shift since 2008 using some annoying arrows. I’m not sure what methodology the NYT used, but the results seem basically identical to the swing maps.
Utah, West Virginia, Indiana, Montana and North Dakota had the five biggest swings against Obama in the country, all five states registering a swing of over 10% (nearly 20% in Utah’s case). Mississippi, New Jersey, Louisiana, Maryland and Alaska are the only four states which swung to Obama this year.
Utah is unsurprising. Romney won 72.8% of the vote in the state, the biggest percentage of the vote for a Republican in Utah since Ronald Reagan in 1980. As the first major party Mormon nominee, Romney received a very big “favourite son” vote from his correligionists. Obama must have done fairly decently with the Mormon vote in the 2008 election, winning 34% of the vote in Utah – which was the best showing for a Democrat since 1968. Obama had even won Salt Lake County, home to Salt Lake City, by a narrow margin. The Mormon vote swung heavily in Romney’s direction this year.
This swing is, of course, most perceptible in Utah but it also shows up in eastern Nevada and some counties in Wyoming. However, the swing in heavily Mormon and solidly Republican eastern Idaho was fairly small, with the exception of three counties directly bordering Utah. Eastern Idaho, known for being extremely conservative (perhaps moreso than Utah), had already been voting Republican by huge margins (over 70% of the vote), so the GOP was perhaps already hovering close to the ceiling (unlike in Utah).
West Virginia, the heart of Appalachian coal country, used to be a Democratic stronghold at all levels because of its large unionized working-class (coal miners) population. After the New Deal and the rise of unions such as the UMW, West Virginia voted for Democratic presidential candidates between 1932 and 2000 with the exception of 1956, 1972 and 1984. Democratic candidates usually polled over 60%, sometimes over 70%, of the vote in the “coal counties” of southern West Virginia. After Clinton had won the state by nearly 15 points in his two elections, George W. Bush won the state by a 6 point margin over Al Gore in the 2000 election. John Kerry lost the state by 12.9, Obama lost it by 13.1 points in 2008. This year, he lost by a massive 26.9 point margin, and failed to carry a single county in the state (the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has failed to carry even a single county in WV).
Environmental policies combined with the national Democrats’ shift towards socially liberal policies (including abortion, gay marriage but also gun control). West Virginia’s struggling economy is still fairly dependent on coal (including mountaintop removal mining), which has been targeted by environmental policies as being particularly “dirty” and environmentally damaging. Gore’s strong stance on environmental issues in the 2000 election, along with the salient issue of gun control in that election, explains the definitive shift away from the national Democrats in 2000. Since then, national Democrats have pursued policies which have alienated traditionally conservative and religious West Virginians from the national Democratic Party. Once again, Obama was never a good fit for the white working-class in Appalachia. At the base, race likely plays a role, but Obama is perceived in these milieus as a liberal “big city” politician (from Chicago and its “machine politics”, no less) similarly to how Kerry had been perceived and painted in the ‘heartland’ as an “elitist east coast liberal”. Furthermore, Obama’s 2008 rhetoric of “change” and “bipartisanship” was far more appealing to affluent middle-class (and white-collar) professionals, minorities or “white liberals” – not WWC voters who have been struggling economically for years.
Since 2008, the coal industry has been having a really hard time. The White House’s environmental policies (cap-and-trade, EPA regulations) and the natural gas boom (due to hydraulic fracking) have badly hurt the coal industry, which is facing terminal decline. Given that WV’s economy is still largely dependent on “dirty” coal (it is also by far the state’s main source of energy), these troubles have been hurting voters directly and they have resented that the administration is abandoning coal in favour of renewable energies or coal. The swing in coal country is the last stand of economically deprived voters who feel sidelined in the modern economy and swept up and away by new energies and the post-industrial economy.
Romney’s best congressional district – the 3rd – in which he won 65% (62.4% statewide) is ironically the most Democratic district in the state, encompassing most of the “coal counties” of southern WV. The swing against Obama had already been huge in those counties in 2008, but he had managed to narrowly carry two coal counties – Boone and McDowell. This year again, the swing was heaviest in the southern “coal counties”. Romney won 70.1% in Mingo County (Democratic between 1928 and 2008 except for 1972), 68.8% in Logan County (Democratic between 1928 and 2008), 64.2% in Bonne County (Democratic since 1920 save for 1972) and 64.1% in McDowell (Democratic since 1936 save for 1972). These are massive swings: from 54% Obama in Boone County back in 2008 to only 32.9% this year. In 2008, Obama had managed over 53% in the latter two counties and McCain had won roughly 55% in the first two counties.
He also lost Webster County, which had voted Democratic since 1868 (with the exception of 1972). In 2008, he won 51% there, this year he won only 34% in a county with a history of coal mining and salt sulfur wells. Nicholas County, a coal mining county, had given him over 46% in 2008 but only 30.4% this year!
At the congressional and state level, the state Democrats – many of whom, including popular Senator Joe Manchin, have moved away from the toxic national party to the point of disavowing Obama (Manchin did not attend the DNC) and his policies – proved more resilient. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin defeated his Republican rival by about 5 points, while Joe Manchin took nearly 60% of the vote against John Raese (who is a terrible candidate). That being said, the writing is on the wall even for the very right-wing state Democrats. The Republicans gained 11 seats in the state’s House of Delegates and are within reach of taking control by the next election. Nick Rahall, the Democratic congressman for the 3rd CD (the last WV Democratic congressman) since 1977, won reelection but with one of his narrowest margins in his career.
Nonetheless, the extent of ticket-splitting in WV this year is quite remarkable. In some counties in southern WV, most voters probably voted for Romney (R) and Manchin (D)! In addition, the results of the presidential race and the state-level races (governor, senate) in WV show two different bases for the Democrats: the national Democratic Party base, which reflects the new nature of the party’s coalition, and the traditional working-class base of the WV Democratic Party. Obama performed best in places where WV Democrats had historically not performed extremely well. He won 46.9% in Jefferson County (he had won it in 2008), a rapidly growing DC exurb which has been trending towards the Democrats (Dukakis lost it in 1988 while winning the state…). He won 43.9% in Monongalia County, the heart of a smaller mining basin abutting on Pennsylvania, but also home to a major college town (WVU in Morgantown). He had also won it in 2008. Finally, Obama took 43.2% in Kanawha County, where Charleston is located. Obama’s performance does not correlate very much with Tomblin or Manchin’s performance, which is more reflective of the traditional support of the state Democrats – strongest in the southern “coal counties” where Romney obliterated Obama.
Coal country’s swing against the President is also very noticeable in Kentucky and western Virginia, the extensions of the Appalachian mining basin. The swings were huge in Kentucky’s Eastern Coal Fields, historically a working-class Democratic stronghold very similar to West Virginia (with the exceptions of some counties on the southwestern ends of the coal fields, which fall in the Unionist Republican strongholds dating back to the Civil War). Obama had already performed horribly in the Democratic counties of the Eastern Coal Fields, for example becoming the first Democrat since the 1880s to lose Knott and Floyd Counties. This year, he lost three other coal field counties he had narrowly taken in 2008 (Rowan, Bath, Menifee counties) and there were more huge swings against Obama in other coal field counties. He managed to win Elliott County, which has voted Democratic since time immemorial, by a hair. But he was, basically, eaten alive in the rest of the state.Like in WV, this shift predates Obama – Kerry had lost Harlan County, an old unionized Democratic stronghold which had been voting Democratic since FDR – but it got very pronounced under Obama. Race (and racism) likely plays a role, sadly, in this case – it’s not like McCain or Romney are particularly perfect candidates for impoverished, isolated and very religious/conservative mining counties in either WV or KY. This year, however, race was not the main factor: the coal industry’s collapse since 2008 was likely a much more salient factor.In the realm of specific examples, here are a few coal counties from KY: Obama won 48.1% in Floyd in 2008, he won 31.8% this year; in Knott he fell from 44.9% to 24.9%; from 43.8% in Breathitt County he won only 31.2% this year; from an already horrible 26.1% in Harlan County in 2008, he collapsed even further to 17.2% (Clinton won 58% there in 1996!); in Pike County he won 42.1% in 2008 and 23.9% this year; finally in Magoffin County, Obama went from 45.3% to 29.2%. These are some massive shifts.
In western Virginia, finally, Obama collapsed in the small extension of the historically Democratic coal basin. Again, this is a continuation of a 2008 countercyclical swing against Obama. The swings were biggest in Buchanan and Dickenson counties, two counties bordering KY or WV. Obama fell from 46.5% to 32% in Buchanan, and from 48.5% to 35.9% in Dickenson. There were also big swings in surrounding counties in the Virginian Appalachian Plateau.
In southwestern Pennsylvania, following a large countercyclical swing towards the GOP in a region which had been a working-class (mining/steelworks/manufacturing) Democratic stronghold for decades, there were more, albeit smaller, swings towards the GOP this year. The Democratic base in Pennsylvania has shifted dramatically; the Democrats have scored impressive gains in Philly’s middle-class moderate suburbs (which are growing increasingly diverse) while the GOP has destroyed the old Democratic blue-collar/WWC base in southwestern Pennsylvania (though the other blue-collar Democratic base, in Scranton and Allentown/Bethlehem has held tight; largely because mining and industry has been dead for years in Scranton).
Back in Kentucky, the “coal swing” wasn’t limited to the Eastern Coal Fields. Looking at the county swing map, while there were massive swings in the Eastern Coal Fields, the swings were more limited in central Kentucky (Bluegrass region, Pennyroyal Plateau) – including the old Unionist Republican country dating back to the Civil War. However, in the Western Coal Fields – another major coal mining region – the swings were pretty big; for example, from 46.5% to 32.5% in Union County, from 43.1% to 32.3% in Webster County and 48.3% to 37.5% in Muhlenberg County.
Indiana was the surprise of the 2008 election. The state had been a Republican bastion, voting Republican since 1940 with the exception of 1964, and giving George W. Bush a crushing 20.7% margin over John Kerry. Then, to the surprise of most people, Obama won the state by 1 point over McCain. Obama’s remarkable victory in Indiana was the product of some ephemeral demographic shifts but especially to strategic choices made by both campaigns. Obama set up camp in Indiana during the Democratic primaries, which extended into Indiana’s late contest; and after the primaries, Obama’s campaign decided to remain on the ground and seriously compete in the state (which no Democrat had done in years). On the other hand, McCain’s campaign likely took the state for granted and largely ignored the state (despite close polling) until the end of this campaign, allowing Obama to blast the airwaves in the state.
The victory in Indiana was a one-shot deal, because the state remains, fundamentally, a Republican state. Obama’s campaign basically conceded Indiana early in the campaign and did not spend much money in the state. Romney won the state by 10.6 points, with 54.3% against Obama’s 43.7%. This is a respectable performance by Obama, much stronger than Kerry’s disastrous showing and the best showing in the state since 1976 (excluding 2008). Compared to the 2004 rout, Obama performed much better than Kerry in Marion County (Indianapolis) which he won with 60.2% against only 50.6% for Kerry in 2004. He also made some further gains in the state’s oldest Democratic stronghold, Lake County (Gary). Both counties have large black populations. However, Obama also outperformed Kerry in other counties in northern Indiana, including St. Joseph County (South Bend, a blue-collar town with a large university).
The Gary (Chicagoland) area and some Ohio Valley counties in the south did not swing much – perhaps an effect of media markets – but there were heavy swings towards the GOP in the rest of rural, small/medium-towns and suburban Indiana.
In 2008, Obama had performed particularly (unusually) well for a Democrat in areas of the Midwest that are manufacturing-oriented but have a Republican tradition and have more medium-sized manufacturers that lack the mass union tradition of the big auto and steelmakers. Indiana is a blue-collar Rust Belt manufacturing-driven state; but it has few large, unionized working-class urban centres (like Cleveland or Detroit) and more small manufacturing centres (Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Evansville, Columbus etc) which are traditionally Republican-leaning (even if some of these towns have significant black populations or colleges).
In 2008, because of the economic crisis and the high unemployment rates in these areas, Obama carried a particular appeal to blue-collar (often white) voters in these conservative regions. In 2008, there were significant swings towards Obama in Indiana but also northwestern Ohio, parts of Michigan, southern Illinois and the Fox River Valley/Northern Highlands in Wisconsin – other regions with a history of smaller manufactures lacking a strong union history.
These trends were transitory, especially because Obama is now the incumbent and the economy is still struggling in these regions. The Fox River Valley, northwestern Indiana, downstate Illinois and Michigan all swung heavily towards the GOP in 2010. This year, there were sizable swings towards the GOP in northern Wisconsin, downstate Illinois and northwestern Ohio.
Montana and North Dakota had particularly large swings against Obama (over 10% by the Atlas defintion); Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas also all had swings above the national average. Obama had done quite well in the Dakotas and Montana back in 2008, losing Montana by only 2.4 points and both Dakotas by a bit more than 8 (Kerry had lost them by much wider margins). This year, he lost Montana by 13.7 and both Dakotas by 18-19 points.
The northern Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain west are both fairly elastic and anti-incumbent regions noted for their strong independent streak and a habit of ticket-splitting. Montana in particular is often considered a “libertarian” state, and Montana Democrats like outgoing Governor Brian Schweitzer or Senator Jon Tester are often fairly independent and somewhat libertarian in their politics. Montana and both Dakotas, for example, had swung to John Kerry in 2004.
Obama, with his consensual image and the centre-leftist rhetoric of “change”, was a good fit for these states in 2008. The war in Iraq – these states had a reputation as being anti-war by then – likely hurt McCain somewhat as well. There were major swings towards the Democrats in most of Montana (where Obama had an active campaign) and the eastern parts of North and South Dakota – the most populous regions of these states (with cities such as Sioux Falls, Grand Forks and Fargo), and also places where Obama had a fairly active campaign in 2008 (the effect of Obama’s strong presence and spending in eastern ND is visible by the similarly heavy swings in his favour in northwestern Minnesota).
This year, the anti-incumbency of these right-leaning but independent regions explains – in part – why Obama did poorly. The county map shows that the biggest swings were in the farmlands of Montana’s eastern plains and the sparsely populated Badlands and Black Hills of the Dakotas; the most Republican regions of these states. In Montana, western mountainous counties – including solidly Republican fast-growing Flathead County (Kalispell), also had heavy swings.
Given the libertarian and independent reputation of Montana and parts of the Dakotas, perhaps some of the administration’s policies which have been perceived by libertarians/the right as “big government” (Obamacare, cap-and-trade, environmental regulations etc) explain the big swings in these regions. The economy of the Dakotas are doing particularly well, with very low unemployment, because of the natural gas boom in these states (concentrated, as far as I know, in the aforementioned western parts of ND/SD). Perhaps the big swing back this year is a response to some of the administration’s environmental regulations/policies?
President Obama’s home state of Illinois had a particularly heavy swing as well. Obama had won his home state by 25 points in 2008, the largest margin for a Democratic presidential candidate in the state. This state, he won it by a still very comfortable but far narrower 16.7 points. The county swing map is particularly interesting. The largest swings were recorded in southern (downstate) Illinois, a conservative and Southern-influenced region which had historically been a Democratic stronghold before shifting towards the GOP in the past decades.
Illinois politics usually features a stark dichotomy between conservative downstate and liberal Cook County (Chicago), the Democratic stronghold by excellence in Illinois. Cook County’s huge population and hefty Democratic margins every election can usually allow Democrats to win narrowly statewide even if they lose handily downstate and even in Chicagoland suburbs (see Pat Quinn in 2010). In 2008, the biggest swings towards Obama had actually been in northern Illinois – particularly the affluent Chicago suburbs which used to be GOP strongholds (even in 1964…) but have been trending hard towards the Democrats. But he had also performed well in many downstate counties, particularly those with small manufacturing centres or counties bordering Indiana (spillover from ad spending in southern IN media markets?).
Sitting Presidents usually lose their “favourite son” appeal in their home state – in 2004, 1996 and 1984 for example, the incumbent’s home state either swung to their opponent or at least “trended” to the opponent (swing below average). By having been in Washington for four (or more) years they usually lose their strong ties with their home state and are less perceived as being a “favourite son” candidate. This is part of the explanation as to why Illinois swung particularly heavily against the President; it is also a “correction” of the 2008 result which was clearly unusually huge, even for a Democrat in a “blue state” like Illinois.
Southern Illinois is a fairly working-class and coal mining region. The heaviest shifts – where Republicans gained roughly 10-15% since 2008 – came in southern Illinois’ mining basin which borders southern Indiana and KY’s Western Coal Fields. That being said, there were also some fairly large swings throughout the quasi-entirety of the state (with two major exceptions), from north to south. Romney improved on McCain’s performance by over 5 points in most of the state’s counties. This shift is similar to what happened in Indiana, northwestern Ohio or Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley: those smaller, non-unionized manufacturing centres where Obama did unusually well in 2008 because of the crisis shifted back to their natural Republican roots.
Chicago did not swing much, Romney only gained 2 points off of McCain’s 2008 performance in Cook County; though its suburbs did show some more significant swings. This fits in with a general pattern which we will come back to.
On the other hand, there were only small swings – usually less than 3% more GOP than in ’08 – in northwestern Illinois (the Rock Island/Davenport area). This result shows the importance of ads and campaign strategy on the results. Almost all of the counties in NW Illinois where Obama held up better than in the rest of the state are part of the Davenport media market, centered around Davenport, Iowa. As a swing state, Iowa – Davenport’s media market included – was barraged with thousands of ads from both sides. There were barely any Dem or GOP ads in IL’s other media markets. In this particular case, it appears as if because those particular voters had more audiovisual exposure to the President and Romney because of ad spending.
This WaPo feature includes a handy map of ad spending by media market, on which you can see the very heavy ad spending in Davenport, IA (and in all other swing state media markets). A media market means those regions where cable providers are required to carry all local stations, but a media market does not prevent a cable provider from carrying stations from other areas/media markets.
The Illinois case is the most visible example of media market “spillover” on the election map. It is harder to find other examples. There are a few WV counties which border Ohio across the Ohio River, but in this case they are part of the Charleston, WV media market (which had lots of ads too). The Denver media market, which extends into some sparsely populated plains counties in Nebraska and Wyoming, seems to have limited the swing towards the GOP in far-western Nebraska. In Pennsylvania, finally, there were large swings towards Romney in the centre of the state; and while I would privilege the demographic explanation (shift of the WWC away from the Democrats, which had begun in 2008; GOP rebound in smaller manufacturing centres) the WaPo map indicates that Romney outspent Obama in the Johnstown-Altoona media market (he also beat him in Pittsburgh’s media market, like McCain in 2008).
That being said, there is an amusing counterexample to all these hypotheticals: Minnesota. Mitt Romney’s campaign was led into believing that the state might be in play, and they spent a lot in the Minneapolis and Duluth-Superior media markets (and somewhat less on the cross-border Fargo-Valley City media market). The swing map in Minnesota shows that the heaviest swings towards the Republicans came from those northwestern counties in the Fargo-Valley City market (the region which had swung the hardest towards Obama in 2008). This swing seems to be a “correction” of the 2008 result, Obama had done quite well in northwestern Minnesota. On the other hand, swings in the heavily-targeted Minneapolis and Duluth-Superior media markets hardly budged. To be fair, however, the Obama swing in those parts of Minnesota in 2008 had been fairly underwhelming – again because McCain’s campaign had gone for a futile attempt at targeting Minnesota and blew Obama out of the water with ad spending in the state.
Missouri, especially rural and now solidly Republican exurban/small-town/rural Missouri, had heavy swings towards the Republicans (their vote share increased by over 5% in most counties). Unlike in 2008, the former bellwether state was not contested by either side, Obama conceding the presidential race in MO to Romney while Democrats focused all their efforts on the McCaskill/Akin senatorial race. Missouri, a border state, has had conflicting northern and southern influences – solidly Unionist Republican tendencies in the Ozarks or the Missouri Rhineland clashing with Dixiecrats in MO’s Little Dixie or the Missouri Bootheel and working-class Democrats in the St. Louis and the Lead Belt. Like in other border states and the Upper South, white voters have become ever more firmly Republican. This year, Obama saw his support drop fairly dramatically in the Lead Belt, a mining area south of St. Louis (Iron County, Washington County, Ste. Genevieve County) which was historically a Democratic stronghold- but again of the conservative and traditionalistic WWC variety.
The collapse of the last remnants of substantial Democratic support outside of St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City has transformed Missouri – at least at the presidential level – from a perfect bellwether into a lean-GOP state.
Arizona was quite disappointing for Democrats, who had hoped that they would make gains in the state because of the growing Hispanic minority and John McCain’s “favourite son” effect in the state in 2008 (it had barely swung). Romney won the state with 53.48% against 44.45% for Obama, a 9.03% margin which is slightly larger than McCain’s 8.48% margin in the state in 2008 (Bush had won by 10.5 in 2004). Obama won the Hispanic vote, whose share of the electorate increased from 16% to 18%, by a large margin: 74 to 25 (+49), whereas he had only won them by 15 (56-41) against McCain in 2008. However, while he had lost whites by 19 in 2008, he lost them by a huge 34 point margin this year (66-32). These exit poll numbers might be off some, but they make sense. White voters in Arizona approved Governor Jan Brewer’s controversial illegal immigration crackdown (SB 1070) even though it has seriously damaged GOP support with Hispanics.
Obama made gains in Apache and Navajo counties, two counties with a large Native American population. Along the Mexican border, he also gained in Santa Cruz, Pima (Tucson) and Yuma counties; all of which have large Hispanic populations. Santa Cruz County is 83% Hispanic according to the census, and voted 68.2% for Obama – up from 65% support for the President in 2008. Greenlee, Graham and Gila counties also swung to Obama.
In decisive and very populous Maricopa County (Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale), however, Obama fell back a bit – from 43.9% to 43.6%. It is clear that Democrats who want to win statewide need to make major inroads in Maricopa County, which is 59% white and 30% Hispanic. Heavily white Yavapai County (Prescott) swung even more, from 61.1% McCain in 2008 to 64% for Romney this year.
Arizona’s electorate was 18% Hispanic, but the census showed that Hispanics made up 30% of the electorate. The Hispanic share of the VAP (18+) is likely lower, but as in other states, notably Texas (another long-shot Dem target) or California, many Hispanics do not vote because they are not registered (often because they are not citizens) or, in the past more than today, due to apathy. Until they make up a larger share of the electorate in both AZ and TX, both states which many Democrats dream of “turning blue” in the next few elections, the Democrats’ attempts to make gains in those states will remain frustrated by their low and declining support with the white majority.
Five states swung to Obama, which means that Obama’s margin of victory or defeat in those states was bigger/smaller than in 2008. Alaska had the biggest swing towards Obama, going to Romney by 14 points after having gone to McCain by 21.5 points in 2008. Obama increased his share of the vote from 37.9% to 40.8%, in the process becoming the first Democrat since Hubert Humphrey in 1968 to win over 40% of the vote in Alaska. Romney won 54.8%, down significantly from McCain’s 59.4%.
The state, in which oil, energy and land use issues have almost always been at the forefront of local elections, is solidly Republican. In 2008, early polls had shown Obama polling strongly in Alaska, pulling within single digits of McCain. However, after McCain picked the state’s popular governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, the state was never competitive. In 2008, Palin – in office since January 2007 – was still phenomenally popular in Alaska with the success of her administration’s natural gas pipeline (AGIA). If she turned out to be a major hindrance to the McCain campaign in the rest of the country, her selection did shore up Alaska’s hefty 3 EVs for John McCain. The state barely swung towards Obama, McCain performing only a bit worse than Bush in 2004.
The heavy swing this year is probably, in large part, a correction of the Palin “favourite daughter” effect in the state. But it is still fairly bizarre for Alaska, similar in many ways to Montana (with the addition of a huge and politically influential oil industry), to swing towards Obama while Montana swung heavily in the other direction.
Alaska reports results by state house district rather than by borough, which explains why media sources never give Alaskan results at a more micro level than the state. The map to the right shows the results by house district, you can find the data on OurCampaigns (which also has a map of the 2008 results, here). State house districts changed a lot with the redistricting, making comparisons harder, but the biggest pro-Obama swings were in the “bush” – the North Slope, western and southwestern Alaska, Bristol Bay and the Aleutians; with some shifts in the Panhandle region as well. These regions are predominantly Native, extremely sparsely populated and barely connected with one another. The North Slope is also the centre of Alaskan oil and gas production.
Alaska Natives are not as solidly Democratic as other Native Americans; owing largely to a different form of self-government and oil revenues. While they usually lean Democratic more often than not, a strong Republican can win them over. In the 2010 senate race, Native support was crucial to GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski’s write-in victory over Joe Miller (R). In the 2008 presidential election, Obama performed well in some predominantly Native districts (Nome, Bethel) but the McCain/Palin ticket held up well.
This year, Obama basically swept the “bush”, including the North Slope. HD40, which covers the North Slope, gave 66.5% to Obama against only 29.3% for Romney. In 2008, the same district (which did not change much in terms of boundaries) had voted 53.7-42.7 for McCain. He won over 60% in almost every other “bush” house district. On the other hand, the MatSu valley – Alaska’s conservative Republican heartland – did not move all that much (though redistricting makes it hard to quantify). Romney still won over 65% of the vote in most of the MatSu, even taking over 70% of the vote in Wasilla, Palmer (Anchorage exurbs and Palinland) and rabidly conservative North Pole (Fairbanks exurb). McCain had done extremely well in the MatSu in 2008, likely the Palin effect; even better than Bush in 2004. It appears as if the Alaska swing is predominantly due to the Natives in the bush and some more moderate voters in the Panhandle, which, outside of Juneau, is a more moderate GOP-leaning region. The MatSu valley and its profoundly conservative “rugged individualism” stayed the same.
Romney did worse than McCain and Obama improved on his 2008 results in Mississippi and Louisiana. Mississippi is the most racially polarized state, with likely the lowest white vote for Obama of any state. On the other hand, Louisiana – while a Deep South state like MS or AL – was historically less racially polarized. The Democrats polled particularly well with the French Catholic Cajuns in Acadiana, and some strong local Democrats still do well in Acadiana. Clinton won the state in 1992 and 1996 (while losing MS and AL), but like AR or TN it has progressively abandoned Democrats, first at the presidential level and now at the state level (Democrats recently lost the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction). Gore lost the state by 7.7%, Kerry lost by 14.5% and Obama lost it by 18.6% in 2008. There were substantial countercyclical swings towards McCain, primarily in Cajun country/Acadiana.
The swing towards Romney was below the national average throughout the South, Alabama barely swung and AR, GA, SC and NC all “trended” towards the Democrats (swing below the national average). This indicates that, in large part, the realignment of 80-90% of Southern whites with the GOP at the presidential level throughout both the Deep South and Upper South is almost complete, after large swings against Obama in 2008.
On the national swing map, the Southern swing towards Obama stems from black-majority counties (or those with a large black minority) – the Mississippi Valley (AR, LA, MS) and the Black Belt (MS, AL, GA, SC, NC). There had already been substantial swings towards Obama in those counties in 2008, indicating primarily his ability to motivate and mobilized black voters like no candidate before him had done. How could they swing towards him again, after nearly maximizing turnout and support in 2008?
We can exclude the hypothesis that Southern whites swung to Obama. The exit polls do say that Obama’s performance with Alabama whites was 5% better than in 2008 (from 10% to 15%) while he lost 1 point with MS whites (taking 10%); there were no exit polls in AR, LA, GA or SC. More likely, white turnout declined somewhat and black turnout increased or at least stabilized. In Mississippi, the white share of the electorate fell by 3 (from 62% to 59%) and the black share of the electore increased by 3 (from 33% to 36%).
Some Southern white evangelicals were uneasy with Romney – either because of his faith (a lot of evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christian), his old image as a Massachusetts moderate who was insufficiently conservative or because of his wealth. There was no chance that they would back Obama, but the real threat was that they would not turn out. States like MS, AL or LA would have been ground zero for lower Southern white turnout; and while there was no catastrophic decline in turnout, there appears to have been some decline in white turnout combined with stable (or slightly higher) black turnout.
In Louisiana, the swings towards Obama were concentrated along the shores of the Mississippi – from New Orleans and upwards – the region of the state with the largest black population. There was a huge swing in St. Bernard Parish, where Obama gained 10% from his 2008 result (from 25.8% to 36.2%). The population in this coastal county declined because of Katrina, but there seems to have been an increase in the share of the black population in the county – probably blacks moving from Orleans Parish. On the other hand, Acadiana continued to swing towards the GOP (though not by a lot).
In Arkansas, Mississippi or Alabama, the Obama swings came from counties with large black populations. In Alabama, for example, Obama picked up two McCain counties (Conecuh and Barbour) which are very closely divided between whites and blacks. On the other hand, counties with white supermajorities generally swung towards the GOP. This was notably the case in Georgia, which saw some fairly substantial swings against Obama in heavily white northern counties (exurban Atlanta) but some swings to Obama in the racially divided Piedmont and coastal plains.
Atlanta suburbia remains promising for the Democrats. The black population in Georgia is growing, especially in Atlanta suburbs. Inner suburban Clayton and DeKalb counties, heavily black, are now more Democratic than Fulton County (Atlanta) where the black population is stagnating/declining. Obama held Douglas, Rockdale and Newton counties which he picked up in 2008, thanks to a rapidly growing black population. This year, Fulton and DeKalb counties swung towards Romney; but there were pro-Obama swings in Douglas, Rockdale, Henry and Gwinnett counties – which all have booming black (or even Hispanic) populations. These trends mean that Georgia is a long shot target for Democrats, despite historic lows in white support for Democrats in the state.
Other minority counties also swung towards Obama. This was the case in a lot of heavily Hispanic counties in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, some Hispanic areas in Colorado and New Mexico but also Native American rez counties in South Dakota and Arizona. We will come back to Florida swings in more detail later (assuming you are not dead from this verbal diarrhea by then!).
New Jersey swung towards Obama, his margin of victory grew from 15.5 to 16.9. The main cause is probably Hurricane Sandy, whose primary effect was to severely depress turnout in NJ and NY but whose secondary effect was beneficiary to Obama. The President and Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ)’s response to the hurricane was lauded, and in a way the hurricane froze Romney’s momentum by allowing Obama to act presidential and post-partisan while Romney languished doing awkward events in Ohio and Florida. In NJ, the exit polls reported that 53% of respondents said that Obama’s hurricane response was an important factor in their vote (42% nationally).
That being said, while Sandy’s ground zero – Atlantic County (Atlantic City) – did swing towards Obama, it was not by a very big margin. The big swings came in solidly Democratic North Jersey – the heavily urbanized and ethnically diverse NYC suburbia in Hudson, Essex, Passaic, Union and Bergen counties. Obama’s share of the vote increased by over 2% in Middlesex, Union, Hudson and Passaic counties. These counties have large and oftentimes growing Asian, black and Hispanic populations.
In New York City, all boroughs except for Manhattan swung towards Obama. Obama even picked up Staten Island, gaining over 2% since 2008. In Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx the Obama vote increased by over 2%. These boroughs are also, of course, very ethnically diverse with large black, Hispanic and Asian populations. Obama won Staten Island (Richmond County), which had gone to Bush in 2004 and McCain in 2008. There was a huge drop in turnout in Staten Island, but those who voted where likely influenced by the “Sandy effect.”
Urban centres throughout the country either swung to Obama or had only small swings towards Romney. Growing minority populations in these urban centres, mobilized and motivated by the Obama machine, have further entrenched Democrats in these counties. Suffolk County (Boston), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami-Dade County (Miami), Jefferson County (Birmingham, AL), Orleans Parish (New Orleans, LA), Dallas County (Dallas) and Ramsey County (St. Paul, MN) all swung towards Obama. Los Angeles County (Los Angeles) barely swung; Harris County (Houston, TX), Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Cook County (Chicago), Wayne County (Detroit), Richmond (Virginia), Denver, King County (Seattle) – to name only a few – all swung below the national average.
Maryland swung to Obama by a tiny bit – his margin increased from 25.4 to 25.6. The state has been getting even more Democratic in recent years: federal government employees and growing minority (Hispanic, Asian, black) populations in Democratic strongholds including Prince George’s, Charles, Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties.
The pro-Obama swing in upstate New York is rather bizarre. With central Ohio, it is the only large area to swing towards Obama which does not have a substantial minority population. Is the region particularly pro-incumbent?
This map shows the swing since the 2000 election, 12 years ago. The evaporation of white Democratic support in the South and Appalachia is immediately visible: notice the Democratic collapse in Little Dixie (Oklahoma – an old Socialist Party stronghold!), Arkansas, eastern Texas (historically the most Dixiecratic and Southern region of Texas), Acadiana (Louisiana), the Upland region in Alabama, Tennessee, the Florida Panhandle, northern Georgia and – of course – the Appalachian mining basin. Support also dropped in Missouri and downstate Illinois, two regions with a political culture similar to that of the South. In southwestern Pennsylvania – old coal and steel country – we see the decline of Democratic support in a working-class region, with conservative values on moral issues (this was the region Obama was referring to in 2008 with the infamous “clinging to guns and religion” comment, and the region’s long-time now-deceased congressman John Murtha suggested a lot of his constituents were racist).
In the South, the heavy swings towards Democrats in racially divided or predominantly black areas is also quite visible in MS, AL, Atlanta’s suburbs, SC, NC and parts of southern Virginia. Counties with a large Hispanic population – Rio Grande Valley, Orlando, New Mexico, parts of Colorado, California and so forth also swung towards the Democrats.
Places were Ralph Nader had done very well in 2000, depressing Al Gore’s vote share, show up in deep red: northern coastal California, college towns, ski resorts (San Miguel County in Colorado or Blaine County in Idaho), the Berkshires in western MA or Vermont.
The GOP’s decline in affluent, middle-class suburbs – a victim of its own shift to the right and the demographic shift of moderate, formerly Republican-leaning, educated professionals away from the GOP; but also of the increasing minority population in some of these counties. Notice the heavy swings towards the Democrats in NoVA, the DC burbs in Maryland, the Philly burbs (besides Bucks), Chicago’s suburbs or Denver’s suburbs. The exception is suburban NYC (both in NY and NJ) and Boston, where Gore overperformed in 2000 because of the gun control issue. The shift is not universal; more conservative suburban and exurban counties (most often white flight counties) in the South but also outside Milwaukee (notoriously right-wing Waukesha County) and Minneapolis swung to the GOP in 12 years.
In 12 years, the rural-urban divide in American politics has deepened and racial polarization of politics has increased; with the evaporation of white support for Democrats in the South and the solidification of big city Democratic bastions.
The Contrasted Results of Suburbia
During the campaign, there was much talk about how Mitt Romney’s image as a “businessman” with a platform focused on lower taxes, smaller government and job creation would appeal to white middle-class suburbanites, a demographic group which Obama had integrated into the Democratic coalition in the 2008 election. In contrast, observers felt that Obama’s populist campaign this year (Republicans claiming he was sparking class warfare); a shift from his “hope ‘n change” style of 2008; would turn off some of these affluent suburban voters. The elite backlash against his attacks on Bain Capital and his trouble with Wall Street donors gave credence to the idea that there would be a significant swing towards Romney with the very rich and even middle-class suburbs as a whole.
We looked at the exit polls, but what do the raw results tell us? They paint a contrasted image, but one which is still surprisingly favourable to Obama.
Obama had performed extremely well where the famed “1%ers” tend to live in 2008. In New Canaan, CT he lost by 6 points; in Darien, CT, he lost by 9 points and in Greenwich, CT he won by nearly 8. In 2004, Kerry had lost by 26 in Darien and 22 in New Canaan. This year, Obama lost heavily in these three towns which are among the wealthiest in the US. He lost by 32 in Darien, 29 in New Canaan and by 13 in Greenwich.
In Weston, MA – a town where over 40% make over 200k – Obama won 51-48 after he had won 60-38 in 2008. Next door, in slightly less affluent but still extremely well-off Wellesley he won 57-42 (down from 64-34 in 2008). Scott Brown won by 10 points in Weston against Elizabeth Warren, actually doing better than he had against Coakley in the 2010 special. However, in the 2002 gubernatorial election, Mitt Romney had won 63% in Weston and 58.5% in Wellesley.
In New Trier township in Cook County, IL – which includes extremely affluent Winnetka – Obama won 54.3% to 44.5%, in 2008 he had won 63.3% to 35.8% (so a substantial drop). New Trier township’s heavy Democratic lean (like that of Highland Park in Lake County) is due to a very large Reform Jewish population.
In Atherton, CA – a very wealthy town in solidly Democratic San Mateo County (Bay Area); Romney seems to have won by patching together precinct results, in 2008, Obama beat McCain by a small margin in Atherton. In the absence of precinct results in NY or other states, we cannot evaluate the other 1%er enclaves very well. The Orange County Register had a very interesting map of the results in the OC; the Vietnamese vote in Westminster and Garden Grove swung big-time to Obama (from roughly 55-60% McCain to 55-60% Obama this year) while Romney scored the biggest gains in very wealthy places such as Laguna Niguel, San Juan Capistrano or Mission Viejo.
Ski resort counties – most of which are extremely affluent and highly educated but also very solidly Democratic (part of it stems from the tourism industry workers but also environmental consciousness and ‘latte liberalism’ of the local ski bunnies) – remained solidly Democratic but did show a fairly significant swing towards Romney. In San Miguel County, CO (Telluride) Romney won 27.1%, up from 21.4% for McCain. In Pitkin County, CO (Aspen) Romney from 30.1% against 24.9% for McCain in 2008. In Teton County, WY (Jackson Hole) he won 42.4% whereas McCain had polled only 37%. In Blaine County, ID (Ketchum/Sun Valley) he took 38.6% while McCain had taken only 32.5%. The swing in Summit County, UT (Park City) was large – Obama had won 56% there in 2008 but won only 46% this year; the swing largely exaggerated by the Mormon effect (even though Summit County is one of the least LDS counties in Utah).
The results from the wealthiest places in America - particularly Darien and New Canaan in Connecticut (home to many Wall Street financiers and the like) – indicate a fairly big swing towards the GOP, certainly related to Obama’s different style and some of his policies (Dodd-Franks). But in these highly educated places (and in the ski resorts) McCain became a very bad candidate by November 2008 because of Sarah Palin, whose raw populism and general image as an uneducated hick, was a major turnoff to voters who like the GOP’s position on taxes but can get turned off by excessive conservative populism a la Palin. The biggest swings, it seems, came in traditionally Republican towns where Palin had turned off a lot of more moderately-inclined but still loyally Republican voters. They returned to the fold this year.
However, Obama’s performance in other affluent counties – not the homes of the 1%ers but still educated, white-collar, middle-class and wealthy – was strong. In 2008, he won historic victories in historically Republican suburban counties such as Loudoun (VA), Prince William (VA), Arapahoe (CO), Jefferson (CO), Somerset (NJ), Chester (PA), Lake (IL) and DuPage County (IL). This year, he held all of these counties except for Chester. In Virginia and Colorado, his resistance in these counties proved crucial. As aforementioned, some of the Democratic inroads in these counties are due to growing minority populations – this is the case in some Chicagoland suburban counties including Kane County (large Hispanic populations in Elgin and Aurora) – but Obama’s 2008 inroads and 2012 resistance would have been impossible without strong numbers in predominantly white, highly educated middle-class suburbs.
For example, in Lake County (Illinois), Obama’s standing is boosted by heavy support in blue-collar multiethnic Waukegan, he also performed quite well in white middle-class/upper middle-class suburbia (even taking out Waukegan township, he still carried the county by a fair margin). The Lake County results page has a precinct map here, showing strong support not only in Waukegan but also in Highland Park, a very affluent liberal suburb north of Chicago with a large Jewish population. In Lake County, the biggest swings towards Romney occured in the wealthiest townships (as measured by the percentage of households earning over 200k) – a big 8.4% gain for the GOP in Shields township - which includes some very affluent and traditionally Republican precincts around Lake Forest. West Deerfield (+7.9%), Ela (+7.5%), Moraine (+6.9%), Vernon (+6.8%), Fremont (+6.6%), Cuba (+6.5%), Libertyville (+6.3%) and Wauconda (+5.9%) townships all had GOP gains above the county average (+5.5%); all of these townships (besides the more exurban Wauconda) all include some very affluent households. On the other hand, Romney only improved on McCain’s showing in solidly Democratic Waukegan by 0.5% and in Zion township by 1.3%, both towns are blue-collar and lower-income towns – Waukegan itself is also heavily Hispanic. Lake County is but one example, but it showcases larger swings to the GOP in the most affluent areas – likely the product of some Republicans returning to the fold after the Palin-induced bleeding in 2008 (and in Illinois, the normalization after Obama’s favourite son overperformance in 2008). It would be interesting to compare these results to 2004 results, but it would not be surprising if despite these GOP swings, Romney’s performance remained lower than President Bush’s 2004 performance.
Oakland County – Mitt Romney’s native county and Detroit’s affluent suburban county (though not by any means a purely affluent county) – swung to Romney, who won 45.4% after McCain had won a horrible 41.9% in a county which had, until the 1990s, been a Republican stronghold. Romney won 66.5% in his native Bloomfield Hills, one of the wealthiest towns in America; this is up from a weak 58% for McCain in 2008. Even if Romney did make gains in affluent suburban communities such as Troy and Birmingham; Obama still won affluent and historically Republican areas such as Farmington Hills (59%), Huntington Woods (70%) and West Bloomfield (56%). The President won over 80% of the vote in majority-black Pontiac, Southfield and Oak Park. But even in Oakland County, Romney is not even at Bush’s 2004 levels (49.3%).
Romney performed better (47.6%) in Macomb County, Detroit’s traditionally white working-class suburban county which had been a Democratic stronghold before becoming the typical example of a “Reagan Democrats” county in the 1980s.
Here is a township map for southeastern Pennsylvania (suburban Philly). Obama resisted particularly well in MontCo, which includes some very affluent Democratic-leaning areas (Lower Merion township). The swing map, does, however, show substantial swings towards the GOP in affluent suburban townships in Chester County, some of which had voted for Obama in 2008. In Chester, Obama resisted better in the Main Line suburbs, slightly less affluent than their surroundings but still generally well-off. There were also substantial swings towards the GOP in more exurban areas (which we can define by fewer households earning over 200k but nevertheless high earnings, and less people with postgrad degrees); Lake County’s suburban townships did swing, though by less than the wealthiest townships. Lower-income – often old working-class towns which now have large minority populations – had very low swings or even swung to Obama (as is the case in predominantly black areas in DelCo on the border with Philly).
The WaPo had a really nice map of the results in the DC area, including NoVA and Maryland. One could have expected Romney to get hard swings in NoVA, but he did not. In Prince William County, Romney actually did slightly worse than McCain (41.3% vs 41.6%). In Loudoun County, he improved by a bit – but not by much: from 45.4% to 47%. Like McCain, he failed to break 40% in Fairfax County. In 2004, Bush had received 52.8% in Prince William, 55.7% in Loudoun and 45.9% in Fairfax counties; those numbers had already been on the low side of GOP results. In Maryland, super-majority black suburban Prince George’s County actually swung to Obama (from 88.9% to 89.6%) and Carroll County, which has a rapidly growing black population saw an even larger pro-Obama swing (from 62.2% to 64.8%). Romney barely improved in Montgomery County, winning only 27.3%. He lost a bit compared to McCain in Howard County.
The WaPo did some precinct analysis, apparently, and found that Obama’s support dropped off the most in precincts with income over $180k while remaining stable in the poorest precincts. Nevertheless, Obama performed well, often very well, in white middle-class suburbs. His performance, especially in Maryland, in these suburban areas is of course “exaggerated” because a large number of voters work for the federal government. Romney generally won NoVA’s most affluent precincts – those with a large percentage of households earning over 200k; but Democratic support in these suburban counties stem not from the 200k+ precincts but rather from more middle-class precincts, with young families or young professionals, often with lots of condos or smaller houses. Romney could have played well there, given Bush’s performance in 2004, but he did not. He regained those Republicans who had temporarily fled because of Palin in 2008, but did not make substantial inroads.
In affluent counties which are more firmly entrenched in the Democratic column such as Westchester (NY), Montgomery (PA), Fairfax (VA), Marin (CA) or San Mateo (CA); Obama resisted very well. In the Bay Area’s very affluent but also liberal white suburbs, Romney made some gains but he failed to match even Bush’s very paltry 2004 results. Furthermore, in fairly affluent but ethnically diverse (largely Asian) Santa Clara County, he did worse than McCain. He gained only 1% over McCain in San Mateo County, a bit less than 2% in Contra Costa County and about 3% in Marin County. Romney was never really expected to play well in these counties, whose shift away from the GOP is older.
The LA Times has a very cool map of the precinct results in LA County. I didn’t do tons of analysis, but my impression is that the wealthiest areas – both the solidly Republican gated communities of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the more Democratic liberal areas around Malibu, Brentwood, Beverly Hills and so forth – swung to Romney (not necessarily by all that much) while Obama solidified his margins in the Hispanic precincts and scored some fairly nice gains in Asian areas.
Westchester County (NY) had a larger swing to Romney, who won 38.2% – up from McCain’s 35.8%; but again, he falls short of 40% and Bush’s 2004 performance. I have not been able to put my hands on township results in Westchester County, so I cannot say how much the wealthiest areas swung to Romney – but it could have been fairly significant, assuming that the poor minority areas (Yonkers, Mt. Vernon) did not budge much.
The general picture in America’s affluent areas is contrasted. Romney did well, better than McCain; but he scored most of his gains in very wealthy towns and precincts, likely regaining traditional Republican voters who had temporarily abandoned the party in 2008 because of Palin or the economic crisis. His gains were “insufficient” almost everywhere, falling short even of Bush’s 2004 results in most places (in Boston’s affluent suburbs he was far from his very strong results in the 2002 gubernatorial election). A good number of affluent, highly educated middle-class suburbanites have been drifting away from the GOP, a process which began under Reagan but which accelerated dramatically after Bush Jr’s presidency. They rejected the GOP’s cultural and religious conservatism, even if they might be attracted to its traditional low-taxes and small-government message. Middle-class educated liberal professionals in cosmopolitan milieus (Bay Area but also in towns such as Evanston, Newton, Cleveland Heights throughout the country etc) are now a core component of the Democratic base.
Swing State Geographies
Some of the main results in the swing states were covered above, but this section offers some additional reflections on some of the results in major swing states – notably Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Virginia.
Ohio had been seen as the swing state/tipping point of the election, and it was a key part of Obama’s firewall. His support held up well in Ohio, something which observers attributed to a whole slew of factors: the state’s shale gas boom, the lower unemployment rate, the popularity of Obama’s auto bailout or even the WWC’s lukewarm support for Romney. He won Ohio, but by a very underwhelming margin – it currently stands at 1.98%, he won by 3.3% nationally. This means that, in a tied race, Romney would have won Ohio; and that Ohio was not crucial to Obama’s reelection. It was also the only swing state were Obama underperformed his polling average.
What happened? As noted above, it might be the rare incidence of the Bradley Effect. Obama lost whites in Ohio by 17, after losing them by 6 to McCain in 2008. He even performed worse than Kerry with Ohio whites – unlike in Wisconsin or Iowa. Most polls had shown Obama performing better with whites than he actually did.
Obama performed very poorly in the Ohio Valley, a conservative but historically strongly Democratic working-class (mining, steel, manufacturing) region similar to SW Pennsylvania or West Virginia. He was the first Democratic presidential contender since McGovern in 1972 to lose Monroe, Belmont and Jefferson counties along the Ohio River. Romney’s campaign in this part of Ohio focused on Obama’s “war on coal” and it seems as if it might have paid off for him. In Monroe County, for example, Obama won 45%, down from over 53% in 2008. Obama performed well in large industrial cities – Toledo, Youngstown and so forth – which are solidly Democratic (though he did lose Stark County, a swing county which includes the working-class city of Canton). But there is little clear evidence, on the basis of the results, that the auto bailout “sealed the deal” for Obama in Ohio.
Instead, Obama’s victory in Ohio was due to historic black turnout. According to exit polls, blacks made up 15% of the electorate against rouhgly 11% in the last two elections. Obama was able to motivate and mobilize black voters like never before. In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), Obama won 68.9% – which is actually up a bit from the 68.7% he had won there in 2008. He also managed to hold Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and some of its solidly Republican suburbs. Romney gained less than one percentage point from McCain’s 2008 performance in a county which had voted GOP since 1964.
The swing map in Ohio is fairly interesting. On the Republican side, the strongest swings came from the aforementioned counties in the Ohio Valley with smaller swings in the solidly Republican rural wheat belt German counties – including a shift back towards the GOP in northwestern Ohio, where Obama had done especially well in 2008. There was a swing towards Obama in the Columbus (Franklin County) area which extended into Columbus’ Republican suburbia but also into poor rural counties in the south of the state. Columbus, the state capital, is an attractive predominantly white-collar metropolis. Is the shift due to state government employees – state capitals seem to generally have had very negligible swings since 2008? Is it due to increased black turnout, in a 21% black county with a growing minority population?
This would still not explain the surprising swing in solidly white, rural, poor and often culturally Southern counties to the south of Columbus – places like Pike, Scioto or Ross counties. Unemployment is high in these counties (some of the highest rates in the state) and most towns are old declining blue-collar towns (such as Portsmouth in Scioto County). What could explain the swing towards Obama, when he did poorly in demographically and economically similar counties elsewhere in the Midwest? It could be an effect of media markets – Obama outspent Romney in the Columbus media market by a solid margin. However, the swing map doesn’t really match up that well with the Columbus media market, though it could be an explanation. Some of Columbus’ growing suburban counties, solidly Republican, also swung to Obama; but census data doesn’t show a boom in the minority population in those counties.
Florida was one of the surprises on a fairly predictable election night. Obama had remained competitive in the state, but after the first debate most polls had shown Romney pulling ahead to the point that Obama’s campaign apparently mused pulling out of Florida. Two pollsters – Mason-Dixon and Suffolk U – were so confident about Romney’s chances in Florida that they got cocky and proclaimed that they would stop polling FL because it was a “done deal” – MD had shown Romney up 5 and 6 points in the state!
Instead, Obama won Florida by 0.88% (making it the closest state). This is fairly surprising, though in line with Obama overperforming in all swing states (except FL). The result is bad news for Republicans, who despite having a lock on state government, have lost Florida in the last two presidential elections. Florida remains more Republican than the national average, but the factors which explain Obama’s surprising 2012 victory in Florida should be cause for concern for many FL Republicans.
As in many other states, Obama’s victory in Florida rests on his strong support with minorities. The exit poll in Florida showed him losing whites by 24 (he lost them by 14 in 2008) but sweeping the floor with blacks (13% of voters) and Hispanics (up 21 points over Romney, he had won them by 15 in 2008 and President Bush probably won them in 2004). The white electorate in Florida is declining: 70% in 2004, 71% in 2008 and 67% this year. Hispanics now make up 17% of the electorate, and most of them are from solidly Democratic Hispanic groups (Puerto Ricans, Mexicans) rather than from Republican-leaning Cubans.
The Democratic electorate in Florida has changed a lot since Bill Clinton carried the state in 1996. The Florida Panhandle and northern Florida, the most Southern regions of the state and the old Dixiecrat strongholds, have become solidly Republican, in line with the rest of the South. Places like small Liberty County (which voted for Carter in 1980, for example) in the Panhandle may retain a Democratic edge in voter registration, but Romney won over 70% of the vote.
Democrats have made gains along the Gold Coast since the 1990s, making Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties – with their mix of northeastern Jewish retirees, blacks, non-Cuban Hispanics, LGBTs and younger families – the core of the Democratic base in Florida. Their most striking gains have since come from the politically decisive I-4 corridor in central Florida (the I-4 connects Tampa/St. Pete’s to Daytona Beach), particularly in the Orlando area which has a booming Puerto Rican Hispanic population. Osceola County (Kissimmee) now has a plurality Hispanic (Puerto Rican) population and Orange County (Orlando) is only 46% white.
In 2000, Al Gore had done extremely well with Jewish voters along the Gold Coast but he had lost the state and the White House by a controversial and excruciating small margin barely over 500 votes. In 2008, Obama won Florida by 2.8 points, thanks to out-organizing McCain and mobilizing black and non-Cuban Hispanics like never before. This allowed him to win Hillsborough County (Tampa), Florida’s bellwether county which has picked the state’s winner since 1964.
Obama won Hillsborough County again this year, with a very solid 52.9% (barely down from 53.1% in 2008), and with that – basically – he carried the state. Indeed, his strong resistance in the Tampa/St. Pete’s (Pinellas County, 52.2% Obama) was one of the decisive factors. Precinct results will confirm this; but he was certainly able to mobilize youths, blacks and Hispanics (even Cubans, who tend to be more moderate in Hillsborough County) to carry him to victory in the Tampa area.
In Florida’s swingy I-4 corridor, particularly in the Orlando area, he scored a decisive victory. He won 61.9% in Osceola County, certainly a record for a Democrat in a county which had voted Republican between 1952 until 2008 (with the exception of 1996 and 2000); while in Orange County (Orlando) he basically remained at 2008 level (-0.3%). Like Osceola County, Orange had voted Republican between 1948 and 2000.
The swing map in Florida is interesting. In the Panhandle, swings towards the GOP were fairly modest and a few counties – including aforementioned Liberty County – swung to Obama; as did Gadsen County, the state’s only black majority county. This is a continuation of the patterns noted in the South, where Obama improved in black-majority counties or racially divided counties. It is again perhaps a reflection of some southern whites being unenthusiastic about Romney.
There were, however, bigger swings towards the GOP on the Fun Coast (Flagler and Volusia counties – Daytona Beach, Palm Coast, Deltona). Obama lost Volusia County (Daytona Beach), which had been Democratic since 1992, winning 48.9% (down from 52.2%). Obama had already underperformed in these counties in 2008.
The Florida Suncoast – the western coast south of Tampa including Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral – also had larger swings towards the GOP. Democrats had thought the Paul Ryan pick and fears over privatizing Medicare would help them with Florida’s seniors (the west coast is a GOP-leaning retirement haven), actively courted by both parties, but Ryan had no effect (either good or bad) whatsoever on the election. Instead, maybe Republican attacks on Obama’s Medicare policies (accusing Obama of ‘raiding’ $176 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare) helped them. Other coastal counties also had some fairly heavy swings to the GOP.
Obama performed well in the I-4 corridor. The growing Puerto Rican population in the Orlando area has helped Democrats and threatens the GOP’s standing in this crucial swing region. In Osceola County, Obama won over 61% and did over 2 points better than in 2008. In Orange County (Orlando) but also in Polk County (Lakeland – the GOP leaning suburban regions of the I-4 corridor), he held his own very well.
There was a big swing in Miami-Dade County, allowing Obama to break 60% (gaining nearly 4 points). The exit polls showed Obama winning the Cuban vote in Florida by 2 points; but Latino Decisions says the Cuban vote in FL still backed Romney by 29. This article claims that Obama did not win Cubans in Miami-Dade, and indeed the precinct results in the county (see here) do show that Romney still won the vast majority of precincts in Cuban areas such as Hialeah, Westchester and Little Havana. That being said, regardless of who won the Cuban vote, Obama still won one of the best results for a Democrat with Cubans. He had won around 35% of the Cuban vote in 2008, he certainly got over 40% this year.
Broward County also swung to Obama. Broward County has large black and non-Cuban Hispanic populations, and a large LGBT community in Fort Lauderdale. On the other hand, Palm Beach County swung fairly substantially to Romney, he did 3 points better than McCain in 2008. The Jewish vote, important on the Gold Coast, accounted for 5% of the electorate in Florida and went 66-30 for Obama. In general, it seems as if Obama suffered some substantial loses with the Jewish vote in the country as a whole. In part, this is a correction of 2008: Sarah Palin had scared a lot of moderate Jewish voters who would otherwise not be extremely enthusiastic about Obama.
Colorado went to Obama by 5.5, making it narrowly more Democratic than the nation for the second election in a row. Colorado has changed a lot since its days as a Mountain West GOP stronghold, voting Republican between 1964 and 2008 (except for 1992). The state’s political landscape has been changed dramatically in the last ten years because of Hispanic growth and an influx of younger educated migrants from the West Coast who have come to work in the big high-tech industry in Colorado. After his big 9 point win in CO back in 2008, Obama’s support dropped off a bit in the state (even though the 2010 midterms were quite kind on the CO Dems) and the last polls generally showed a tight race. His 5 point win is another case of the President beating his polling average.
The white share of the electorate in Colorado has declined by a full 8 points from 2004, when they accounted for 86% of voters, to today, when they made up only 78% of the 2012 electorate. Hispanics made up 14% of voters, and they backed Obama by 52 points this years (75-23) – which would be up substantially from 2008 (exit polls say Obama won them only 61-38). In 2008, Obama won whites in the state by 2 but reportedly lost them by 10 to Romney this year.
As previously mentioned, two middle-class inner suburban counties outside Denver had proven crucial to Obama in 2008: Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. He was the first Democrat to carry those old GOP strongholds since LBJ in 1964. The Democratic gains in these counties are pushed by growing minority populations – Arapahoe County is only 63%, with large Hispanic and black minorities in Aurora. Hispanics are also a growing population in Jefferson County, and they have contributed to pushing middle-income suburbs such as Lakewood or Arvada towards the Democrats.
Obama won both JeffCo and Arapahoe this year. The bad news for Republicans is that Arapahoe (44.5% for Romney, 42.8% for McCain) but also Denver proper and its northern (less affluent) suburbs in Adams County also swung below the national average. The slightly more encouraging news is that while Obama held JeffCo, Romney did score a significant improvement over McCain’s results (46.5% rather than 44.6%). The high-growth GOP exurbs in Douglas County also swung sizable: Obama dropped from nearly 41% to only 36%. The northern exurbs in Weld County also swung more than the country.
We noted above that ski resorts, another source of Democratic strength (and inroads) in Colorado, had a substantial swing towards Romney; most likely because they tend to be extremely affluent despite their staunch liberalism. Nonetheless, Romney’s results in ski counties – San Miguel, Gunnison, Pitkin, Eagle or Summit – are still nothing spectacular.
Some southern Colorado counties with a large Hispanic population swung towards Obama this year. To repeat the obvious, the GOP should be concerned by results in states like Colorado.
Nevada is in a similar basket. There too, very strong Hispanic and black support for Obama and Democrats are turning the state into a purple state which leans Democratic. Obama’s margin in NV dropped off to 6.6% this year, down from a phenomenal 12.5% margin in 2008; but these are still huge margins for a Democrat in historical perspective. Like in Colorado, the huge shift is due to the rapid decline of the white electorate – they made up 77% of voters in 2004 but only 64% this year! Clark County – home to Las Vegas and most Nevadans – is only 48% white.
Virginia had voted for Republicans between 1952 and 2008, with the exception of 1964, when Obama carried the state by a huge 6.3 points. This year, he repeated his magic and won VA by 3.88 – once again, Virginia is now more Democratic than the nation.
Backing this shift from Republican stronghold to swing state, even lean-D swing state, is the rapid growth and development of northern Virginia (NoVA) since the 1970s and its political shifts since the late 1990s. In the past, the region – white, very affluent and influenced by the presence of defense contractors of tech firms in the area, had been a GOP stronghold. Democrats found support in Arlington and Alexandria, the “edge cities” with a large base of public sector employees (and some minorities); but extremely wealthy Fairfax and Loudoun counties (the top 2 counties by income in the US) were Republican strongholds. NoVA’s face changed with immigration – predominantly Hispanic and Asian, young professionals (often singles) moving in and replacing older white suburbanites who moved further out and new subdivisions springing up or new apartment towers in Arlington or Alexandria. Fairfax County is 55% white, Loudoun County is 62% white and Prince William County is only 49% white.
NoVA swung against President Bush in 2004. John Kerry carried Fairfax County, which had voted GOP since 1964. In 2008, Barack Obama’s strong campaign organized and mobilized minorities or young professionals. He cashed in on NoVA’s swing towards the Democrats and on his campaign’s organization and he carried NoVA by a wide margin. He broke 60% in Fairfax County and was the first Democrat since LBJ to win Prince William and Loudoun County. As covered above, he held both of these conquests this year – Prince William County even swung to him. All NoVA counties besides Arlington swung below the national average and Romney couldn’t match President Bush’s already paltry 2004 results in any of these counties. With presidential election turnout, NoVA is increasingly out of reach for Republicans.
In 2008, Obama had also made inroads in metro Richmond – it too had been solidly Republican in the past, with suburban Henrico County voting GOP since 1952. With blacks moving out of Richmond, its metro area – primarily Henrico County to the north but also Chesterfield County to the south have seen a growth in the black population; they now make up 29% in Henrico (whites 57%). Obama won a huge 55.7% in Henrico County in 2008, and won 55.2% this year. This is another case of a suburban county where Romney failed to make any impact. Obama won 45.4% in Chesterfield County, about the same as in 2008 too.
As noted in the discussion about coal country, Appalachian Virginia’s coal country – Buchanan and Dickenson counties – had a huge swing towards the GOP. Other white rural or exurban regions in the Piedmont and Shenandoah region, but the rest of the state did not swing much. Through strong minority turnout, a few heavily black counties in Southside VA or the Tidewater/Hampton Roads swung to Obama who maintained his strong standing in the Hampton Roads region.
Minorities were, once again, key to Obama’s victory in Virginia – as they had been in 2008. He lost whites by 23 points, roughly the same amount he had lost them by in 2008; but he won 93% of blacks (20% of voters) and two-thirds of Hispanics and Asians.
Obama lost North Carolina, but it remains promising for Democrats. Obama remained strong in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), winning over 60% of the vote in a county which has seen a rapid increase in its minority population. The growing Research Triangle around Raleigh (Wake County, 54.9% Obama), Durham and Chapel Hill remained strongly Democratic, with Orange County (Chapel Hill) swinging to Obama while the swings towards the GOP in the other counties were below national average.
The white vote in North Carolina became even more solidly Republican – Romney won whites 68-31 (+37) after McCain had won them by 29; though this is smaller than Bush’s 46 point win with NC whites in 2004. Furthermore, the white share of the electorate dropped by another 2 percentage points this year, from 72% to 70%, while Hispanics accounted for 4% of voters, up 1 since 2008.
A particularly bad blow for Romney was New Hampshire, which Obama carried by nearly 6 points – certainly down from his big 9.6 point win in 2008 but nonetheless a solid victory. New Hampshire, with its independent and slightly libertarian attitude, is a very swingy state. In 2006 and 2008, it swung heavily towards the Democrats; but in 2010, it swung very heavily towards the Republicans, who won the senate contest with over 60% and took huge majorities in the state house. Mitt Romney, who owns a vacation home in Wolfeboro, was a good candidate for New Hampshire: businessman image and a campaign about low taxes and smaller government (NH is known for being quite keen on both matters). But the same could be said about McCain in 2008, yet he lost the state by a surprisingly large margin.
Romney was able to make his strongest gains in traditionally Republican areas of the state, primarily the low-tax crowd of Boston suburbanites and exurbanites or in the affluent resort towns of the Lake Country. However, he was unable to overcome the heavy Democratic lean of the more rural western half of the state – “Vermont bleed over” – home to a mix of small liberal college towns and old mill towns. After a huge swing towards the GOP in 2010, New Hampshire swung back to the Democrats, who regained the NH House and came close to regaining the State Senate.
Obama had won Iowa by 9.5 points in 2008, this year he won it by a less impressive but still very comfortable 5.8. John McCain had never been a very strong candidate for Iowa, in part because of his opposition to ethanol subsidies (which is the kiss of death for many candidates in the state) but also because of the state’s dovish streak.
With New Hampshire, Iowa is one of the only swing states where Obama won the white vote – they are, after all, 93% of the electorate in Iowa. The state’s Democratic lean has often surprised observers, who would expect a predominantly rural and lily white state with no dominant metro centre to be solidly Republican (and, fair enough, Iowa used to be solidly GOP). Iowa swung heavily Democratic in 1988 with the farm crisis, and it has remained a disputed swing state since that point. The state’s close Democratic lean in recent presidential elections (Bush was the only Republican since Reagan to win the state, in 2004, by a hair) should be understood from different standpoints. On the one hand, while Iowa lacks a large metropolis akin to Chicago or Minnesota’s Twin Cities, it does have a good number of mid-sized towns: Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Dubuque, Davenport, Sioux City or Burlington. Obama won mid-sized cities in Iowa – 27% of the electorate – by 37 points (68-31). These cities, a mix of liberal college towns (Iowa City, Ames, Cedar Falls) or old working-class centres (Davenport, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids) – many of them with a Catholic heritage (notably Dubuque, a heavily German Catholic Democratic stronghold).
That being said, Iowa does have a substantial Democratic vote in ‘rural’ areas (43% of the electorate were in rural areas, according to the exit polls – against 14% nationally) and Obama lost them by only 9 points, in 2008 he had actually won them by 1. Most “rural” Democratic support stems from the Driftless Area in eastern Iowa, a natural region which extends into southwestern Wisconsin (which is similarly lily white but solidly Democratic). The Driftless, a hilly and poorer region, attracted poorer immigrants from Scandinavia or Germany who created smaller farms. Scandinavians, like in Minnesota or western Wisconsin, brought with them a “moralistic” political culture (as defined by Daniel Elazar, see map here) which tends to be less individualist and more supportive of “good” government, seen as a positive force in society. On the other hand, western Iowa – a region similar to the neighboring Great Plains – with its larger farms, less mid-sized towns and less Catholics – is solidly Republican. In the state’s northwestern corner (Sioux, Lyon and O’Brien counties), the Republicans get huge majorities because of the large Dutch Reformed population. Romney won 83% of the vote in Sioux County, where over 50% of religious adherents belong to the Dutch Reformed Church.
In general, rural areas swung more heavily towards the GOP than urban areas this year. Obama generally resisted well in most urban counties, he even picked up Woodbury County (Sioux City), which he had lost by a hair in 2008. The counties including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Davenport and Ames all swung below the national average. Romney did pretty well in Dallas County – Des Moines’ affluent and rapidly growing suburbs – where he won 55% of the vote.
Wisconsin has generally been a closely fought state in recent presidential contests – Gore and Kerry each won it by less than one point in 2000 and 2004 – so Obama’s 14 point shellacking of McCain in 2008 was quite something. Obama won the state by nearly 7 points this year, still a very hefty margin though down quite a bit since 2008. Wisconsin has been at the centre of America’s polarized politics in the past two years, with the state’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker, making both enemies and allies with his battle against public sector unions. Walker handily survived a recall election earlier this year, and Republicans felt confident that they could take Wisconsin. Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan was likely informed, at least in part, by his potential positive impact on his fortunes in Wisconsin. Though Ryan’s selection did narrow the polls and gave Republicans a brief glimmer of hope, Obama ended up winning decisively in the state.
Romney’s inability to come closer in Wisconsin tells us something about the declining impact of VP picks in modern elections (see also: John Edwards in 2004). In the past, they could bring their state along with them. Today, VP picks from ‘swing states’ have much less impact on their state and this is being recognized by modern campaigns: Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden were not picked because of their state of origin.
His much narrower margin this year is a natural correction of his huge margin in 2008. As aforementioned, Obama’s very strong performance in WI in 2008 was due in good part to his unusually strong performance in the Fox River Valley and the Northern Highlands, traditionally blue-collar German Republican areas; because of Obama’s strong (ephemeral) appeal in smaller manufacturing centres in the Upper Midwest but also because of the Fox River Valley’s longstanding dovish streak. The region shifted back to the GOP in the 2010 midterms, helping both Ron Johnson and Scott Walker. As noted above, the heaviest swings to the GOP this year came from the Fox River Valley. The Driftless Area did swing above the national average, but Obama nevertheless remained strong.
Obama held his ground very well in the state’s main urban centres: the very liberal college town and state capital of Madison (Dane County), the blue-collar and multiracial Milwaukee and the old left-leaning working-class towns along Lake Superior (Douglas and Bayfield counties) up north. Obama won 71.1% in Dane County, not a lot less than what he had won in 2008 (72.8%) and quite a bit above Kerry’s 2004 result (66%). Similarly, in Milwaukee, Obama won 66.8% – down minimally from 2008 (67.3%) and still up substantially from 2004 (61.7%). Romney did, however, match or come close to matching Bush’s 2004 results in Milwaukee’s very conservative suburbs: 67% in Waukesha County, 69.9% in Washington County and 64.8% in Ozaukee County.
We already discussed Pennsylvania above. It was the “tipping point” state in this election, the state which brought Obama over 270EVs. Obama won the state, which has voted for Democrats since 1992, by 5 points. This is down from a decisive 10 point victory in 2008. Pennsylvania is one of the few swing states – with perhaps Michigan and maybe Wisconsin – which looks promising to the GOP in the long term, in part because they have been able to take increasingly large shares of the white vote. McCain won whites by 3 points in 2008, but Romney carried them by 15 points this year – which is more than what Bush carried them by in 2004 (+9). That being said, the white share of the electorate has declined in PA: from 82% in 2004 to 78% this year; and Democrats poll huge majorities with blacks (+87) and Hispanics (+62).
Like McCain/Palin in 2008, Romney’s campaign felt that Pennsylvania was within reach. Similar to how McCain’s team had gone all-out in the Pittsburgh media market in the last stretch of the 2008 campaign, Romney’s team went for the win in the state in the final stretch and forced Democrats to spend resources in the state. However, just as in 2008, Pennsylvania was once again fool’s gold for the GOP. Obama’s margin was cut in half, but he still won by more than either Kerry or Gore.
The state’s political bases have shifted around in recent years, especially in 2008. That year, Obama’s victory was quite different from previous Democratic victories. He benefited from big swings in Philly suburbia, which has shifted from reliably Republican to increasingly Democratic-leaning. On the other hand, Obama did extremely poorly in the working-class steel and coal country of southwestern Pennsylvania. SW PA, similar to West Virginia or the Ohio Valley in OH, had been the state’s Democratic stronghold par excellence. For example, in 1984, Walter Mondale was trounced outside Philly but carried all of SW PA, even breaking 60% in Beaver and Fayette counties. The region’s big swing towards the GOP reflects the collapse of Democratic support with the culturally conservative white working-class (outside of major urban areas). Obama was the first Democrat since McGovern in 1972 to lose Beaver, Washington and Fayette counties.
SW PA’s drift away from the national Democrats continued this year. There was a big swing in Cambria County, a traditionally Democratic county home to Johnstown, a major steel town. Obama had won 49.2% in 2008, he won only 40.1% this year. Elk County, a rural Catholic working-class county, also swung hard: Obama’s support fell from 50.8% to 41.3%. In the core of SW PA, Obama collapsed from 48.6% to 40.5% in Greene County. In Westmoreland County, a Mondale ’84 county which has shifted towards the GOP since 2000 because of Pittsburgh’s growth, Obama won only 37.6%, the worst result for a Democrat since 1928.
The heaviest swings to the GOP this year came from solidly Republican centre-west Pennsylvania, a mix of farm country but in this case a good number of blue-collar towns (they also fall in bituminous coal country). There was a big swing in Centre County, where Obama won 55% in 2008 but won only 49.1% (carrying the county by a tiny margin), which could reflect lower student turnout and enthusiasm for Obama (Centre County includes Penn State). Like Whitman County, WA (Wazzu in Pullman), Centre County has a very liberal college town dependent on student turnout surrounded by very conservative rural areas, which can outvote the college town. Obama won Whitman County in 2008, but it swung back this year, and fairly heavily. On the other hand, however, Alachua County, FL (Gainesville) – a county similarly polarized between a very liberal college town and very conservative rural areas – swung below the national average.
Romney did decently well in Philly’s suburbs where Obama had done extremely well in 2008, in Bucks County he even did better than Bush had done in 2004 (but he failed to match Bush in either Chester or MontCo). Obama had also done very well in traditionally Lancaster County, a more exurban and conservative county with a large Amish population (the Amish generally swung heavily Democratic in 2008, maybe because of the Iraq War); this year he fell back from 43.4% to 39.7% – still much better than Kerry’s 33.6%.
The idea that the WWC is homogeneously Republican and that it once was homogeneously Democratic in some distant past is false, like almost every myth about voting patterns made up by the media. If coal country in SW PA, WV, KY, VA or downstate IL had the biggest swings to Romney in the entire country; the results in northeastern PA’s Anthracite Coal Country tells a different story. Lackawanna County (Scranton) swung to Obama this year; he won 63.1% on Nov 6, a bit better than the 62.2% he won in 2008. Luzerne County (Wilkes-Barre) also swung below the national average. This does not really conform to the narrative that the WWC has swung heavily to the GOP everywhere. Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are different from WV’s coal country; there are ethnic differences (West Virginia, like parts of SW PA outside Pittsburgh, is Scots-Irish and Protestant country; the NE PA coal basin is of Irish, Polish, Italian or Welsh stock and is largely Catholic) but also major economic differences. West Virginia’s economy is still dependent on the extraction of bituminous coal, a type of coal which can be used for electricity generation. NE PA’s Coal Country extracted anthracite coal, which was used for home heating. The invention of modern furnaces basically destroyed coal mining as early as the 1960s, and industry left decades ago, leaving an economic and environmental mess. The region’s economy is no longer dependent on coal mining, unlike WV. The result is something similar to Butte-Anaconda, MT – a big copper mining town which has gone to waste, which remains heavily Democratic.
Continue reading below the fold for some analysis of Senate and House races and other results from November 6.
A whole slew of local (or regional) elections were held on October 28. There were mayoral runoff elections in Brazil, municipal elections in Chile and Finland and a regional election (for governor and regional legislature) in Sicily (Italy). This post tells you everything you need to know about these elections and what they mean for each of these countries.
The first round of municipal elections were held in Brazil on October 7, 2012. I covered the first round in lots of details here. On October 28, there were mayoral runoff elections in all those municipalities with over 200,000 voters where no mayoral candidate had won 50%+1 of the vote two weeks before. Municipal city councils (câmaras municipais) and mayors in all cities with less than 200,000 voters and a few major cities (Rio, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Porto Alegre) were elected on October 7.
Here is the updated table of parties, with mayors (after the second round) and municipal councillors across Brazil:
PMDB 1,025 mayors (-176) and 7,963 councillors (-512)
PSDB 702 mayors (-89) and 5,255 councillors (-641)
PT 635 mayors (+77) and 5,181 councillors (+1,013)
PSD 497 mayors (+497) and 4,662 councillors (+4,662)
PP 468 mayors (-83) and 4,932 councillors (-197)
PSB 440 mayors (+130) and 3,555 councillors (+599)
PDT 314 mayors (-38) and 3,660 councillors (+135)
PTB 295 mayors (-118) and 3,571 councillors (-363)
DEM 278 mayors (-218) and 3,272 councillors (-1,529)
PR 276 mayors (-109) and 3,190 councillors (-344)
PPS 123 mayors (-6) and 1,861 councillors (-298)
PV 96 mayors (+21) and 1,584 councillors (+347)
PSC 83 mayors (+26) and 1,468 councillors (+322)
PRB 78 mayors (+24) and 1,204 councillors (+423)
PCdoB 56 mayors (+15) and 976 councillors (+364)
PMN 42 mayors (nc) and 605 councillors (+15)
PTdoB 26 mayors (+18) and 534 councillors (+205)
PRP 24 mayors (+7) and 581 councillors (+177)
PSL 23 mayors (+8) and 761 councillors (+241)
PTC 18 mayors (+5) and 484 councillors (+153)
PHS 17 mayors (+4) and 544 councillors (+193)
PRTB 16 mayors (+5) and 418 councillors (+157)
PPL 12 mayors (+12) and 176 councillors (+176)
PTN 12 mayors (-4) and 429 councillors (+29)
PSDC 9 mayors (+1) and 446 councillors (+95)
PSOL/PCB/PSTU 2 mayors (+2) and 56 councillors (+16) incl. 49 PSOL, 5 PCB, 2 PSTU
Others 240 mayors (-2)
The most important mayoral runoff battle was in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and economic capital. The incumbent mayor, Gilberto Kassab (PSD) was retiring. The battle opposed José Serra (PSDB), a former mayor/governor/cabinet minister and two time presidential candidate and education minister Fernando Haddad (PT), handpicked by former President Lula. In the first round, Serra won 30.8% against 29% for Haddad, relegating one-time favourite Celso Russomano (PRB) into third with 21.6% support. Russomano did not endorse any candidate, while fourth-place finisher Gabriel Chalita (PMDB) backed Haddad.
Fernando Haddad (PT) 55.57%
José Serra (PSDB) 44.43%
As predicted by the polls, Haddad won by a significant margin. His victory is the result of a number of factors: Lula’s popularity, even in traditionally right-leaning middle-class São Paulo (in this case, Haddad’s moderate image and Dilma’s large popularity with middle-class Brazilians likely helped too) and Serra’s unpopularity stemming from his inability to accept that maybe it’s time for him to leave politics. While the PT had fairly mixed results in other large cities and state capitals across the country, they did win the race which in the end mattered the most: São Paulo. Lula’s ability to get his candidate elected – because Haddad’s success is in large part due to his mentor (he started out at 5% in the polls) – is a major success for the former President who was turned into the behind-the-scenes boss of the PT.
The PSDB had good results in small and medium-sized towns in the state of São Paulo, but the loss of the state capital must still be a major blow to the party. It is a particularly severe blow to José Serra, whose presidential ambitions for 2014 were likely killed by his defeat (though he is more and more delusional that we shouldn’t put it past him to run for something again, even if under his friend Kassab’s PSD banner rather than the tucano banner). The PSDB chose a poor candidate in Serra, when they had a fairly strong and talented bench. The country’s largest centre-right opposition party will need to find new blood, new talents and new ideas if it is to stand a chance in 2014 and beyond.
O Globo has an interesting map with results by precinct in São Paulo. The patterns are unsurprising: Haddad utterly dominated the traditionally petista working-class and low-income outskirts/suburbs of the city, while Serra was strongest in the upper middle-class bourgeois areas downtown. In the first round, Russomano and Chalita’s strength in the petista outskirts of the city had held down Haddad’s vote share, but in the runoff he certainly really maximized his votes. Compared to the 2010 presidential election, he improved on Dilma’s showing in the petista areas and made sizable gains in more middle-class areas where the centre-right is usually quite strong.
Salvador (Bahia), however, was a major blow for the PT. The state of Bahia has been governed for two terms by a PT governor, which has allowed the party to gain a strong institutional base at all levels of government in the state. However, governor Jaques Wagner (PT)’s approval ratings have been down recently. Holding a narrow advantage in the first round, federal deputy ACM Neto – the grandson of the state’s former conservative dynastic boss – won the runoff by a sizable margin over PT candidate Nelson Pelegrino. This victory, however, is certainly the only source of comfort for the crippled right-wing Democrats (DEM) in this election. They suffered embarrassing defeats almost everywhere else, putting the party’s continued existence into serious doubt.
ACM Neto (DEM) 53.51%
Nelson Pelegrino (PT) 46.49%
The first round in Curitiba (Paraná) saw the surprising defeat of incumbent mayor Luciano Ducci (PSB), backed by the state’s ambitious PSDB governor Beto Richo (himself a former mayor of Curitiba). The runoff opposed Ratinho Jr. (PSC), the son of a popular talk show host and TV personality and former federal deputy Gustavo Fruet (PDT), backed by the PT (despite being a former tucano). Fruet, backed by Dilma and her popular chief of staff Gleisi Hoffmann (the PT’s likely gubernatorial candidate in the state in 2014), handily defeated Ratinho Jr. and his anti-establishment campaign.
Gustavo Fruet (PDT) 60.65%
Ratinho Jr. (PSC) 39.35%
Manaus (Amazonas) had fairly interesting results in the first round, largely because of the unexpected strong showing from former PSDB senator Artur Virgílio Neto (PSDB) who placed way ahead of senator Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB, backed by the PT). After a strong first round, Artur Neto – who lost reelection to the senate in 2010 – was easily elected. This is a fairly unwelcome defeat for the PT.
Artur Virgílio Neto (PSDB) 65.95%
Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB) 34.05%
The runoff in Fortaleza (Ceará), which opposed Roberto Cláudio (PSB) – the candidate backed by governor Cid Gomes (PSB) and his brother Ciro Gomes (PSB, a former presidential candidate/governor/mayor/cabinet minister) – and Elmano de Freitas (PT), backed by term-limited PT mayor Luizianne Lins was one of the most closely disputed battles between the PT and the PSB in Brazil. The PT and PSB, traditional allies for over twenty years, are slowly drifting away from one another. The PSB governor of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos, is often talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2014 – perhaps even in a super-ticket with the opposition PSDB. Strong from a big victory in Recife in the first round, this race as well as that in Cuiabá were major tests for the PSB and Eduardo Campos’ presidential ambitions. The PSB emerged victorious in a close race.
Roberto Cláudio (PSB) 53.52%
Elmano (PT) 46.98%
Boosted by the support of popular state governor Simão Jatene (PSDB), federal deputy Zenaldo Countinho (PSDB) emerged victorious in Belém (Pará). He defeated popular state deputy and former mayor Edmilson Rodrigues (PSOL) by a nice big margin.
Zenaldo Countinho (PSDB) 56.61%
Edmilson Rodrigues (PSOL) 43.39%
As mentioned above, Cuiabá (Mato Grosso) was another major PT-PSB battle with clear national implications. Again, it was the PSB, whose candidate benefited from the backing of powerful senator Blairo Maggi (PR) and senator, which emerged victorious against the PT candidate, backed by the PMDB governor.
Mauro Mendes (PSB) 54.65%
Lúdio (PT) 45.35%
As expected, former mayor Carlos Eduardo Alves (PDT) easily regained his old seat in Natal (Rio Grande do Norte). One of the countless scions of a very powerful and influential oligarchic dynasty in the state – his cousin Garibaldi Alves Filho (PMDB) is a cabinet minister and his uncle is a former governor – he was opposed to Hermano Moraes, the PMDB candidate backed by his other cousin, PMDB house leader Henrique Eduardo Alves.
Carlos Eduardo Alves (PDT) 58.31%
Hermano Moraes (PMDB) 41.69%
Teresina (Piauí) mayor Elmano Férrer (PTB), backed by the PMDB, lost reelection to former mayor and state deputy Firmino Filho (PSDB).
Firmino Filho (PSDB) 51.54%
Elmano Férrer (PTB) 48.46%
São Luis (Maranhão) mayor João Castelo (PSDB) lost reelection to Edivaldo Holanda Jr. (PTC), a result which is a good post for Embratur president and former federal deputy Flávio Dino (PCdoB), a major rival of the local Sarney dynasty.
Edivaldo Holanda Jr. (PTC) 56.06%
João Castelo (PSDB) 43.94%
In other races across the country:
The PSB’s Jonas Donizette (backed by the PSDB) defeated the PT’s Marcio Pochmann with 57.69% in Campinas, the third city in the state of São Paulo. In Ribeirão Preto (São Paulo), incumbent mayor Dárcy Vera (PSD, backed by the PMDB) narrowly defeated the PSDB’s Darcy Nogueira with 51.97%. In other cities in the state, the PT enjoyed a solid win over the PSDB in Guarulhos and gained Santo André – though on the other hand, it lost its traditional stronghold of Diadema and the PSDB won a significant victory in Taubaté.
In Florianópolis, the capital of the southern state of Santa Catarina, state deputy César Souza Jr. (PSD) – backed by PSD governor Raimundo Colombo – defeated Gean Loureiro (PMDB), the candidate backed by the city’s two-term PMDB mayor and senator and former governor Luiz Henrique da Silveira (PMDB). He won 52.64% against 47.36% for Loureiro. However, the PMDB was successful against the PSD in the state’s largest city, Joinville, where the PMDB’s Udo Dohler won 54.65%. The PSDB enjoyed a landslide over the PSD in Blumenau.
What do these results mean for the 2014 presidential and federal elections in Brazil? The PT itself comes out strong, especially with Haddad’s victory in São Paulo even though its record elsewhere is more disappointing. President Dilma retains very strong approval ratings and she would probably enter a reelection campaign in 2014, even against strong PSDB and PSB candidates, as the favourite. Lula’s hand was strengthened by the results in São Paulo, but to date there have been no public spats between Lula and his former protege (Dilma) and a Lula primary challenge in 2014 remains unlikely.
The opposition remains weak and the PSDB is in dire need of newer generations or new(er) ideas, but it does have some strong hopes for 2014. The early favourite for the opposition is Minas Gerais senator Aécio Neves (PSDB), who was boosted by the victory of his ally Márcio Lacerda (PSB) in Belo Horizonte by the first round and whose candidates were otherwise quite successful in the state (with a few exceptions). His defeat in São Paulo means that José Serra will probably not run for president in 2014, and Paraná governor Beto Richa (PSDB)’s potential ambitions took a hit with his candidates’ defeats in Curitiba, Londrina and other cities in Paraná. São Paulo’s governor Geraldo Alckmin, who ran for president against Lula in 2006, is popular but he will certainly prefer to run for reelection in his state, where he would be the favourite to win a second term.
The PSB emerged much stronger from these elections, and the party won almost all its high-profile targets: Recife, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Cuiabá and Campinas. These results will serve to boost Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos’ presidential ambitions for 2014. It is not yet certain whether or not the PSB will break all bridges with the PT in 2014 and endorse Eduardo Campos for president (or if he will prefer to wait until 2018, for example); but the odds seem to be that Campos will run in 2014. Again, there has been talk of the PSB and PSDB forming some sort of super-ticket with Campos and Aécio (though the ‘order’ of the ticket could be a source of division between the two) in 2014. Regardless, the 2014 election promises to be an exciting and closely disputed election.
Municipal elections were held in Chile on October 28. All mayors and municipal councillors are directly and separately elected to serve four-year terms, there are no term limits. Mayors are elected by FPTP, while the municipal councils – which are composed of 6, 8 or 10 councillors based on the size of the city, seem to be elected through some kind of open-list PR. There are 345 mayors and 2,224 municipal councillors.
In 2010, Sebastián Piñera became the first right-of-centre candidate to be elected president of Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in 1990. His election ended twenty-years of rule by the centre-left coalition, namely the broad-based and heterogeneous Concertación coalition which is composed of christian democrats, social democrats and liberals. However, more than halfway into his term (he cannot seek immediate reelection in 2013-2014), Piñera’s approval ratings languish below 40%. The successful rescue of 33 trapped miners in a mine in northern Chile back in August 2010 had made his approvals go through the roof, but over two years later, the shine has definitely worn off.
In 2011, Piñera faced a major student movement which protested the country’s free-market and for-profit secondary and post-secondary education system. Chile’s education system, which dates back to Pinochet’s regime, is dominated by the private sector which runs most high schools and universities. Government spending on education accounts for only 4.4% of the GDP (the UN recommends 7% for developed nations), the limited public education system is run by individual municipalities and the government makes wide use of school vouchers. The protests demanded the end of profit in higher education, currently banned by the law but nonetheless widespread; increased state support for universities; more state spending in education; tougher state supervision and control of secondary education and limiting the extent of the voucher system. Piñera’s government handling of the student crisis proved unpopular and he appeared hostile to the movement’s demands – in fact, he proposed to legalize for-profit post-secondary education. By now, the student movement has dissipated somewhat, though the remnants of the movement have apparently radicalized.
He also faced unexpectedly strong public discontent over the HydroAysén hydroelectric project in Patagonia. This huge energy project plans to build five new hydroelectric dams in Patagonia, aiming to meet the country’s rising energetic needs. The public has been largely opposed to this project, decrying the environmental and agricultural impacts of the huge project on the region’s fragile ecosystem and local agriculture.
However, the opposition – the Concertación coalition – is not in the best of shape. The old disparate coalition is increasingly divided and lacks new ideas. The student movement could be seen as being indicative of a larger desire for major sociopolitical change in Chile, where the negotiated transition from military rule to multi-party democracy allowed strong economic growth and development but kept intact some vestiges of the old regime: the Senate’s composition, the electoral system or the education system. Many on the left are eager for more profound change including a constituent assembly and a new “socioeconomic model”. The Concertación, while in power, proved either unable or unwilling to confront issues such as education, energy or economic inequalities.
The Concertación, as in the 2008 municipal elections, was divided going into the election. The Socialists (PS) and the Christian Democrats (PDC) remained united under the banner of the Concertación, but the two other parties of the old coalition – the liberal PRSD and the centre-left PPD – allied with the Communist Party (PCC) under the coalition Por un Chile Justo. The PRSD has openly stated that it believes that the Concertación coalition has done its time and that it is time to move on. The PPD and PRSD had already fought the 2008 elections separately from the PS and the PDC. The left, since the 2009-2010 election, must now wrestle with a new actor: the El Cambio por Ti coalition and the Progressive Party (PRO) of former left-wing independent presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami. Marco won over 20% in the first round of the 2009 presidential election, though he has largely been unable to translate his personal votes into strong support for his new coalition.
The governing centre-right coalition, the Coalición, composed of Piñera’s RN and the formerly pinochetista right-wing UDI, remained united.
This was the first election in Chile were voting was no longer mandatory. In the past, registration was voluntary but voting was mandatory; now registration is automatic (the result has been the registration of 4.5 million Chileans, largely young who had not registered to vote in the past) but voting is voluntary. Turnout was very low, around 40-45%. This low turnout reflects, again, growing dissatisfaction with politics. Few voters trust their politicians, institutions and political parties; the youth feeling particularly left out and disappointed by politics.
The government website is a horrible mess, but it appears that, nationally, the right won 37.5% of the vote and 121 mayors while the Concertación won 29% and 106 mayors. The PPD-PRSD-PCC coalition won 13.7% and 62 mayors. Enríquez-Ominami’s coalition won only 3% and 7 towns. Independents accounted for 11% of the national vote and were victorious in 40 municipalities. In 2008, the right won 40.7% against 28.7% for the Concertación and 9.7% for the PPD-PRSD.
These results are an unexpected success for the opposition, despite its disunity; and a setback for the governing right-wing coalition. The right was likely hurt by the low turnout, the opposition’s base being far more motivated to turn out. Prominent right-wing incumbents were defeated in high-profile races in major municipalities, including a lot in the Santiago metropolis.
In Santiago itself, incumbent mayor Pablo Zalaquett (UDI) was defeated by Carolina Tohá (PPD), the daughter of a former Allende cabinet minister and herself chief of staff to President Michelle Bachelet. Zalaquett, formerly mayor of the suburban town of La Florida, had won a first term in 2008. His management of the 2011 student protests in the city had been controversial. He won 43.89% against 50.63% for Carolina Tohá.
The middle-class suburb of Providencia in the Santiago metropolis had been the stronghold of Cristián Labbé (UDI), who had been a close ally of Augusto Pinochet, since 1996. Voters had backed him because of his reputation as a good administration, despite his close association with the military regimne. His defeat this year in the hands of an independent backed by the Concertación, Josefa Errázuriz, was a major symbolic defeat for the right. Errázuriz won 56.06% against 43.93% for Cristián Labbé, who was seeking a fifth term in office.
Another upper middle-class suburb of Santiago, Ñuñoa, also saw the defeat of a four-term right-wing incumbent, Pedro Sabat (RN). Maya Fernandez Allende (PS), a granddaughter of Salvador Allende, won 44.9% against 44.7% for Pedro Sabat.
In Recoleta, Daniel Jadue (PCC) defeated the incumbent UDI mayor and a former right-wing mayor, Gonzalo Cornejo, who ran as an independent.
In Concepción, the major city of southern Chile, held by a retiring right-wing incumbent, Álvaro Ortiz (PDC) won 55.15% against only 37.25% for the UDI candidate. The opposition also gained Punta Arenas in the far south of the country.
The right held Valparaíso (UDI), Puento Alto (RN), Las Condes (UDI) and La Florida (UDI). The opposition held Maipú (PDC) and Peñaloén (PDC).
Speculation about the 2013-2014 presidential election has been building up for quite some time. The Concertación, unwilling to confront its internal problems and high risk for more divisions in 2013, has been playing a game of wait-and-see until former President Michelle Bachelet (PS), Piñera’s predecessor who left office with sky-high approval ratings, decides whether or not she wants to run for another term. Bachelet remains very popular, even if some of her record is now being criticized. She would certainly be capable of holding the Concertación together for another go-through and polls indicate that she would be the favourite for the presidency. If she does not run, the opposition does have other fairly strong candidates but no clear frontrunners. Some of these other names include Andrés Velasco, an economist and Bachelet’s popular finance minister; the new mayor of Santiago Carolina Tohá and the PDC mayor of Peñaloén Claudio Orrego. Some senators are also lining up.
The right has four potential candidates: defense minister Andrés Allamand (RN), economy minister Pablo Longueira (UDI), labour minister Evelyn Matthei (UDI) and public works (former mines and energy) minister Laurence Golborne (independent). Allamand and Golborne are the two most prominent candidates in this field, and probably the two who stand the best chances in a presidential election. Golborne, an independent figure, became very popular following the rescue of the 33 miners trapped underground in August 2010, and he remains one of the most popular ministers in the government. If he did run, Golborne would likely be the favourite in a primary and could potentially stand a good chance against the opposition in the presidential race.
Municipal elections were held in Finland on October 28. There are are 9,674 seats in 304 municipalities. These elections come after legislative elections in April 2011 which saw a very strong result by Timo Soini’s right-populist and eurosceptic True Finns (PS) party, which won 19%. PS was excluded from government, but the new six-party coalition led by Jyrki Katainen from the centre-right/liberal KOK has taken a hardline in Eurozone negotiations, a clear result of PS’ growing power. Finland has gained a reputation as a “hardliner” in the Eurozone when it comes to Greece and Spain, it was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for helping to rescue Greece and Spain and it favours rigid requirements for the use of the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The SDP, the main junior partner in the six-party government, which had been hurt – like other parties – by PS in 2011, has now adopted a much tougher stance on the euro. Most Finns remain supportive of the EU and the euro, but there is rising frustration and dissatisfaction with European integration. Some feel that they are punished at home by austerity measures while rewarding profligate countries like Greece or Spain.
Finland’s economy remains stronger than other economies in the EU: it still has an AAA credit ranking, its deficit is much smaller than the EU’s 3% deficit limit and the country’s debt (around 45-50%) is better than a lot of other European countries. However, growth has slowed – almost to a halt in 2012 (+0.2%) – in part because of Nokia’s troubles; and it is set to remain rather low in coming years. Some have urged the government to reevaluate its austerity (spending cuts, tax increases) policy in the wake of slow growth, but the government appears unwilling to deviate from its path.
In the context of these municipal elections, the government – the KOK in particular – has been pushing a municipal reform which would greatly reduce the number of municipalities by merging a lot of them, arguing that such a reform is needed to create more efficient larger units. At the same time, however, the government parties have reiterated that there would be no forced mergers, but the threat is still lingering out there. The principle of municipal autonomy is dear to many voters, especially those in rural areas who fear that rural areas will be hollowed out by the government’s policies (which would impact local services such as healthcare). The opposition Centre Party (KESK), whose support comes predominantly from rural Finland which would probably stand to lose the most from any reform, has opposed the government’s municipal reform. However, a number of KOK mayors from affluent suburbs have opposed the mergers of their own municipalities. This indicates a small NIMBY phenomenon at work in municipal reform: politicians broadly agree that larger units would be more efficient, but few are keen on having their own municipalities be merged into a larger unit.
Turnout was 58.3%, down from around 61% in the 2008 local elections. The results table below compares the party’s results to their 2008 local election result and then their 2011 legislative election result.
KOK 21.9% (-1.6%, +1.5%) winning 1,735 seats (-286)
SDP 19.6% (-1.7%, +0.5%) winning 1,729 seats (-337)
KESK 18.7% (-1.4%, +2.9%) winning 3,077 seats (-440)
PS 12.3% (+7%, -6.7%) winning 1,195 seats (+752)
Green 8.5% (-0.4%, +1.3%) winning 323 seats (-47)
VAS 8% (-0.8%, -0.1%) winning 640 seats (-193)
SFP-RKP 4.7% (nc, +0.4%) winning 480 seats (-30)
KD 3.7% (-0.4%, -0.3%) winning 300 seats (-51)
Others 2.5% (-0.9%, +0.8%) winning 195 seats (-103)
The governing parties all won fairly good results in these elections, even if slightly down on the last local elections in 2008. The True Finns (PS), compared to the 2008 local elections, are the clear winners. While the PS is well on its way to establishing itself as a major player in Finnish politics in the years to come (if that was not already obvious), its result in these elections are a far cry from the 19% the party won in the 2011 legislative elections but also fall short of what polls had predicted. While there are grounds for calling PS the big “winners” of this election – which is what most foreign media outlets have done – it should certainly be noted that these results are quite underwhelming for the party. The party’s leader, Timo Soini, admitted that these results were not what he had hoped for though he said that he would keep fighting and that the Eurozone meltdown would eventually “prove him right.”
The country’s three traditional parties – KESK, SDP or KOK – which had all suffered (especially KESK) from PS bursting onto the scenes in 2011 – recovered some of their lost support. KESK itself reestablished itself as one of the three major parties in Finland, and it held its solid rural base. It is the largest party in around 200 of the 304 municipalities and it has – by far – the most local councillors (over 3,000), most of them from small rural municipalities. KESK’s traditional support and strength in most small towns in rural Finland likely hurt PS a bit – some potential voters (and maybe PS voters in 2011) preferring to back the traditionally dominant party in local elections.
The government’s tough (“hardline”) policies in the Eurozone, such as demanding collateral from Greece and Spain, might have successfully checked the rise of the populist eurosceptic right, for the time being. A series of controversial homophobic or racist statements by PS MPs and candidates has also been cited as a reason for PS’ relatively “weak” result this year. Again, while PS has established itself as a major player in Finnish politics, its momentum from 2011 might have been stopped by the government parties and the KESK (which has moved towards more Euro-critical stances since 2011) successfully regaining lost support.
The other, smaller, parties had fairly good results. The Greens suffered some loses but largely did fairly well, and their support did not collapse in Helsinki as it had been expected. The left (VAS) lost some ground, especially in their traditional working-class strongholds in northern Finland, but it retained over 600 councillors and did well in Helsinki. The Swedish party (SFP-RKP) managed to mobilize their base and retain their base in the predominantly Swedish municipalities on the western and southern coast. The Christian Democrats (KD) lost some ground, but they still have 300 seats.
Stability prevailed in most major cities. In Helsinki, KOK won 26.9% and 23 seats (down 3) while the Greens did not collapse as some had predicted: they remained second with 22.3% (down about 1%) and 19 seats (-2). The SDP won 15 seats (16.8%, losing 1 seat) while VAS and PS both made gains, winning 10.1% and 9.4% respectively. In Finland’s second-largest city, the affluent Helsinki suburb of Espoo, KOK won 36% against 16.7% for the Greens. The KOK and SDP tied with 18 seats apiece in Vantaa, a less affluent suburban town north of Helsinki.
Outside of metro Helsinki, the KOK was the largest party in Tampere and Turku while KESK remained on top in the northern city of Oulu. In Tampere, the KOK and SDP ended up nearly tied (17 and 16 seats respectively) with the Greens suffering some loses. In Turku, KOK won nearly 26% against a bit over 20% for the SDP, though both lost ground compared to 2008. In Oulu, KESK won 27% against roughly 20% for KOK and 14% for VAS.
You can explore results in all other municipalities on this website.
Regional elections were held in Sicily on October 28, 2012. Since 2001, the regional President is directly elected by popular vote. The Regional Assembly of Sicily is composed of 90 members, 80 of which are elected through the largest remainders method of PR in Sicily’s 9 provinces with a 5% thresholds. The other 10 members are elected on a “regional list” (a kind of general ticket/plurality at-large voting), the regional president gets one seat and the runner-up in the presidential ballot gets a seat – the other 8 are usually given to the winning presidential ticket as a sort of “majority bonus”; if the presidential ticket has already achieved a majority (as was the case in 2008 in Sicily), the eight seats are given to the runner-up’s presidential ticket.
Sicily is an autonomous region with a special status, granted immediately after the war in 1946 (other Italian regions without a special statute only received an elected legislature in 1970). This means that the Sicilian regional government keeps 100% of the taxes it levies, though it must fund healthcare, education and public infrastructure by itself (Sicily does get some additional central government funding to help it out). In a context of debt/economic crisis in Italy, Sicily has been pointed out as a bad example: its regional government is notoriously bloated and profligate; spending tons, paying generous pensions, employing (directly or indirectly) over 100,000 of the population’s 5 million inhabitants. Sicily’s economic situation is catastrophic, the region is teetering on the verge of default because of its huge debt. This article from the New York Times back in July is particularly interesting.
Sicily is a conservative stronghold in Italy. Since 1947, the centre-right has held the regional presidency for all but two short years (1998-2000, during a particularly divided and unstable regional legislature), and it national elections it has backed the right – most recently Silvio Berlusconi – by big margins. In the 2001 Italian elections, Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition had swept the entirety of the island’s 61 seats. In the 2008 regional elections, the right-wing candidate for president won 65% against barely 30% for the centre-left.
Sicily is a poor region, even today. Its unemployment rate, probably nearing 15% even on official records, is much higher than the national average. During the twentieth century, Sicily was a land of emigration - North Americans (and South Americans) can certainly attest to the huge number of Sicilians (and other southern Italians) who immigrated to the United States or Canada. Until the 1960s, the island’s economy was predominantly based around agriculture (fruits, wines) and structured around large estates led by distant bosses and employing throngs of poor landless labourers. After Italian unification at the end of the nineteenth century, the central government – allied with the local landowners – resisted moves towards any kind of agrarian reform. To defend themselves against rural banditry and their own landless labourers, the landowners employed local thugs to protect their property – the roots of the modern mafia.
The mafia grew in power and influence in Sicily, and they filed the vacuum between the people and the state. During Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, the mafia was chased into hiding by Mussolini’s regime, which saw the mafia as a threat to its power. However, when the Allies invaded Sicily (and Italy) in 1943, they allied with the mafia and allowed the mafia to return to a prominent role in the immediate post-war era. The dominant force of centre-right politics during the ‘First Republic’, Christian Democracy (DC), allied itself with the powerful Catholic Church, the conservative landowners and the mafia and became the dominant party in Sicilian politics. The alliance between the DC and the mafia created a clientelistic system of political patronage which has survived to this day in Sicily and elsewhere in southern Italy. The mafia ensured the success of the DC at the polls and checked the rise of the Communist Party (PCI), which in Sicily organized restless landless peasants by demanding wide-reaching social and agrarian reform. In return, the DC state made sure that the mafia’s business interests were protected and supported. The ‘First Republic’ and the close alliance between the DC and the Sicilian mafia collapsed with the Tangentopoli scandals and Mani Pulite investigations of the early 1990s in Italy.
While the PCI had some success in coastal municipalities with fishermen and in some rural communities with more radical landless peasants, Sicily has been a conservative stronghold and has consistently voted for right-wing parties. The roots of this conservatism comes from the lack of strong communities and communitarian feelings in southern Italy. Until 1946, southern Italy had been ruled almost exclusively by autocratic regimes who maintained formal feudal structures into the early nineteenth century and which subsequently based their power on support from the rural landowning elite. This history, compounded with the emergence of the mafia as a potent force in the 1850s, diluted any feelings of society. Southern Italy society is fairly atomized and individualistic, there is a strong “anti-cooperative” mindset which has kept the PCI and other left-wing parties traditionally weak. The relation of the average Sicilian or southern Italian with corruption and the mafia is different than in other places. To a certain extent, corruption is accepted as part of the political process.
In the ‘Second Republic’ era of Italian politics, which is coming to an end as we speak, Sicily has remained true to its conservative traditions. In 1994, Berlusconi’s new right-wing anti-establishment party, Forza Italia, found strong backing in Sicily and the island has since been one of the Berlusconian right’s strongholds. However, other centre-right players are important in Sicily. The old DC tradition has not entirely died out in Sicily, which has given strong results to the various centre-right successor parties of the DC – Casini’s UDC won over 9% of the vote in Sicily in the 2008 elections, well above its national result. Between 2001 and 2008, Sicily’s regional president was a right-wing Christian democrat, Salvatore Cuffaro, who is currently living in jail (for aiding the mafia). As the ‘First Republic’ faded away, the DC and its venal allies had seen their support shift to the south, where the networks of political patronage and clientelism had built a resilient electoral clientele.
There is a small regionalist movement in Sicily, though it is debatable to what extent these parties are actually fundamentally ‘regionalist’ or autonomist and to what extent they are merely empty kleptocratic shells founded by political bosses to further their political interests. Sicily’s post-war separatist movement, the MIS, has certainly died out. Nevertheless, Sicily’s regional president between 2008 until his resignation this year, Raffaele Lombardo, is the leader of one of these confusing regionalist parties – the Movement for Autonomies (MPA). In 2008, Lombardo and the MPA were allied with Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition (the PdL) but relations quickly turned sour. The MPA left the Berlusconi government in November 2010, prior to that point Lombardo had already pushed the PdL and the UDC out of his government (in 2009). The MPA is currently aligned with the UDC and Gianfranco Fini’s FLI, as part of the vague centrist ‘pole’ which seems increasingly stillborn.
Raffaele Lombardo’s resignation because of his suspected ties to the mafia and other corruption scandals earlier this year forced this snap regional election. Sicily, again, is a conservative region where the right has dominated regional politics since World War II. However, Italy’s political system – the ‘Second Republic’ – is going through a period of radical change, similar to that period between 1992 and 1994 which saw the old ‘First Republic’ system collapse. Silvio Berlusconi and his countless run-ins with the law meant that he had no credibility in the eyes of his European partners to deal with Italy’s huge debt problem which has brought the country to the verge of bankruptcy. He resigned in November and Italy has been governed by Mario Monti, a “non-party technocrat” since then, with the lukewarm support of the left and the right until general elections in April 2013. Monti’s government has implemented stringent austerity measures and made some steps towards necessary reforms.
Berlusconi has been in-and-out of politics since November 2011. A few weeks ago, he said that he would not run in the 2013 election (after saying that he would) but shortly thereafter he denounced Monti, Germany and the judges who sentenced him for tax fraud and indicated that he would remain the playing field and threatened to bring down the government. His party, the PdL, has been ripping itself apart. Centrists including Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s anointed successor, are eager to get Berlusconi out of the picture. But there are rumours that Berlusconi could stage a return, leading a new anti-establishment populist/eurosceptic party along the lines of Forza Italia in 1994.
The opposition Democratic Party (PD) is hardly in better condition. It has struggled in opposition because of lacklustre old leaders who lacked charisma or even political talent; but also because of its very disparate and heterogeneous nature as a big tent anti-Berlusconi coalition uniting former communists and former left-leaning Christian democrats. To the left, it has faced a re-energized post-communist coalition – the SEL (Left, Ecology and Freedom) led by the popular and charismatic Nichi Vendola, the regional president of Apulia. The PD and the SEL will hold a primary in late November to determine who will lead the coalition into the 2013 elections, and the race is very tight between the current PD leader, Pier Luigi Bersani (ex-PCI) and the young centrist mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi.
Since this summer, Italian politics have been shaken up by the 5-Star Movement (M5S), a populist movement led by popular comedian Beppe Grillo. A popular and powerful rabble-rousing orator, Grillo has lashed out at the “corrupt political establishment” and branded all parties and politicians as crooks. In the polls, the M5S has surged to nearly 20%, often placing second ahead of the PdL (the PD retaining a lead with an anemic 25% or so). The M5S’s roots are on the far-left, but it has de-emphasized traditional ideology in favour of populism and a broad anti-establishment rhetoric. The party has also positioned itself against austerity and has taken to fairly virulent eurosceptic/anti-EU rhetoric. In the process, it has certainly attracted the votes from many unhappy right-wingers, including supporters of the Lega Nord (LN) who feel disgusted with the LN after corruption scandals touching the old boss, Umberto Bossi.
The Sicilian regional election opposed some interesting characters. The PD’s presidential candidate was Rosario Crocetta, a MEP since 2009. Crocetta is openly gay and a former communist (he was a member of the hardline PRC until 2000 and the moderate PdCI until 2008), and became famous as a courageous anti-mafia crusader. He has faced numerous threats on his life from the mafia. The PD, however, formed an alliance with the centre-right UDC rather than Vendola’s SEL in Sicily.
The PdL candidate was Nello Musumeci, a former MEP. Musumeci is not a member of the PdL, his political roots lay with the old post-fascist National Alliance (AN) and with a small right-wing autonomist party in Sicily. The candidate of the incumbent right-wing autonomist administration was Gianfranco Micciché, who is the former leader of the local branch of PdL in Sicily who decided to break with the national party. Lombardo later broke with Micciché’s party, the Great South/Force of the South, as well.
The M5S candidate was Giancarlo Cancelleri. Beppe Grillo campaigned actively, notably by swimming across the straits from Calabria to Messina. The party claimed that it spent only
Turnout was only 47.41%, down from 66.68% in the 2008 regional elections. 47% is extremely low turnout for Italian standards, and likely indicates that the right (PdL primarily) have lost a lot of former suppporters to the ranks of abstention (in addition to parties such as the M5S). The low turnout must also reflect disgust with politics from many voters, who resent the tough austerity and have seen their share of corrupt politicians lining their pockets, politicians engaging in orgies and wild festivities and old party hacks with the charisma of wet pizzas. The results in Sicily were:
Rosario Crocetta (PD-UDC) 30.48%
Nello Musumeci (PdL) 25.73%
Giancarlo Cancellieri (M5S) 18.18%
Gianfranco Micciché (MPA-GS) 15.42%
Giovanna Marano (SEL-IdV) 6.06%
Crocetta Regional List 30.4% winning 39 seats (30 provincial, 9 regional)
PD 13.4% (-5.4%) winning 14 seats (-5)
UDC 10.8% (-1.7%) winning 11 seats (nc)
Crocetta List 6.2% (+6.2%) winning 5 seats (+5)
Musumeci Regional List 24.4% winning 21 seats (20 provincial, 1 regional)
PdL 12.9% (-20.6%) winning 12 seats (-23)
Popular Constructions (PID) 5.9% (+5.9%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Musumeci List 5.6% (+5.6%) winning 4 seats (+4)
M5S 14.9% (+13.2%) winning 15 seats (+15)
Micciché Regional List 20% winning 15 seats
PdS-MPA 9.5% (-4.3%) winning 10 seats (-5)
Great South 6.0% (+6%) winning 5 seats (+5)
FLI 4.4% (+4.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Ppa – Piazza Pulita 0.1% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Marano Regional List 6.6% winning 0 seats
IdV 3.5% (+1.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SEL-PRC+PdCI-Greens 3.1% (-1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
All others 3.5% winning 0 seats
The Sicilian election was quite something. Rosario Crocetta’s victory means that conservative Sicily will have a gay communist (who hates the mafia) as President, which is something. On a more serious basis, Crocetta’s victory is an historic victory for the left in Sicily, which has practically never governed the island’s regional government since it was created in 1947. However, Crocetta’s victory, while still remarkable, is more a reflection of the utter disarray and chaos of the Sicilian – and Italian – right rather than the phenomenal success of the left. Crocetta’s vote share, 30.5%, is roughly on par with the 30.4% won by the PD’s Anna Finocchiaro in the 2008 election, an election which had been a total disaster for the Sicilian left (its candidate had won 41.6% in the 2006 regional election). This very underwhelming and anemic result for both the centre-left coalition and the PD in particular (it won only 13% on the party-list vote, down from an already awful 18.8% in 2008) reflects the state of the Italian left: a favourite to win the next election, but only because the right is sinking faster than the Titanic hitting the iceberg. The PD’s lackluster job in opposition, its uncharismatic leaders and its own internal divisions have meant that it has not benefited much from Berlusconi’s departure and the subsequent disintegration of the once-mighty Italian right.It has been asked by some observers if the victory of a PD-UDC rather than a PD-SEL coalition in these elections will have an impact on the direction of the PD, which is currently committed to an alliance with Vendola’s SEL rather than the UDC. It remains to be seen, but it must be noted that the UDC and the PD have practiced different alliance strategies from region to region, notably in the 2010 regional elections. In some places, the UDC allies with the right, in others it goes its own way and in other regions it allies with the PD. The PD, in some places, goes with the left and SEL but in other places it goes without SEL.
The right, particularly the PdL, was the clear loser of this election. It entered the race divided, and the division of the vote was one of the factors which allowed the left to score an historic victory which is a very, very embarrassing defeat for the right. Together, the two candidates won 41.15% – which would still be terrible for the right which had won all of 65% (!) in the 2008 regional election. The PdL suffered a huge defeat, winning only 13% on the party-list vote, which is down nearly 21 points on what it had won on the 2008 list-vote. This result reflects the collapse of Berlusconi’s once-mighty party as Berlusconi’s successive shenanigans (economic crisis/near default, style of governance, series of corruption scandal, underage sex) finally took their toll on the PdL, beginning in 2011 and accelerating to a point of no-return over the past year. The PdL’s disastrous result in Sicily probably does not help out Angelino Alfano, who is from Sicily, in these PdL primaries scheduled for December.
The M5S and Beppe Grillo, despite a shoestring campaign and a little-known candidate, were the major winners in Sicily. The M5S topped the poll in a very divided party-list vote and its candidate won third place with a very strong 18.2% (it seems like it placed first in the city of Palermo). Grillo’s party, regardless of whether one loves them or hates them, is definitely here to stay. In Sicily, they proved that their support is, for the moment, fairly deep and solid; showing up even in a regional election with very low turnout. Crocetta lacks a majority in the new Regional Assembly, which will make governing difficult for him. The M5S has refused to work with the new majority, in keeping with Grillo branding all exisiting parties as corrupt entities which should be swept away.
Italy’s economic/debt crisis has proven to be the trigger to the collapse of the ‘Second Republic’ party system as we know it. This exciting (or depressing, your choice!) era in Italian politics is similar to the previous political revolution which brought down the First Republic between 1992 and 1994: the Tangentopoli. Old parties are discredited and unappealing, the right and the left are both trying to totally revinvent themselves, old politicians are all seen in a very negative light and new parties led by inflammatory populists and powerful orators are bursting onto the scene. The M5S is following in the footsteps of Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord in the early 90s and Silvio Berlusconi himself in 1994. It is feeding off the carcasses of the old parties, and presenting itself as a brand-new, anti-establishment/anti-corruption party which promises a radical break with the old system of Italian politics. 2013 may prove to be, nineteen years after Berlusconi’s first big victory in 1994, the birthdate of a ‘Third Republic’ in Italy.
Happy U.S. election day (and night) to all readers!
Early regional elections in the Basque Country (Euskadi or CAPV) and Galicia were held on October 21, 2012. The Basque Country and Galicia are autonomous communities of Spain. My famous Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election includes tons of details about regional autonomy in Spain, the roots of the current regional structure and other issues related to autonomous communities.
Euskadi (Basque Country)
The Basque Parliament (Eusko Legebiltzarra/Parlamento Vasco) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 3% threshold by province. Each province (Álava/Araba, Guipúzcoa/Gipuzkoa and Vizcaya/Bizkaia) elects 25 members. The lehendakari, the head of the Basque government, is elected by the Parliament.
Provinces have played a major role in Basque history; until the 19th century most Basques identified with their province rather than a broader Basque nation. The Basque provinces, unlike all other Spanish provinces, retain elected government (diputaciones) which, under the Basque Country’s special fiscal status (the concierto económico), have the power to collect and distribute taxes. However, the three Basque provinces do not have similar populations. The southern province of Álava has a population just under 320,000 while Biscay has a population over 1.1 million. The equal distribution of seats between the provinces was meant to be a means of ensuring Álava’s support for Basque autonomy and as a means of enticing Navarra from joining the CAPV (which has never happened). If seats were to be distributed equally, Biscay would elect 38 member to Álava’s 13.
My Guide, noted above, included a profile of the Basque Country:
Euskadi is the most well known of Spain’s regions to the casual observers, if only because of the existence of an armed terrorist movement seeking independence. It is also a matter of political debate where nobody can ever agree on anything. Basque nationalism is, alongside Catalan nationalism, of the two main peripheral nationalisms in Spain which drive and influence Spanish politics so much. The existence of a terrorist movement seeking Basque independence has given the region and Basque nationalism as a whole a bad name, which it does not deserve. The population of Euskadi is 2,183,615 (INE 2011). The capital of Euskadi is Vitoria-Gasteiz but the largest city is Bilbao. The community is composed of the provinces (called ‘historical territories’) of Biscay (Bizkaia or Vizcaya), Gipuzkoa (in Spanish, Guipúzcoa), Álava (in Basque, Araba). Basque provinces, unlike all other provinces, have a directly elected legislature (Juntas Generales) and are responsible for raising taxes. The region is known as Euskadi or the Basque Country (in Spanish, País Vasco). I prefer the term ‘Euskadi’ because it is both shorter and commonly used to refer to the political ‘Basque Country’ which excludes Navarre and the three French Basque provinces. The Basque term ‘Euskal Herria’ (which means ‘land of Basques’ or close to that) is used to refer the greater Basque region including both the autonomous community of the three provinces (often referred to in short as ‘CAPV’ or Euskadi), Navarre and the three French Basque provinces (Iparralde).
Basque history is long, fascinating and very controversial as it is inherently political given the founding tenets of Basque nationalism. The Basques speak a language known as Euskara or Basque, which is famous for being a language isolate. It is one of the few languages in Europe which is not Indo-European and the origins of either Euskara or the Basque people are not known for certain. The mainstream view are that the Basques are the last remaining ancestors of the pre-Indo-European peoples of Europe and have lived in the region since the prehistoric Aurignacian period. That is the most commonly accepted view, though it is by no means universal nor is it a proven ‘fact’. Original Basque nationalist theses claim that the extraordinary resistance of the Basque people to outside influences and conquest is a sign of the racial superiority of the Basque race above all others, though this is, of course, false. The Basque people are a very strong-willed people, extremely proud of their identity, lifestyle and ancestors. Furthermore, it also helps that the Basque terrain is quite harsh and unfavourable to foreign domination. The valleys and mountains of northern Euskadi and Navarre are very wooded and patchy, making it perfect for locals to hide and hardly appealing to foreign invaders. Basques have long defended themselves against any foreign invaders, most notably when Basque hordes massacred Charlemagne’s Frankish troops at Roncesvaux in 778. The Franks, Visigoths and later Muslims never managed to exercise full control over the Basque lands and Navarre. A Basque kingdom, which later became the Kingdom of Navarre, emerged in 824. Under Sancho III the Great (1000-1035), the Kingdom of Navarre reached its peak of influence through Sancho’s marriages and alliances which expanded the Navarrese realm westwards into present-day Old Castile. The coastal areas of the kingdom had come under Castilian control in 1199, though the Castilians had promised to recognize and uphold the special charters (fueros) of the Basque provinces. Civil war in Navarre allowed the Castilians to conquer Navarre between 1512 and 1524, although, again, by promising to recognize and uphold the Navarrese fueros. These fueros granted the provinces fiscal, legal and political autonomy, various exemptions from trade regulations, exemption from military service outside their province and so forth. To speak of a “Basque people”, united with a strong national conscience like the Catalans is, however, totally misleading. Basques were strongly attached to their families, community and at most to their province but there was no common identification as “Basques” above all. The family, village and province were their markers of identification, not an artificial “Basque nation”. Attached to their home turf, traditions and legal advantages, the Basques strongly identified with the ultra-conservative Carlist movement during the First Carlist War. Even after the Carlist defeat in 1839, the fueros were maintained and Euskadi remained a Carlist stronghold until at least the Second Republic. The Basque fueros were abolished in 1876.
The loss of the fueros in 1876 and Euskadi’s integration in the Spanish market proved beneficial to Basque economy, especially in the province of Biscay. In the late nineteenth century, large-scale mining of rich iron ore deposits in western Biscay led to emergence of Euskadi as Spain’s second main industrial and trading hub (after Catalonia). Originally exported to Britain for processing, Bilbao and western Biscay went on to acquire their own blast furnaces to process the iron ore into steel. While Basque steel production – the main economic activity in Euskadi until the 1970s – was concentrated around the Bilbao estuary and the city’s left bank, it was by no means just a local industry: metallic transformation, siderurgy and related industry was a major industry in the rest of northern Euskadi. The steel industry in Euskadi made the region one of the country’s wealthiest regions, and, as such, attracted much internal migrants starting in the late nineteenth century and picking up again during the Francoist era especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Most immigrants to Euskadi came from the neighboring (and poorer) regions of Old Castile, La Rioja, Navarre or the more distant but very poor Galicia. Unlike in Catalonia, there was not much immigration from southern Spain. According to a 2010 study, while 74% of Basques were born in the autonomous community, only 51-53% saw their parents were born in Euskadi as well. 16% said their parents were born in Castile and León, 6% in Extremadura and Galicia and 3% said their parents were born in Andalusia. Galicia and Old Castile are very conservative regions (although poor), but that did not prevent visceral opposition to non-Basques and general xenophobia from being a founding tenet of Basque nationalism.
The founding father of Basque nationalism is Sabino Arana, who was by all accounts a rather insane man with a weird mish-mash of reactionary, racist, xenophobic and ethnocentrist ideals and myths. In his seminal work on the issue, Bizkaia por su independencia, Arana’s thesis is the stark separation between a pure, devoutly Catholic, superior, manly and intelligent Basque race and a impure, atheist/socialist/liberal (Arana hated all three), feminine and inferior Spanish race. Arana considered the immigration of non-Basques, maketos or ‘Koreans’, to Euskadi to be a danger to the moral fabric of Basque society and a threat to all that is Basque (Catholicism, racial superiority, Euskara). Those maketos, with their new-fanged ideas of socialism and atheism were clear dangers to Basque society and they should be run out of town with stones and sticks, in order to defend the traditional, Catholic Basque society. The original ideology of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), founded by Arana in 1895, can be summarized in the party’s motto: Jaungoikoa eta Lagi-zaŕa (God and the ‘old laws’ [fueros]). Arana, despite his faults, had a huge influence on Basque nationalism and the whole Basque society. He ‘created’ a history for Euskadi, based partly on facts and a lot on myths; he designed the Basque flag; invented a Euskara vocabulary of political neologisms; he wrote the anthem; he even came up with the term ‘Euskadi’ itself. Arana was a separatist for most of his life, but he had a strange and unexplained change of heart a year before his death, when he became an autonomist. Since then, the PNV has found itself oscillating between autonomy and independence, usually leaning for the first option. The PNV grew in the 1910s to emerge as the largest Basque nationalist force during the Second Republic, where it sided with the republicans in exchange for the formation of the first autonomous Basque government excluding Navarre in 1936.
The Basque economy has historically been based around heavy industry: iron ore mining in western Biscay, steel works and siderurgy in the rest of northern Euskadi but particularly around Bilbao, the economic capital of Euskadi. Industry still accounts for 22.5% of the region’s GDP despite the steel crisis in the 1970s-1980s which forced industrial reconversion in much of Euskadi. Industry and since the 1980s the success of industrial reconversion in favour of services, finance and tourism has made the Basque country a small motor for the whole Spanish economy (6.2% of Spain’s GDP) and also the wealthiest region in all of Spain – even ahead of Catalonia. Euskadi’s GDP per capita of €31,314 is the highest in Spain and is much above the EU and Spanish average. Its unemployment rate, 12.17%, is the second lowest in the country. Euskadi suffered heavily from the steel crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to a decline in the region’s population and high unemployment as most steel plants and shipyards closed their doors. Bilbao and its industrial left bank was touched especially hard, but Bilbao has since bounced back with a vengeance with a spectacularly successful program of industrial reconversion and urban renewal, pushed initially by the Guggenheim Museum and since then by urban development, tourism and a growth in the upper-end service and technology sector (BBVA bank, Iberdrola). Euskadi is also known for the largest workers cooperative in the world, Mondragon, which is based in the small working-class Gipuzkoan town of Arraste-Mondragón. The Basque economy has significantly benefited from the region’s ability to raise taxes on its own account (like Navarre), instead of being heavily dependent on tax transfers from Madrid.
Basque politics and nationalist competition has been influenced so much by ETA, the separatist terrorist organization which has killed over 800 in Euskadi and across Spain since its foundation in 1959. ETA has been successful in driving a wedge through Basque society, rendering the issue of Basque nationhood and self-determination extremely divisive and problematic. Unlike ‘Catalanism’ and Catalan nationalism which is far less problematic, Basque nationalism is not backed up by a century-long history of cohesive, broad ‘national identity’ as in Catalonia which had a very precocious notion of its own ‘nationhood’. Euskara or Basque nationalism has not historically had a broad intellectual and cultural base like Catalan nationalism, which had a strong cultural background and intellectual contingent backing it up. These factors, plus ETA’s existence, have made politics in Euskadi very polarized. ETA’s violence was not and will not be successful in forcing Madrid to give it all it wants, but it has been successful in restricting the political debate (until recently). Up until the 1990s or early 2000s, ETA’s indiscriminate terror created a climate of fear which discouraged extensive political dialogue, participation or activism from those who were not Basque nationalists or even those who were moderate nationalists. That changed in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the emergence of virulently anti-nationalist and anti-ETA civic organizations such as ¡Basta Ya! which form the roots of the UPyD, which has a small but loyal base with non-nationalist Basques.
ETA has also split Basque nationalism into two streams: the ‘moderate’ or ‘democratic’ stream, more centrist or centre-right, dominated by the PNV, Euskadi’s natural governing party; and the left-abertzale stream, left-wing, more radical and in general more favourable of ETA’s actions as a necessary evil on the path to independence (but increasingly critical since 2006). To think of “Basque nationalism” a common, all-encompassing movement is very misleading. Basque nationalism is marked as much by the ideological struggle of nationalism carried out against the ‘Spanish parties’ (PSE, PP) as by the internal competition for the nationalist capital. The PNV is the largest Basque nationalist party, but its position in the centre of the political spectrum in Euskadi has opened it to virulent criticism from theabertzale parties (either as too conservative, too soft on nationalism or ‘traitors’ to the national cause). In the 1980s, the main abertzale forces were Herri Batasuna (HB), ETA’s political front; Euskadiko Ezkerra (EE), a non-violent left-nationalist party formed out of ETA’s moderate ETA-pm wing in the 1970s and after 1986 Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), a non-violent left-nationalist party led by former PNV regional president (lehendakari) Carlos Garaikoetxea. Most of EE merged with the PSE in 1993, reducing the field to the violent pro-ETA HB and the non-violent left-wing EA which increasingly became the PNV’s junior partner after 1998. HB and its subsequent incarnations (EH, Batasuna, EAE-ANV, EHAK-PCTV, SA, Sortu, the list goes on) were banned beginning in 2002. Since 2011, the main abertzale force is Bildu, whose trajectory and controversial nature is discussed in the section on political parties.
The official languages of Euskadi are Spanish and Euskara (Basque). Basque is a language isolate and one of the handful of non-Indo-European languages in Europe. It is entirely different from Spanish or any other widely-used European language, meaning that is much harder to learn from a Spanish-speaker (or anybody else) than Catalan or Galician would be. If you don’t believe me; ‘Sartaldeko oihanetan gatibaturik‘ means ‘Captive in the rainforests of the West’. The survival of the Basque language is proof of the tremendously resilient, strong-willed nature of Basques, proud of their heritage like none other. 76% of Basques identify Spanish as their mother tongue, 18.7% identify Euskara as their mother tongue while 5% identify both as their mother tongues. The most Basque-speaking province is and has always been Gipuzkoa (35.8% Basque mother tongue), while Álava has always been the least Basque-speaking province (93.6% Spanish mother tongue). Euskara has come back from the brink of extinction in the 1950s when its use was banned and repressed. Basque is now something of the ‘preferred’ language in Euskadi like Catalan in Catalonia (though not as strictly and universally enforced), and its use is especially prevalent in education. In Basque schools, there are three models to choose from: A is Spanish with Basque language courses, B is bilingual and D is Basque with Spanish language courses. D is the preferred option at all levels, from 71% in child education to 52% in post-secondary. Generally, lower-level education is heavily ‘D’ while higher-level education and especially post-secondary studies are more balanced though option D now outweighs A. Overall, 62% of students of all levels are in option D, 12.7% are in option A and 24.7% in option B. The level of D education ranges from 76.5% in Gipuzkoa to 42% in Álava.
A 2006 study showed the payoff of Basque-intensive education: 57.5% of those 16-24 are full bilinguals compared to 30.1% in the wider population. Only 17.6% of those 16-24 do not speak Basque compared to 51.5% of the wider population. Overall, 51.5% of Basques are thus Spanish-uni-lingual, 30.1% are bilingual and 18.3% are ‘passive bilinguals’. Gipuzkoa has the highest percentage of full bilinguals: 49%. But 65.8% in Álava and 57.7% in Biscay do not speak Basque. Generally, the youngest Basques are in majority bilingual, those between 35 and 64 are in majority uni-lingual and those over 65 are more bilingual. Proficiency in Basque has kept growing at a rapid and encouraging pace since the 1980s, and most of those who lose Basque language skills are old. Yet, Basque still faces challenges in society. 70% use Spanish only, only 12.5% use Basque more than Spanish. Full bilinguals of course tend to speak in Basque as much as or more often than they do in Spanish, but even with full bilinguals the use of Spanish is preferred in social situation such as work, outside or in social situations.
The PNV plays a central role in Basque politics and government. It is something of a ‘natural governing party’ or a ‘perennial winner’ in Euskadi though it is not by any means the ‘dominant’ political force. It faces competition within the nationalist arena to its left and competition outside the nationalist arena from both left (Socialists) and right (PP). In 43 electoral events since 1977, the PNV has been the largest party in Euskadi in 40 of those (the PSE in 2, HB in 1). The PNV’s domination of Basque electoral politics is helped by its position in the centre of the political spectrum. Its moderate nationalist tone appeals to the bulk of Basques who are proud of their identity although not necessarily separatist or fluent in Euskara. It is nationalist enough to appeal to the more nationalist of Basque nationalists, but moderate enough as to not alienate moderate nationalists/regionalists. The PNV has been the largest party in all general elections except for 1993 and 2008, with support between 23% and 34% in general elections.
Crucial to the PNV’s institutional dominance of Euskadi is its control of the Basque regional government and the regional presidency, lehendakari, between its 1980 creation and 2011. The PNV won the first regional elections in 1980 and won all other regional elections since then (though it did not win the most seats in 1986). Its hegemony was first challenged in 1986 when the then-lehendakari, Carlos Garaikoetxea quit the party and created his left-wing splinter, EA, which won 15.8% and 13 seats in 1986, while the PNV suffered a rout with merely 23.6% against 22% for the PSE. But the PNV’s José Antonio Ardanza was able to create a stable governing coalition with the Socialists until 1998 while EA (and HB)’s support gradually weakened. In 2001, an anti-nationalist front of the PP and PSE fell flat on its face as Juan José Ibarretxe’s PNV-EA won record-high levels of support (42.4%). It was only in 2009, with a stronger-than-ever Socialist party against a very divisive Ibarretxe PNV government that the non-nationalists finally broke through. Though the PNV’s support held tight, the PSE won a record-high 30.7% and 25 seats, which, alongside 13 PP deputies, allowed the PSE’s Patxi López to become the first non-nationalist lehendakari in Basque history. His days may be counted, however, given the collapse in support for both PSE and PP in the 2011 elections. The non-nationalists were helped in 2009 by two factors: firstly, for the first time in Basque regional elections, there was no abertzale list linked to Batasuna therefore Batasuna called on its supporter to cast blank ballots (9% of voters did so) but blank votes are not counted in seat allocation. Secondly, each of the three provinces in the Parliament are represented by 25 members, regardless of population. This equal representation serves to massively overrepresent (by over 10 seats) the strongly non-nationalist province of Álava-Araba at the expense mainly of the PNV stronghold of Biscay. In 2009, if the provinces had seats based on population, Ibarretxe could have won reelection with the support of PNV, Aralar, EA and EBB deputies.
Because of its thirty-one year stint in power in Vitoria, the PNV has tended to confuse government institutions with party institutions. It has shaped Basque politics and institutions to its liking, for example with control over the Basque media (the EITB). Beyond that, the PNV is more than a regular party. Especially in smaller towns, it is also something of a social organization and its local offices, batzokis, serve as bars or hang-outs for party members. In rural areas, PNV members are a tightly-knit family with a sense of community unusual in most parties.
PNV support is highest in Biscay, the birthplace of the party and the province where it has exercised full institutional control since the transition (control of Bilbao and the provincial government since 1979). Its support in rural, Basque-speaking villages in eastern Biscay often reaches upwards of 60% and up and beyond 70% in good years. It is traditionally weak, however, in the working-class industrial hinterland of Bilbao’s left bank in large towns such as Barakaldo, Portugalete or Santurtzi. Language is a major determining factor in making one a Basque nationalist or not, but it is by no means the only indicator nor is it perfect. A number of prominent PNV members and leaders either speak poor Basque or learned it only later in life. The PNV has high support even in those Biscayan and Alavan municipalities where few people speak Basque. The abertzale left is strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist and most Basque-speaking province. The province has kept an industrial base of small or medium-sized businesses or family industries, and communities in the valleys are tightly knit together and have often provided a back base of support for ETA (especially during the dictatorship, when local priests – the Basque Church is nationalist – opened their doors to ETA fighters). Parties such as EA, HB or Bildu have been strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa. The provincial capital of Donostia-San Sebastián has been a battleground between PSE-EE, HB, EA and since recently Bildu. The southern province of Álava-Araba has long been the least nationalist, partly because the southern edges of the province in the Ebro valley have spoken Spanish since the Middle Ages and feel little if any connection to the Basque nationalist. The PNV can be the largest party in the province, but the largest city and Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz is usually fought between PSE and PP, while the PP dominates in most of the Ebro valley in the south of the province. Between 1990 and 2001, Alavan opposition to Basque nationalism was notably expressed by the Unidad Alavesa (UA) party, similar to the Navarrese UPN: conservative, localist in an old Carlist way and anti-nationalist. UA won 18.5% of the votes in the province back in the 1994 elections, winning 5 seats in the Basque Parliament.
Lehendakari Patxi López called for early elections in August after PP leader Antonio Basagoiti decided to withdraw his support from the government. Patxi López, the first non-nationalist and non-peneuvista head of the Basque government, has been quite unpopular in the Basque Country. The main cause of his unpopularity seems to be his controversial deal with the PP, which came after he had promised that he would not sign such a deal. He is certainly reviled by almost all Basque nationalists (and others) after his counter-nature alliance of convenience with the PP. In Euskadi, the PP carries tons of negative baggage, not least the perception shared by most nationalists that it is the anti-Basque and ultra-centralist heir of the Franco regime.
On matters of governance, Patxi López has a fairly mixed record. The Basque economy itself is doing quite well compared to other regions in Spain (notably Catalonia), but mainly because of structural reasons unrelated to the government’s policies. The region’s economy, historically based around industry and manufacturing, suffered from particularly violent de-industrialization in the 1980s; but it has managed relatively well in the current Spanish economic crisis, a crisis wrought in large part by the utter collapse of the construction industry. Because the construction industry has never been as large in Euskadi as in other regions, particularly the coastal regions, the economic collapse post-2008 has been slightly less violent in the Basque Country. The local unemployment rate was 15.5% in the third quarter of 2012, which is the second lowest in the country (and 10% below the national rate). The fact that Euskadi, along with Navarra, benefits from an unusual fiscal arrangement (concierto económico) whereby it is the three provinces rather than the central administration which collects the taxes gives the region more control over its own fiscal policy and makes it less tied up to the economy of the other regions.
Despite a jobs market which is slightly less horrible than the rest of the country, the region’s debt has grown exponentially since 2009. The debt/GDP ratio stood at 2.2% when Patxi López took office in 2009, it has grown to 10.2% in the first quarter of 2012. This debt load, however, is still inferior to the national average of 13.5% (the combined debt of Spain’s 17 regions is equivalent to 13.5% of the Spanish GDP). The Basque government made some spending cuts, notably in health, education and public safety.
The Basque terrorist organization ETA announced a ”definitive cessation of armed activity” in October 2011, an historic event which likely signals the end of the armed conflict in the Basque country. Nonetheless, the issue of ETA – particularly the fate of ETA’s prisoners in Spanish jails – remains a very controversial issue in Spain. With the end of the armed conflict, the Basque nationalist left – the abertzale left – has been allowed to enter the political arena once again. The Spanish law on political parties in 2002 had allowed Madrid to ban the various abertzale parties accused of having links to ETA or being pro-ETA. In 2011, however, the courts allowed the abertzale left to participate in the May local and then the November general elections. The coalitions of the abertzale left (Bildu in May, Amaiur in November) won 26% and 24% in the two elections in 2011. For these elections, the abertzale coalition – which includes EA, Alternatiba, Sortu (widely considered as Batasuna’s political front) – took the label Euskal Herria Bildu (Basque Country Together). Its candidate for lehendakari was Laura Mintegi, a Basque nationalist author and university professor.
On the left, the local United Left (IU) suffered a major split in March 2012. Up until that point, IU (which is experiencing a huge upswing in support in Spain) was known locally as EB-B (Ezker Batua-Berdeak, United Left-Greens), and it had some success in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, EB-B was hurt badly by the legalization of the abertzale left, which took a lot of its support. In the 2009 Basque elections, EB-B had already lost two of its three seats in the Basque Parliament. The split is due largely to an internal conflict between two leaders, Mikel Arana on one side and Javier Madrazo on the other. The latter, favouring a more independent relationship with the IU, regained control of EB-B and broke ties with the IU. The former, favouring closer ties with IU, created Ezker Anitza (EA), which has become the local federation of the IU.
Patxi López’s top rival during the campaign and the favourite in all polls was the PNV, and its candidate for lehendakari, Iñigo Urkullu. Urkullu is the leader of the PNV, and his nomination as candidate for head of the regional government breaks with established historical tradition in the PNV which has always had a fairly strict separation between party leadership and the regional presidency. In contrast to his predecessor as the PNV’s candidate for lehendakari, former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe (1999-2009), Urkullu strikes a markedly more moderate and less divisive tone. Ibarretxe, especially after his controversial “Ibarretxe Plan” for reforming the statute of autonomy, was a very divisive and somewhat confrontational figure who alienated many non-nationalists which clearly nationalistic and identity-based rhetoric. Urkullu, who is slightly to the right of Ibarretxe, also tacks back to the PNV’s more moderate brand of nationalism.
In this campaign, even if the PSE-EE and especially the PP’s campaigns warned against the PNV’s alleged “hidden agenda” about sovereignty, Urkullu seemed to put the issue on the backburner. The PNV campaign was focused heavily on the economy and job creation, citing the economic crisis as its top priority. It did not completely sideline the issues of independence, but was infinitely vague about what it entailed. Urkullu has set 2015 as the date for the definition of a new statute of autonomy, although it is unclear whether he intends a piecemeal reform of the 1979 statute based on “bilateral relations” or some ambitious sovereignist scheme akin to Ibarretxe’s Plan. He has used language such as “21st century independence” and the PNV’s manifesto hinted at some kind of “devo-max”, vowing to fight for the devolution of more and more powers from Madrid.
In contrast, Patxi López focused his campaign on defending self-government within Spain against Mariano Rajoy’s austerity policies and upholding the welfare state. The Socialists attempted to paint Urkullu and the PNV (a centre-right party) as right-wingers who would implement austerity similar to Rajoy’s very unpopular austerity policies.
Turnout was 63.73%, down from 64.68%. The (slight) decrease in turnout is rather interesting, given that the legalization of the abertzale left had led to a fairly significant increase in turnout in 2011 (when it decreased slightly nationwide). Turnout did nonetheless increase, albeit marginally, in Gipuzkoa, the abertzale stronghold. It must be said, however, that in the 2009 election, a lot of abertzale supporters had actually turned out to vote: since their party was banned, they accounted for the 101 thousand (nearly 9%) of “votos nulos” (null/invalid votes). Results were as follows:
EAJ-PNV 34.63% (-3.93%) winning 27 seats (-3)
EH Bildu 25% (+15.28%) winning 21 seats (+16)
PSE-EE 19.13% (-11.57%) winning 16 seats (-9)
PP 11.73% (-2.37%) winning 10 seats (-3)
IU-LV (EA) 2.72% (+2.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPyD 1.94% (-0.21%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EB-B 1.56% (-1.95%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Equo 1.05% (+0.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.03% (+1.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.21% (+0.5%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The PNV, as widely expected, emerged as the winner. With 34% of the vote, it held its ground fairly well, considering the circumstances. On these results, Iñigo Urkullu will be the next lehendakari. It is quite unlikely that he will create a formal coalition with any party: a deal with the PSE would have been possible in the 1990s, but relations between the two parties have become quite acrimonious in recent years; a deal with EH Bildu would prove controversial and probably too difficult and unworkable for both involved. Instead, Urkullu has indicated that he will form a minority government which will seek support from other parties on a case-by-case basis. He has made conciliatory gestures towards all parties, and has touted the possibility of an legislative agreement (like the 2009 PSE-PP deal) with some parties (maybe EH Bildu). He seeks broad agreements and consensus on some major issues, and has already arranged to meet other parties to work out some kind of economic pact to deal with the crisis.
The PSE-EE suffered a very bad defeat. Not quite a record-breaking crushing defeat, but nevertheless a very damaging result for a party which had been rather successful, between 2004 and 2009, in increasing its level of support in Euskadi. It was a combination of different factors which sunk the Socialist vessel in Euskadi: Patxi López’s unpopularity, the controversial deal with the PP in 2009 and the nationwide collapse of the Socialist brand with the economic crisis. Patxi López’s record in government was judged, by most Basque voters, to be fairly mediocre and unspectacular.
The collapse of the national PSOE into a hapless state of disrepair since 2010/2011 likely played a role in this election. After losing the 2011 general election in a landslide to Rajoy’s PP, the PSOE strategy was apparently to bet everything on the rapid collapse of the PP’s popularity (with the economic crisis/depression and the austerity policies) in the hope that the PSOE would quickly regain those voters it had lost in 2011 (as they punished the PSOE for Zapatero’s economic policies during the early crisis). One could say it was a fairly sound strategy, given that such scenarios often happen, and certainly the first part of their calculation did happen very quickly – Rajoy’s government is extremely unpopular, and large majorities of voters reject his stringent austerity measures.
However, the PSOE failed to take into account that it has a huge credibility problem with the wider electorate. Voters seem particularly unforgiving, and they haven’t forgotten that the PSOE, in power, implemented many of the same kind of austerity policies which it now fights tooth-and-nail against. The PSOE’s message in opposition has been anti-austerity, but voters still associate the PSOE with austerity and the PSOE’s leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, doesn’t really help matters for them considering he was a top bigwig in Zapatero’s old cabinet.
As for Patxi López, his political career is probably not over just yet. While he is unpopular, right now, in Euskadi; his image in the rest of Spain still seems to be quite positive. He has been talked about as a potential candidate for Prime Minister for the PSOE in the next general election, and it is unlikely that this defeat will put a full stop to that speculation. He has already indicated that he will not be stepping down as the leader of the PSE-EE.
The PSE-EE lost votes to other parties, but also a good number of its voters to abstention (the first explanation for the small decrease in turnout). It likely lost some votes to the PP and PNV, some voters might have voted strategically for the moderate PNV to keep out the more radical EH Bildu. However, it probably lost a good number of supporters to abstention. It is hard to quantify how many they might have lost, but there seems to have been a two-way street: some nationalists who did not vote in 2009 turned out this year and swelled EH Bildu’s ranks; while some PSE and PP voters from 2009 abandoned their parties in favour of abstention.
The PSE’s collapse was such that the PNV placed ahead of the PSE in some of the party’s traditional bases, including Bilbao’s working-class Left Bank (Barakaldo, Sestao, Trapagarán, Basauri); although in these cases it was due to the PSE’s collapse since 2009 rather than any PNV inroads.
EH Bildu, like Bildu in May 2011 and Amaiur in November 2011, is the big winner of this election. 25% (and 21 seats) places its performance about on par with that of the abertzale coalitions last year, but it is far superior to any of the results won by the political arm of ETA (HB) in yesteryears. HB peaked at roughly 18-20% in its best years, it won 17.9% and 14 seats in the 1998 regional elections (right after an ETA ceasefire) and 18% in the 1990 regional elections. Once again, it is clear that the abertzale has expanded its appeal beyond the traditional its pro-etarra base to non-violent left-nationalists. As the 1998 and 2001 regional elections proved, the abertzale‘s electoral appeal is greater in peacetime conditions when ETA is silent (in the 2001 elections, after ETA had broken its 1998 ceasefire, Batasuna collapsed to 10%). This year seems no different. The silencing of ETA in 2010, followed by the permanent ceasefire in 2011, has significantly expanded the appeal of the newly legalized abertzale left.
This year, EH Bildu’s campaign hit all the right notes for the present context. It has distanced itself from ETA and violence, even if ETA victims decry their ”blank slate” attitude (how can the former supporters and enablers of violence be receiving so much support and heaps of praise?, they ask) and the abertzale‘s hurry to shut the door on the past. Regardless, the end of political violence in Euskadi and the slow creation a freer political climate where fear and the risk of intimidation is much lesser, has opened up a wide door for the abertzale left. Left-wingers, left-nationalists and other leftists who had in the past rejected ETA’s violence have jumped onto the abertzale‘s bandwagon. In this campaign, EH Bildu de-emphasized, to a certain extent, the issue of separatism/independence in favour of a bread-and-butter discourse tailored to the contemporary socio-economic context. Observers noted how EH Bildu’s electoral meetings were closer to anti-capitalist rallies than traditional separatist rallies. The party talked about social policies, the economy, food sovereignty and other issues of particular relevance to a region with over 15% unemployment.
There has been, in some ways, an increase in Basque nationalism in Euskadi in recent years, though still nothing compared to what’s going on in Catalonia now. The idea that Euskadi would be better off without Madrid given how badly the rest of Spain is doing is gaining supporters. Nevertheless, the percentage of Basques who actually support the independence of a Basque nation-state is fairly low, certainly much lower than the 60% polled by the PNV and EH Bildu.
In the 2009 elections, Aralar and EA, two component parties of EH Bildu, won 6.03% and 3.69% respectively. However, an additional 100,939 votes were considered “invalid”, around 95-96k of them were cast for Batasuna’s illegal political front (D3M). Taking these invalid votes into account, the abertzale left (plus EA and Aralar) won in the vicinity of 17-17.5% of the vote in the 2009 election. Therefore, assuming that all Aralar, EA and Batasuna voters from 2009 voted from EH Bildu this year, you still have a very significant gain for the abertzale coalition since 2009, at least +8%. EH Bildu gained some votes from other parties and non-voters. It took some votes from PNV in all three provinces and probably took a few votes from PSE, considering the (limited) coincidence between the two parties in some cases.
EH Bildu’s performance in the abertzale stronghold of Gipuzkoa was quite underwhelming. It won 32.2%, basically tied with the PNV (32%), when it had won 35% (against 22% for the PNV) last November in the general elections. Many have ascribed EH Bildu’s poor result in the province to the party’s unpopular administration of the province (it controls the provincial government/legislature, the Juntas Generales). In Donostia-San Sebastián, one of the abertzale coalition’s major gains in May 2011, EH Bildu placed third (with 22%) behind the PNV and the PSE.
The PP suffered a pretty bad result, its worst result in a regional election since 1990. It is clearly a disappointing result for the Basque PP’s leader, Antonio Basagoiti, who was likely hoping for a slightly better performance by his party. This poor result might weaken his hold on the party’s leadership, some of the most right-wing figures of the local PP, such as former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, had already showed their displeasure with some of his more moderate positions. The local PP bore the brunt of Rajoy’s unpopularity. It appears as if the PP lost middle and working-class votes to abstention, but maintained its strong results in Euskadi’s wealthiest neighborhoods and municipalities. On the other hand, the PP might have regained at least some of the votes it lost to the PSE and UPyD in the 2009 election.
What does the future hold for Euskadi? Urkullu gives signs that he will be a fairly pragmatic and moderate lehendakari, especially when it comes to the issue of independence. It is fairly ironic that Catalan nationalism, usually noted for its moderation in contrast to Euskadi’s more radical (and violent) brand of nationalism, is now taking the more “radical” path following the huge Diada on September 11 and with Mas’ bid to force a referendum after the 26-N regional elections. Dealing with Catalonia, where nationalism is clearly on an upswing because of the region’s precarious fiscal and economic position and its battle with the central government, will probably be Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headache. The Basque situation seems rather calmer. Urkullu has noted that the situation between Catalonia and Euskadi is different, despite the Basque PP’s insistence that there was a “secret pact” between the PNV and CiU. He is unlikely to make much waves, and even his reform of the statute planned for 2015 seems fairly moderate, in sharp contrast to Ibarretxe’s confrontational and divisive Plan. It does remain to be seen what Urkullu entails when he talks about “21st century independence”, but the PNV has never really sought traditional independence as a nation-state but rather some kind of quite novel “multi-layered sovereignty”.
On economic issues, the PNV has indicated that some cuts will need to be made. Urkullu proved quite lucid by saying that cuts and “efforts” will be necessary, but at the same time he talks about “defending the welfare state” and other vague rhetoric, similar to the one used by Rajoy in 2011 (we all know how far that went).
The Parliament of Galicia (Parlamento de Galicia) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 5% threshold by province. A Coruña elects 24 members, Pontevedra elects 22, Lugo elects 15 and Ourense elects 14. The two smallest provinces are slightly over-represented at the expense of the two most populous provinces. The PP regional government backtracked on a controversial electoral reform before the election.
My Guide, noted above, included a profile of Galicia as well:
Galicia is one of the country’s most geographically isolated regions, located north of Portugal in northwestern Spain. It is notably the only region where a majority of the population usually speaks another language than Spanish. Galicia has a population of 2,794,516 (INE 2011). The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela but the largest cities are Vigo and A Coruña. The community is composed of the provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra.
Galicia is the mythical home of Breogán, a Celtic king and Galicia’s first inhabitants were Celtic (Gallaeci people). That is why Galicia is sometimes considered to be part of a broader alliance of Celtic nations, though the Gallaeci and their language have long since disappeared and the current Galician language is certainly not a Celtic language. In 411, Galicia fell to the Suevis who established their own state, independent of the Visigoths (until 584) even after the Visigothic conquest of Iberia in 416. Galicia was invaded by the Moors during the Muslim conquest, but never came under permanent Muslim control and was rather a thorny backwoods for the Muslims who made armed incursions into Galicia every few hundred years. In the confusing dynastic games of Christian Spain during the early Reconquista, the Kingdom of Galicia alternated between independence, Asturo-Leonese control or Castilian hegemony. Unlike Euskadi or Catalonia, Galicia’s two “sister nationalities” in Spanish political-lingo, Galicia is marked by an early and complete integration into the Castilian realm though its integration was originally a bit problematic (revolts and so forth). Galicia became a poor and isolated region in Spain, distant and poorly connected to the centres of industry or power. The mountains of eastern Galicia, poor communications, small landholdings and the power of the Catholic Church made economic development difficult and also prevented the development of a common “national myth” or “national ideal”. Poor and isolated, Galicia became a land of emigration. Starting in the nineteenth century, Galicia’s share of the Spanish population would decline from 12% to just 6% today. Some Galicians left to find jobs within Spain such as in the steel plants of Bilbao, but most emigrated to South America (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have large Galician communities) or western Europe. The Galician diaspora can vote in Galician regional elections and their votes, roughly 12% of voters (in 2005) can be crucial in closely-fought elections. In the last elections, the diaspora vote gave the Socialists an additional seat at the right’s expense.
Galicia was a heavily agricultural region until the 1970s and still accounts for 6.7% of the region’s GDP today. Galicia has traditionally had some of the smallest landholdings (minifundios) in all of Spain. The minifundio agrarian system has impeded on the competitivity of Galician agriculture, and as such most agriculture in Galicia has historically barely been enough for a family’s subsistence. The small size of land has contributed to the region’s poverty and sub-development. Politically, poor communications and the small size of landholdings were favourable to the hegemony of the Catholic Church and to a general lack of political mobilization (Galicia is known for its low turnout levels). Livestock is the main agricultural activity in the region. Along the region’s rugged (but beautiful) coastline, fishing is the main employer. Galicia has the largest fishing fleet in Spain (over 50% in fact) and perhaps the largest fleet in Europe as well. Despite the historical dominance of agriculture, industry is strong in Galicia as well since the 1970s: it currently accounts for 16.4% of the region’s GDP. Shipbuilding is important in Ferrol (an old naval base and Franco’s home town) and Vigo. Textiles are the main industry around A Coruña and Arteixo, which is home to Inditex, the second largest textile company in Europe and owner of the world-famous Zara brand. Automobile manufacturing is important in Vigo, which has a large Peugeot-PSA plant. In recent years, banking and especially tourism have become major employers as well. Galicia remains rather poor, with a below-average GDP per capita of €20,343. Unemployment is 17.25%.
Galician nationalism emerged out of a cultural movement of artists and intellectuals in the late nineteenth century who re-discovered and popularized the Galician language, Galician culture and literature. Alfonso Castelao is perhaps the most famous of these intellectuals, and the most popular of them (also because of his republican political activities). During the Second Republic, a Galician nationalist party – the Partido Galeguista (PG) was founded though it never achieved much support, electing three members as part of the Popular Front in the 1936 elections. It was successful, however, in passing a Statute of Autonomy in June 1936 which proved stillborn a month later with the success of the coup in Galicia. After the Francoist regime, during which the use and expression of Galician culture and language was frowned upon, the Galician nationalist movement was divided into a plethora of feuding parties ranging from communists in the UPG-BNPG to centrist liberals in the refounded PG. A centrist liberal party created out of the remnants of the UCD in Galicia, the Coalición Galega, achieved some success in the 1980s peaking at 13% in the 1985 Galician elections. It was soon eclipsed by the BNG, the left-wing nationalist coalition which was at its roots a radical communist party led by the communist UPG but which ‘deradicalized’ upon absorption of smaller left-wing parties. The BNG is by far the largest Galician nationalist party, and the only nationalist party with representation in the regional legislature. A smaller centre-right coalition, Terra Galega (TEGA) won 1% in the 2009 elections but governs the city of Narón – the eight largest city in the region.
Galicia is the only region of Spain where a majority of the population usually speaks a language other than Spanish as their mother tongue. That language is Galician, a language separate from Portuguese since 1500 which is closer to Portuguese than Spanish but has been influenced rather considerably by Spanish through centuries of Castilian domination of Galicia. Galician is co-official alongside Spanish in Galicia. According to 2008 statistics, 89.15% of Galicians can speak Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante) and 57.84% can write Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante). Furthermore, 56.4% of Galicians usually speak only in Galician or more in Galician than in Spanish. The use and knowledge of the language is higher in rural coastal areas and inland but is much lower in urban areas and with younger Galicians. The proximity of the language to Portuguese is a point of political debate. Galicia’s political elites and the PP defends the idea of Galician as an independent language, while nationalists are more ‘reintegrationist’ and see Galician as a regional variant of Portuguese and not as a separate language. The Galician government has traditionally been far less ‘activist’ or aggressive in its promotion of the Galician language in public administration or education (though education is bilingual) than the Basque or Catalan governments.
Poverty, isolation and in majority non-Spanish by mother tongue, Galicia could appear to be a Socialist or nationalist stronghold. In fact, Galicia is a conservative stronghold and the only region in Spain in which the PSOE (known here as the PSdeG) has never been the largest party in any election. Despite the fact that most in the region speak Galician more often than Spanish, a nationalist ideology which requires a broad social base believing in their separate ‘national identity’ and a ‘national myth’ has never been capable of being more than a second party. The division of Galicia into tiny, poor and unproductive smallholdings has discouraged the growth of social movements such as nationalism (but also socialism and communism), while being quite favourable to domination by the Catholic Church, which, unlike in Euskadi and Catalonia (to a lesser extent), has never had any nationalist ideals. Unlike in Catalonia, the industrial bourgeoisie in Galicia is pro-Spanish and backed Franco’s regime. As for socialism or communism, smallholders in Spain (unlike in France, where they are long marked by anti-clericalism and republicanism) have always been devoutly Catholic and traditionally scared of the threat of ‘socialist collectivism’. As such, nationalism is strong in Galicia but has never been a dominant political ideology as in Euskadi and Catalonia; while socialism has never taken root in rural areas though urban workers are left-wing. The PCE has never been relevant, the best they’ve ever done is 4.7%.
The UCD won three elections, and the PP has won all other elections in Galicia since then. The PSdeG has never been the largest party in Galicia and has only been the largest party in the province of A Coruña a handful of times. Galicia has also produced some pretty famous Spanish conservative leaders: Franco (of course) but also Manuel Fraga, the founder of AP; and Mariano Rajoy. In Galicia, even the PP has taken on some nationalist symbolism. Fraga campaigned in Galician and emerged as a forceful voice for a strong, autonomous Galicia within a united Spain. There are signs, however, that urban growth (cities being quite left-wing) is favourable in the long-term to Socialists. They came within 3.25% of winning the region in 2008, the closest they’ve ever been to the right in a general election (the PSOE was 10 points behind the PP in 2004). In 2008, the PP won 44.32% against 41.07% for the PSdeG-PSOE, 11.63% for the BNG and 1.39% for the IU. Rural, sparsely populated inland or coastal areas are the main bases of the right in Galicia. The left is strongest in urban areas, most notably in A Coruña, Ferrol, Vigo, Arteixo, Lugo, Ourense or Pontevedra. Santiago de Compostela is more right-leaning, though it was governed by the PSdeG for 24 years between 1987 and 2011. A Coruña was governed by the Socialists between 1983 and 2011.
The AP won the first regional elections in 1981 with 26 seats against 24 for the UCD. The first two legislatures were marked by infighting within the AP and political divisions on the right, which allowed the Socialists to take power mid-stream in 1987. In this context of division on the right, Manuel Fraga, the founder of the AP and by now the driving force in the refoundation of the Spanish right as the PP, decided to abandon his political ambitions in Madrid in favour of his native homeland. As the PP’s candidate in the 1989 Galician elections, Fraga won an absolute majority and defeated the incumbent centre-left coalition. In 1993 he increased his majority and the PP held on to its absolute majority in the 1993, 1997 and 2001 elections while the PSdeG was in state of disrepair after falling behind the BNG in 1997 and again in 2005. However, Fraga’s leadership was criticized in 2002 during the Prestige oil spill during which he and Aznar sat on their hands doing little in response. In 2005, the PP fell to 37 seats – one less than the absolute majority while the PSdeG increased its support considerably from 17 to 25 seats while the BNG fell from 17 to 13 seats. The Socialist Emilio Pérez Touriño formed a coalition government with the BNG, led by the more radical Anxo Quintana. In 2009, however, the PP, now led by Rajoy ally Alberto Núñez Feijoo won an extra seat (at the BNG’s expense, the Socialists held all their seats) and thus reconquered its historic stronghold. The Galician legislature over-represents the sparsely populated and more conservative inland provinces of Lugo and Ourense at the expense of Pontevedra and A Coruña which concentrate the vast majority of the Galician population. In the 2011 local elections, the PP showed its strength in the province of A Coruña with its historic conquests of A Coruña, Ferrol and Santiago. But in Vigo, Pontevedra, Lugo and Ourense it proved unable to topple Socialist-BNG (or, in Pontevedra, BNG-Socialist) coalitions. In fact, in all those cities, the governing party be it the PSdeG or BNG all increased their support. A sign of a slow evolution of the impenetrable stronghold of Spanish conservatism towards the left?
Alberto Núñez Feijóo called for early elections. Feijóo faced fairly tough circumstances: an unpopular national PP government and the terrible economic situation, while he himself was defending a very narrow absolute majority in the Galician legislature. This was a very high-stakes deal for the national PP, which had suffered an unwelcome cold shower in regional elections in Andalusia in the spring, elections which were hailed as the first sign that the PP’s post-election honeymoon was already falling apart. The PP wanted and needed to retain its hold on its traditional Galician stronghold, and this likely explains why Feijóo called for a snap election: he felt confident that the PP could take advantage of nationalist disunity and the local Socialists’ (PSdeG) corruption problems.
Feijóo is a key ally of Mariano Rajoy, and the austerity policies which the Xunta has implemented in Galicia since 2009/2010 have served as a “model” for Rajoy’s austerity measures. In Galicia, Feijóo has a somewhat “strong” record to stand on – again, compared to other regions. The region’s debt is high, at 12.8% of GDP, but is below the national average (13.5%) and while it has gone up since 2009, it has not increased as quickly as in other regions. Unemployment is 20.1% in Galicia, below the national rate of 25%, and it decreased in the third quarter of 2012 (from 21.1% in the second quarter). While the Xunta was dinged by El País for allegedly dressing up its debt level (a favourite activity for many regional governments in Spain), the PP received a major boost late in the campaign when Mexico’s oil monopoly PEMEX kind of confirmed that it would invest 247 million euros in the construction of an industrial complex in Galicia (Vigo and Ferrol) for storage, shipment and deliveries of oil industry liquids. The PP claims that this investment, which it has welcome in grandiose manner, will create over 2,500 jobs in Galicia.
Aware of the unpopularity of the central government and the national PP, Feijóo distanced himself somewhat from the national party during the campaign. His party notably released posters which minimized the PP’s logo, he campaigned on a Galicia Primeiro (Galicia First) slogan.
The opposition, which governed between 2005 and 2009, was going through dire straits when Feijóo called the election to take advantage of their problems. The Socialists (PSdeG) were divided and hit hard by a corruption probe (Operación Pokémon) which notably forced the resignation of the PSdeG mayor of Ourense.
The main Galician nationalist party, the left-wing BNG, was hit even harder by internal divisions. Trouble had been brewing in the fractious and heterogeneous coalition of parties which is the BNG, particularly between the current leadership formed and backed by the post-communist nationalist UPG and the old leader of the BNG, Xosé Manuel Beiras and his faction (Encontro Irmandiño). In the 1990s, Beiras, a famous Galician author, had led the BNG out of electoral oblivion to a high of 18 seats (and second place) in the 1998 regional elections. After his departure from the BNG’s leadership, the party’s electoral fortunes took a slow downwards trend: 17 seats in 2001, 13 in 2005 and 12 in 2009.
At a BNG congress earlier this year, the UPG coalition led by Guillerme Vázquez and Francisco Jorquera narrowly defeated an opposition slate led by Beiras and other factions. Following this congress, Beiras’ faction walked out and created a new political party, ANOVA. Other factions, largely the centrist factions, joined other smaller groupings in creating a more centrist nationalist coalition, Compromiso por Galicia (CxG). Ahead of the elections, Beiras’ bunch, ANOVA, joined up with the local IU (EU), led by Yolanda Díaz, to form a common list: Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (AGE, Galician Left Alternative). The EU has always been an also-ran in very conservative Galicia, it peaked at 2.9% in the 1981 regional elections and won only 1% in the last elections in 2009.
Turnout was 63.8%, down from 64.43% in 2009. There was a surprisingly high level of invalid votes (2.55%) and blank votes (2.69%). The results were as follows:
PPdeG 45.72% (-0.96%) winning 41 seats (+3)
PSdeG 20.53% (-10.49%) winning 18 seats (-7)
AGE (EU-ANOVA) 13.99% (+13.02%) winning 9 seats (+9)
BNG 10.16% (-5.85%) winning 7 seats (-5)
UPyD 1.48% (+0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.19% (+1.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SCD 1.1% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CxG 1.01% (-0.10%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.02% (+0.89%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Feijóo’s PP defied expectations and was reelected, not only securing its thin absolute majority won in 2009 but expanding its majority by picking up three extra seats. The PP did lose nearly 1% off of its 2009 result, equivalent to 135,493 votes. Feijóo’s victory is a significant victory for the national PP and the Rajoy cabinet, given how crucial these elections turned out to be for the national PP. In his victory speech, Feijóo even mentioned Rajoy – saying that his victory would have been impossible if voters had not felt that Rajoy was “governing responsibly” and that the “efforts” and “difficulties” it demanded were not for a “good cause”. That being said, Feijóo’s big victory owes a lot to the division and shabby state of his two traditional opponents (the PSdeG and the BNG) and his management of the region rather than to any Galician plebiscite in favour of Rajoy’s austerity measures. Nevertheless, as the centre-left daily El País argued, the results in Galicia will serve as an “encouragement” to Rajoy’s austerity policies.
The Galician PP was able to motivate its electorate to turn out, and the PP’s rural base stuck with Feijóo; compensating for fairly significant PP loses in some urban areas – A Coruña, Vigo, Pontevedra and Ourense. It was able to stave off a minor threat in the SCD, a new centre-right party led by Mario Conde, a former banker who recently got out of jail for embezzlement.
The real winner of these elections was Xosé Manuel Beiras’ new left-nationalist coalition, AGE, which defied all expectations and won a spectacular result, placing third – ahead of the BNG – and taking nearly 14% of the vote. The new left-nationalist coalition, which has been styled the “Galician Syriza” (a reference to Greece’s left-wing anti-austerity coalition which is now the embattled country’s largest opposition party), seized on the climate of social and economic discontent prevalent in Spain. Beiras’ coalition placed emphasis on socio-economic rather than traditional nationalist themes, taking clear anti-capitalist tones and calling for the reconstruction of society. In doing so, it not only seized a sizable part of the traditional BNG nationalist electorate, but also fed off the PSdeG’s collapse. The PSdeG’s collapse was particularly big in Galicia’s major cities, where AGE performed best: 20.6% and second place in A Coruña, 21.8% and second place in Santiago de Compostela, 20.2% in Ferrol and 19.5% in Vigo.
AGE was helped by Beiras’ well-known charismatic figure, which transformed him into Feijóo’s most vocal opponent. His success should be a major cause for concern for the PSdeG, which was the clear loser of the elections. The party, which had maintained its high level of support (from the 2005 election) in the 2009 ballot, lost over a third of its 2009 votes and collapsed to only 20.5% and 18 seats. The PSdeG was clearly affected by Operación Pokémon, but also by internal divisions and uncertain leadership in a party which is used to fractious relations and internal divisions. Again, Feijóo’s decision to call a snap election in October rather than next spring (as scheduled) was clearly calculated and he wanted to seize on the PSdeG’s troubles. The early election caught the Socialists off guard, and even if they managed to patch their lists together and unite behind its leader, Pachi Vázquez, it was not without some trouble. The PSdeG’s campaign, which wanted to turn the Galician election into a referendum over Rajoy’s policies, was not up to par with Feijóo and Beiras’ campaigns. Even Rubalcaba admitted after the fact that the reason why the PSdeG did so badly is that they failed to present a strong “alternative” to the PP. Again, the hapless Pachi Vázquez certainly did not measure up to either Feijóo or Beiras. The PSdeG’s decrepitude plunges the party into uncertain waters, not unlike the terrible situation the party went through in the late 1990s.
The AGE’s success has also plunged the BNG into uncertain waters. The BNG’s leadership has resigned, and it has called for “unity”, “reflection” and “change”. It is likely too early to say what is the future of the Galician nationalist movement after this election, especially given the BNG’s paltry fourth place showing behind the new coalition of its former leader.
The AGE’s result is quite interesting. It was boosted by local factors, first and foremost Beiras’ charisma and the troubles of both the PSdeG and BNG, but it is undeniable that AGE’s success could have national implications, primarily for the PSOE. Once again, with this result and the PSE’s result in Euskadi, the Socialists are the clear losers of these two elections. The party must wake up to the fact that it faces a clear credibility crisis, and its old voters are not buying into the party’s new-found distaste for austerity. Spanish politics as a whole have been shaken up by the economic crisis, both the PP and PSOE are increasingly discredited in the eyes of voters, and the succession of unpopular austerity measures have created a profound social malaise in the country. Voters are losing trust in traditional parties, and are turning to the IU, UPyD, regional parties or minor parties (notice the success in both regions of Escaños en blanco, which wants a recognition of invalid votes in the form of vacant seats); they are also losing trust in the country’s democratic institution. Both the PP and PSOE seem rather oblivious to this situation, or they are at the very least very much unable to confront it (certainly the PP has its hands tied up with the crisis and the wider Eurozone crisis).
Rubalcaba’s leadership of the PSOE will be shaken up a bit by these defeats, probably even more if the PSC does very poorly in Catalonia on 26-N. He has already said that he would go if the party told him to go, though he is not resigning just yet. The PSOE has been unable to profit at all from the PP’s collapse.
All eyes in Spanish politics are set on Catalonia, which holds a snap election November 26. Very interesting things are going on in Catalonia, and it is aligning to become one of Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headaches in the future. The regional president, Artur Mas, has taken a surprisingly confrontational and nationalist attitude, no doubt because of the difficult economic situation in which Catalonia finds itself. He wants to call a referendum of some kind, and he hopes to receive a strong popular mandate for his nationalist agenda from the voters on November 26. Polls indicate that Mas’ centre-right CiU will make gains, though it is uncertain whether he will be able to win an absolute majority in Parliament.
Regional elections and the first round of senatorial elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 12-13, 2012. The Czech Republic is divided into thirteen regions in addition to Prague. These regions (kraje) were created in 2000 as second-level administrative divisions to replace the old 73 districts. Each region has a regional legislature elected directly through PR with a 5% thresholds, these legislatures in turn elect a regional president. Since their creation in 2000, there have been efforts at devolution to these regional governments, envisioned as better able to handle local government responsibilities than small municipalities. While it has been said that these regions have a great array of powers at their disposal, they have not used them much and regional government remains pretty weak. Voters, furthermore, have not identified much with these new regions, they preferred the old districts.
The Czech Senate, meanwhile, has 81 members elected by thirds every two years for six year terms. They are elected in single-member constituencies through the two round system. The Senate is a toothless body, which can delay laws passed by the lower house but its veto may be overridden by the lower house with only an absolute majority. Because of its redundancy and weak powers, there have been many calls to abolish the Senate. As a result of the 2008 and 2010 renewals, the opposition social democrats (ČSSD) now have a narrow absolute majority in the Senate.
The last general election, held in 2010, resulted in a centre-right government led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS). He leads a coalition including the ODS, traditionally the major right-wing party in the country and the newer right-wing and more pro-European TOP09 led by Karel Schwarzenberg. Until April 2012, the anti-corruption gadfly Public Affairs (VV) party led by former TV journalist Radek John participated in the coalition, until the party was forced out because of disagreements with the government’s austerity policies. VV, which had broken through in the 2010 general election, collapsed almost as quickly as it had emerged. Like most of these populistic “anti-corruption” outfits, VV wasn’t too clean either: one of its cabinet ministers was accused of taking a bribe. In April 2012, VV was kicked out due to disagreements with the austerity policies, but a split occured when some deputies – led by another cabinet minister, Karolína Peake - wanted to stay in the coalition and formed their own party, LIDEM. VV’s expulsion means that the cabinet is now only a minority government.
Since 2010, the Nečas cabinet has implemented stringent austerity measures, including cutting investment, public spending and raising taxes. The country’s economy shrank by 4.7% in 2009, and it may have be in a double-dip recession now: GDP is projected to shrink by 1% in 2012, down from +1.7% last year. However, the country’s deficit has been getting smaller: 3.2% of the GDP in 2011, down from 5.8% of the GDP in 2009. The cabinet is dead-set on getting the deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, it has recently introduced a bill to raise the VAT by 1% and raise taxes for high earners. These policies have largely been unpopular with voters. But voters are also angry over corruption scandals, which have also touched the inept opposition (ČSSD, social democrats). A prominent ČSSD old-timer (a former minister and current regional president of Central Bohemia), David Rath, got canned for taking bribes and kickbacks.
Turnout was 36.89% in the regional elections, down from 40.3% in 2008. In the 27 senate districts up for reelection, turnout was 34.9%, down from 42.09% in 2006 (the last time they were up). Results for the regional elections overall were as follows, compared to the 2008 regional elections:
ČSSD 23.58% (-12.27%) winning 205 seats (-75)
KSČM 20.43% (+5.4%) winning 182 seats (+68)
ODS 12.28% (-11.29%) winning 102 seats (-78)
KDU-ČSL and allies 9.87% (0.42%) winning 73 seats (+11)
TOP09 + STAN 6.63% (+6.63%) winning 44 seats (+44)
SPOZ 4.16% (+4.16%) winning 7 seats (+7)
Green Party and allies 2.83% (-0.32%) winning 10 seats (+10)
Pirate 2.19% (+2.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NEZ 1.68% (+1%) winning 5 seats (+5) winning 5 seats (+5)
SNK ED 1.02% (-0.24%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Regional parties and others 15.33% (+4.32%) winning 44 seats (+8)
In the first round of senatorial elections, no candidate was elected by the first round. 23 ČSSD candidates qualified for the runoff, as did 12 KSČM candidates, 10 ODS candidates, 2 KDU-ČSL candidates, 2 STAN (TOP09 allies) candidates, 1 Pirate, 1 Green and 3 others (2 indies, 1 Ostrava local party). In terms of first place showings, the ČSSD placed first in 11 of the 27 constituencies, the ODS placed first in 5, the KSČM in 4, the KDU-ČSL in two, the Greens in one, the Pirates in one and all three other candidates also placed first.
On these numbers, the ODS has already lost seven of the seats that it had won in 2006 (that year, it won 14 to the ČSSD’s 6) – which means that the party, at most, will hold only 18 seats in the Senate (down from 25) after this election. The KDU-ČSL will also hold fewer seats, it has failed to qualify for the runoffs in two seats they currently hold, meaning that, at most, they will hold four seats in the Senate (down from 6).
Updated with full results:
ČSSD winning 13 seats (+7) > 48 seats (+7)
ODS winning 4 seats (-10) > 15 seats (-10)
KDU-ČSL winning 2 seats (-2) > 4 seats (-2)
Independents winning 2 seats (+2) > 3 seats (+1)
STAN winning 2 seats (+1) > 2 seats (+1)
KSČM winning 1 seat (nc) > 2 seats (nc)
Green Party (SZ) winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Pirate winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Ostravak winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
S.cz winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)
TOP09 winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)
The results are a major defeat for the governing parties. The 2008 regional elections, which had been held under similar political circumstances (a ODS government) were a landslide victory for the opposition ČSSD. This year, however, the ODS’ results were even worse, winning only 12.3% of the vote. Such a drubbing was not too surprising, the ODS had been expected to lose badly at the polls. The Prime Minister tried to downplay the results, noting that voters usually express discontent with the central government during regional elections. He has nonetheless pledged to continue deficit cuts, remaining set on bringing it down the EU’s 3% limit.
As results of various “midterm” elections in the Czech Republic (most notably the last few regional elections) show, these kind of midterm elections do indeed often produce rather bad results for the party in power. However, that explanation may only go so far. The ODS’ mauling (and that of the government in general, with 6.6% it is not like TOP09 did too great either) is not only midterm protest voting, it is also discontent with the austerity policies, the bad economic conditions in the country and the stench of corruption which permeates both the ODS and the ČSSD.
The ODS did top the poll in one region, Plzeň, but Nečas cannot even take solace in that result. In that region, the ODS list was headed by Jiří Pospíšil, a young former justice minister who was fired by Nečas in June 2012. Officially, he was removed from cabinet for opposing the austerity measures. In reality, Pospíšil’s attempts to fight corruption effectively likely rattled a few feathers.
The government is currently facing a backbench rebellion over its new tax plan which would increase the sales tax by 1% and raise taxes on high earners. With an uncertain parliamentary majority, some right-wing backbenchers are threatening to bring down the government on this matter of confidence as soon as next week (October 23). They would need three-fifths of the lower house to force snap elections, which the ČSSD are calling for. The election results will boost the standing of the rebels and put even more pressure on Nečas. The rebels had already received a major boost when President Václav Klaus criticized the tax pan.
The ODS would likely lose badly if a general election were held, but not as badly as in these elections. Turnout was very low in these elections, especially on the right. In a general election, turnout would be above 60% and the centre-right coalition would perform slightly better, but would still enter as the heavy underdog against the ČSSD (and no, being an underdog isn’t necessarily something to be happy about).
The ČSSD emerged as the largest party in these elections, but the party’s results are rather disastrous, especially after the landslide victory it had won in the last regional elections in 2008. Corruption scandals have significantly weakened the party’s standing in public opinion. The ČSSD still topped the poll in nine of the 13 regions, and the senate elections will likely allow them to expand their large (but fairly useless) majority in the upper house.
This means that, on the left and overall, the main winner of these elections are the Communists (KSČM). The KSČM is a controversial party in Czech politics, because it is one of the few (the only?) unreformed communist parties in eastern Europe to still enjoy significant popular support, mostly from a core of devoted activists and voters who turned out heavily in these regional elections. The KSČM has been shunned by the other parties, with the ČSSD expressly refusing to collaborate with them at the national level. This has meant that the KSČM has remained in opposition, vitam aeternam, being able to freely oppose any policies without being held responsible itself.
Much has been made of the KSČM’s result this year, and it is true that it did impressively well. However, it isn’t the party’s first spectacular result in midterm elections of this type. It has never won over 18% of the vote in general elections, but in the 2000 regional elections it won 21.2% and in the 2004 European elections it won 20.3%. The 2000 regionals were held two years after the 1998 elections, in which the ODS agreed to support a ČSSD minority cabinet in exchange for a portion of power. This agreement is remembered as the moment when the two major parties began “cooperating in unfair practices” (cite). In 2004, the ČSSD government was extremely unpopular. The KSČM’s successes in 2000, 2004 and again this year are not emblematic of a revolutionary fervour or a fundamental shift to the far-left, but rather the result of the KSČM raking up protest votes, dissatisfied at the economic situation, rampant corruption in both major parties and the rather thin policy differences between the ODS and ČSSD. With the economic crisis and major discontent at the traditional order of things (politically, but also economically), the KSČM’s vague message of egalitarianism and more jobs struck a chord with many voters.
The Communists have topped the poll in two regions, Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem – both in northern Bohemia, an industrial and mining heartland which has been the KSČM’s main stronghold in the past. Some have expressed satisfaction at the prospect of the KSČM governing two regions, it will give them a chance to prove themselves and will force them to take up actual responsibilities.
The KSČM’s success has had its influence on the ČSSD, whose leader Bohuslav Sobotka has publicly said that he would be open to a ČSSD minority government backed by the KSČM. This is a major change in policy for the ČSSD at the national level. In the past, the virulently anti-communist ČSSD has been hostile to any national government even backed by the Communists (although there has been cooperation at a regional level).
The KDU-ČSL, a right-wing christian democratic party which was thrown out of the lower house in the 2010 elections, did surprisingly well. In coalition with local independents and other assorted local parties, the party did quite well, especially in its Moravian heartlands. It was likely an attractive option for right-wing voters. The party’s success could allow it to return to
As is the case with Czech regional and local elections, in some regions local and regional parties performed well – though in some cases even better than usual. In Liberec region, the Mayors for Liberec Region (SLK – it seems vaguely right of centre and sometimes allied with TOP09), topped the poll with 22% and 13 seats. In that same region, another local party – allied with the Greens it seems – “Change for Liberec” – won 16.9% and 10 seats. In Ústí nad Labem (North Bohemia), the vaguely regionalist Severočeši.cz (NorthBohemians.cz) – a party with two senators from 2010 – won 12% and 9 seats. Local parties also won seats in South Bohemia, Karlovy Vary (in this case, two local parties won seats) and in Hradec-Králové.
The second round of the senate elections will probably confirm the first round. These elections will have a major impact on the embattled Czech government, which could collapse as early as next week if the backbench ODS rebels are successful. Even if Nečas seeks to downplay these results as the product of cyclical midterm disappointment with incumbents, these elections will have severely weakened him and his government. A snap election is not yet a certainty, even if the cabinet collapses, as it requires a three-fifths majority in the lower house to call a snap election. However, the results of this election will increase the pressure on Nečas, run up the internal tension in the ODS and might lead the ODS’ partners to reconsider their participation- for example, TOP09′s leader Karel Schwarzenberg has said that the government’s economic measures should be reevaluated as to mitigate their social impact. All these factors mean that the government will probably not survive until 2014, and that an early election will come sooner than later. In these elections, the ODS risks a debacle, but the ČSSD is only in a marginally better position overall.
Updated October 27: In the second round of senatorial elections on October 19 and 20, the ČSSD increased its absolute majority in the Senate. With 48 seats, it now holds nearly three-fifths of the seats on its own. The ODS lost ten seats, leaving it with only 15 seats in the upper house. The two-round system once again worked against the KSČM, despite qualifying for runoffs in 12 constituencies, they won (rather, held) only a single seat (constituency 5 - Chomutov).
The most important result in these elections was probably turnout – or the lack thereof. Only 18.6% of voters turned up to the polls in the 27 constituencies up for grabs, down massively from 34.9% in the first round. Turnout was down across the board.