Monthly Archives: February 2011

Election Preview: Ireland 2011

Election Day: follow the Irish election results on twitter now!

Ireland votes in an historic election, perhaps the most historic election in Ireland since 1932, on Friday February 25. Earth-shattering changes to Ireland’s remarkably stable party system could come out of it, even though it is far too early to tell whether this will be a turning point realignment election or only an historic but merely deviating election. Unsurprisingly, this election is being fought largely around economic matters. Anybody knows that Ireland has been one of the worst victims of the economic crisis, having suffered a huge housing bubble burst which led to Ireland becoming virtually bankrupt. As a result, it was bailed out late last year by the IMF and EU at the cost of heavy austerity policies. Those who wish for this election to mark a major change in economic policy, however, will probably be disappointed.

How it works

The lower house of Irish parliament, the Dáil Éireann, has 166 seats elected by single-transferable vote in 43 multi-member constituencies. Ireland is pretty much the textbook example of STV in the world, and it has used that system since 1921. I’ll save you the details of STV, readily available online if need be.

The STV system makes for Ireland’s high number of independents, localist politics and family dynasties. Especially in rural Ireland, local constituency issues are major voting determinants and rural voters are traditionally conservative, in the Irish case this means they’re pro-incumbent and they’ll heavily back the two dominant parties. Family names are also very important in Ireland, meaning that politics has a lot of family dynasties.

A Very Brief Political History

Ireland’s party system has been remarkably stable and is also somewhat odd for Europe. Irish politics has been dominated since the end of the Civil War by two parties which took their current names in 1926 and 1937 respectively. On one hand, the long-time hegemonic Fianna Fáil (FF, Soldiers of Destiny) and Fine Gael (FG, Family of the Irish) on the other. Both, however, do not conform the left-right divide present in almost all European countries in that both parties are big tent parties which are broadly centrist, with one more right-wing than the other. Both FF and FG can be described as patronage machines with no ideologies, though that view is slightly pessimistic. The roots of FF and FG, and by consequence the roots of modern Irish politics, lay in the Irish Civil War fought between 1922 and 1923.

Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. Politics were dominated until 1918 by the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) whose raison-d’etre was home rule for Ireland, which then also included the Protestant counties of Ulster. The home rule bill for 26 of the 33 counties was passed in 1914 but application delayed until the end of the First World War. The exclusion of the six counties of Ulster was to be a major spur to the rise of Sinn Féin (SF), a radical party which demanded the independence of a united Irish Republic. The violent repression by London of the 1916 Easter Rising also played a major role in boosting SF’s standing in Ireland. By the time of the 1918 election in Ireland, SF, led by Éamon de Valera, won 73 of Ireland’s 105 seat in Westminster, while the IPP was reduced to a mere 6 in Ireland (22 Unionists were elected, largely in Ulster).

Following the conclusion of the Irish War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December 1921. An Irish Free State, a self-governing dominion of the Empire similar to Canada would be formed but Northern Ireland could and did ‘opt-out’ from the Free State. The treaty split SF into two wings, one pro-treaty led by Michael Collins and another anti-treaty led by de Valera. This led to a Civil War which was won by the pro-treaty wing which later became the Cumann na nGaedheal, or Society of the Gaels. de Valera’s anti-treaty wing of SF adopted an abstentionist policy by the election of the 4th Dáil Éireann in 1923 at which time Cumann na nGaedheal’s W.T. Cosgrave became President of the Executive Council, a position he held for ten years.

Cumann na nGaedheal, the predecessor of the modern Fine Gael, was a broadly centre-right moderate party which accepted the Free State and partition and supported free trade. Cosgrave’s government, in power until 1932, established a peaceful democratic state, restored rule of law and ensured the political stability of Ireland.

Meanwhile, the (anti-treaty) SF, which refused to take their seats in the Dáil, split. Éamon de Valera saw more advantages in making his peace with the Free State and republicanize it from inside rather than continuing with the SF abstentionist policy. When a motion by de Valera to end the policy of abstention failed at SF’s 1926 Ard Fheis, he split from SF to create Fianna Fáil.

The parties in 1932 had clear ideological differences. FF represented a republican, nationalist, protectionist and populist ideology which supported social measures and self-sufficiency, while the Cumann na nGaedheal represented a conservative, free-trade and middle-class trend which played the ‘red card’ on FF. FF won the 1932 election, and after a peaceful transition of power, Éamon de Valera, the former enemy of the Free State, became its leader.

de Valera led a nationalist policy in his first years in office, including a trade war with England which resulted in British sanctions on Ireland’s agricultural produce. The dispute was resolved in 1938 with the signature of an Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement. Most notably, de Valera drafted a new constitution for Ireland in 1937 which replaced the Governor-General with a President, recognized the special status of the Catholic Church (the Vatican approved the constitution’s draft before the government even submitted it to a referendum) and the recognition of Irish as the national language and first official language. The 1937 Constitution’s emphasis on the use of Irish led to the modern use of terms like Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Tánaiste (a deputy PM), the Seanad (Senate) or the Dáil (lower house, its members being TDs). Ireland became a de-facto republic in 1937, but only officially became a republic in 1949. Ireland was neutral during World War II, though there remains controversy about de Valera’s appreciation of Hitler.

Cumann na nGaedheal fell into disrepair following its 1932 defeat and merged with the small agrarian National Centre Party form Fine Gael in 1933 after a brief flirtation with fascism. FG did poorly in the 1948 election, winning 20% of the vote against FF’s 42%, but FF lost 8 seats and allowed for the formation of an unlikely coalition including FG, Labour, the agrarian Clann na Talmhan, the anti-communist National Labour and finally Seán MacBride’s Clann na Poblachta. Seán MacBride, a former IRA chief of staff, had founded the Clann na Poblachta in 1946 and it quickly drew support from left-wing, radical nationalists (who felt FF had betrayed republicans by executing IRA members) and other unhappy voters. It did remarkably poorly in the 1948 snap election, called by de Valera to halt Clann na Poblachta’s rising success. FG’s John Costello, acceptable to the Clann na Poblachta, became Taoiseach.

The Costello coalition was generally successful, but was severely hurt by the flop of the Health Minister’s Mother and Child Scheme which introduced free maternity care and free healthcare for all children. Opposed by the Church, the health minister was subsequently abandoned by his colleagues. de Valera returned to power in 1951. The new FF government was forced to implement deflationary austerity measures to deal with a poor economy, which led to FF’s defeat in 1954 and a second Costello coalition with Labour and the Clann na Talmhan. The second Costello government, unable to deal with the economic crisis, has been deemed one of Ireland’s worst governments. FF, embracing free trade, returned to power with an absolute majority in 1957.

de Valera was elected President in 1959 and replaced by Seán Lemass. Lemass, who had served as de Valera’s Tánaiste played a major role in FF’s conversion to free trade and to the subsequent economic growth in Ireland as a result of the government’s new free trade-oriented policies which included tax grants and concessions for foreign firms setting up in Ireland. Though Ireland and FF remained socially conservative, Lemass’ government did liberalize society through the creation of RTÉ television and educational reforms. Lemass retired in 1966 and was succeeded by the finance minister, Jack Lynch. An easy-going and popular man, as well as the representative of a new wave of younger FF politicians who weren’t connected to the Civil War; Lynch won a new majority for FF in 1969.

Lynch lost power to a National Coalition of FG and Labour in 1973 led by Liam Cosgrave. A poor economy following the oil crash and republican anger at Cosgrave’s hard-line policy towards the IRA in Northern Ireland led to a surprisingly massive defeat by FF in 1977, where Lynch won the party’s best result with 50.6% of the vote and 84 seats. Lynch’s government became unpopular two years into its term, the results of the 1979 oil crisis. He resigned and was replaced by Charles Haughey, formerly disgraced in the Arms Crisis, who went on to become one of Ireland’s most controversial Taoiseach. Haughey initially seemed to be favouring some austerity measures, but in reality implemented high spending measures which led to the deficit ballooning out of control.

In the 1981 election, Haughey led a populist campaign supporting continued spending while FG had an attractive tax-cutting policy which gained it 22 seats for a total of 65 against FF’s 75. FF also suffered from the competition from abstentionist Anti H-Block candidates who took votes from FF. A FG-Labour coalition led by Garret FitzGerald took office and implemented severe austerity measures, but the government fell in January 1982 leading to a snap election. Haughey, despite internal divisions in FF which lasted until 1983, was able to form a government with external support. Haughey continued his economic mismanagement and runaway spending, which led to a leadership challenge to Haughey in October which he easily survived but his government later fell when FF was apparently going to implement massive cuts. A left-wing independent and the 3 Workers’ Party TDs withdrew support and led to a snap election in November 1982. FG came within five seats of FF (70 to 75) and formed government with Labour, with FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

FitzGerald liberalized society, moving Ireland to the left although it remained a largely conservative country. In Northern Ireland, he negotiated the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. But domestically, the government was unable to control the spiraling deficit and bad economic situation. FG did support public spending cuts, but Labour rejected any spending cuts. Although the government held together, its inability to control finances led to an outflow of right-wing support towards the new Progressive Democrats (PDs), a liberal party both on economic and social issues.

Haughey returned to power in 1987, with the PDs taking 12% of the vote and 14 seats, becoming the third largest party. Broadly supported by both FG and the PDs, Haughey this time implemented budget cuts, tax reform and other similar measures. Haughey called a snap election in 1987, hoping to get a majority, but instead FF lost four seats. After 27 days, Haughey finally managed to form a government with the PDs, and in doing so angered much of FF by abandoning FF’s sacred opposition to coalitions.

Haughey’s term didn’t go to well. FF suffered a major defeat in 1990, when its presidential candidate, Tánaiste Brian Lenihan Sr. was defeated in the presidential election by Labour’s Mary Robinson. Opposition within the party to Haughey strengthened and a string of corruption scandals emerged, notably the reemergence of the 80s phone tapping scandal which Haughey had authorized.

The 1992 election was FF’s lowest point, with 39% and 68 seats. FG also did poorly, while Labour won an historic 19.5%. A FF-Labour coalition around FF’s Albert Reynolds was formed. Reynold’s greatest legacy was his ability to de-escalate the conflict in Northern Ireland with the IRA announcing a cease-fire in 1994. However, Labour and FF split over a High Court nomination, leading Labour to leave the coalition. No election was held, instead a ‘Rainbow Coalition’ was formed by FG, Labour and the smaller Democratic Left. FG’s John Bruton became Taoiseach. Bruton was generally successful, except perhaps in Northern Ireland where the IRA broke its cease-fire in 1996. He liberalized divorce law and saw the beginning of the Celtic tiger economic miracle. However, perhaps because of Northern Ireland, FG narrowly lost power to Bertie Ahern’s FF in 1997. Though FG gained seats, Labour suffered badly. FF formed a coalition with the PDs.

Bertie Ahern, the teflon Taoiseach, had the ability to remain unmarred by the plethora of corruption cases. Perhaps the booming economy of the Celtic tiger (till 2008) helped, as did the 1998 Belfast Agreement. In 2002, FF was reelected while FG suffered a catastrophic meltdown, being reduced to just 31 seats. Labour did poorly, but the PDs, Greens and SF all did well. Despite a shaky second term which was marked by bad local results for FF in 2004, Ahern won a third term in office in 2007. It lost only 4 seats, for a total of 77. While FG bounced back 20 seats to get 51, Labour didn’t move. The PDs collapsed from 8 to 2 seats, with its leader losing its seat, leading to the party’s dissolution later. While the PD’s Mary Harney remained in cabinet, the government was expanded to the Green Party and supported by some independents. Ahern, faced with corruption and the beginnings of the meltdown, stepped down in 2008 in favour of Tánaiste Brian Cowen.

The Celtic tiger boom coincided with a property boom, helped by lax planning laws which allowed buildings to spring up practically everywhere and selling it at overpriced rates. Supply for property vastly surpassed demand for property, and led to the meltdown. Properties being backed by banks, Cowen was forced to guarantee the bank’s assets with public money. This, of course, led to a massive deficit where Ireland was on the verge of bankruptcy when the IMF and EU bailed it out late last year.

The Parties and the Campaigns

As explained above, both FF and FG are not parties with profound ideological roots. They’re largely similar, and they come close to representing nothing more than two broadly centrist outfits whose only use is patronage.

Fianna Fáil is traditionally more leftist and more republican/nationalist, but that’s hard to tell from its recent policies. FF is also socially conservative. Perhaps one of the reasons why Cowen and FF were so destroyed by the crisis, unlike any other governing party, is that their acceptance of IMF-EU bailout went against the party’s long-standing republican and nationalist rhetoric which at times included a dose of Euroscepticism. FF’s base is largely made up of certain working-class voters and small farmers (most of which are traditionally in western Ireland). It notably has a strong support base with the agricultural lobby groups.

FF has been in power, as we’ve seen above, for 61 of the last 79 years and most recently since 1997. That makes it the second most successful party in the democratic world after the Swedish Social Democrats. It has topped the poll in every election since 1932 and its worst result since then was a still relatively healthy 39% in 1992. A party with such a hold on power means that it is more than a bit corrupt, and perhaps one of the reasons for its success is its ability to control the sources of patronage for so long.

Questions over Cowen’s leadership arose in September 2010 after he showed up drunk to a radio interview. He survived a confidence ballot on January 16, 2011 but four days later he announced that he was stepping down as leader of Fianna Fáil but not as Taoiseach. Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, Cowen’s longtime rival, easily won a leadership contest and became leader on January 26. Martin is a capable communicator, and has managed to get strong leadership ratings. However, while he might boost FF a bit, the party has become too toxic for even he to lead it to victory.

Fine Gael is traditionally the more right-wing, liberal and less nationalist of the two. Yet, despite its right-wing reputation, it has always governed in coalition with Labour meaning that it has rarely implemented truly right-wing economic policies. FG’s close alliance with Labour is explained by its thirst for power, and given FF’s hegemony since 1932 a coalition with the third party is the only way of getting power and access to patronage. FG’s traditional base is with large farmers (in eastern Ireland) and with the urban middle-classes, where it has suffered competition from the PDs, Green and Labour.

FG’s current leader, Enda Kenny, is, to put it frankly, economically inept and a poor leader. Kenny survived a leadership challenge in 2010, a year which went particularly badly for it given that it was unable to capitalize, as the main opposition, on FF’s unpopularity. Nowadays, however, with FG mounting a tough anti-deficit campaign, Kenny has managed to make people forget that he’s probably as incompetent as Cowen and has come to embody financial stability. It has had a very good campaign.

FF and FG’s dominance has been helped by their implantation as the dominant political forces in Ireland right after the Civil War, which cast a long shadow over Irish politics. Furthermore, in rural areas, family ties and history play important roles in determining party affiliation, plus the electoral system means that politics are very local and the rural areas are pro-incumbent, making it hard for FF/FG to lose their bases there. In rural areas, voters vote heavily on local issues and as such it is hard to define any one county as a longtime FF or FG stronghold given that one party’s stronghold in 2007 might have been one of its weakest zones in the 80s. Urban areas, notably Dublin, while still voting FF/FG, also provide a base for Labour, the Greens, SF and smaller parties.

Labour has been a perennial third (or worse) party and has never won over 20% of the vote. Its weakness in Ireland is due both the aforementioned long shadow of the Civil War, FF’s populist left-wing rhetoric in its early days and also the weak implantation of industry and a urban working-class outside Dublin in Ireland. For a long time, Labour was strong with rural labourers, but its main modern base remain Dublin.

Labour’s Eamon Gilmore rode high in 2010, even surpassing all other parties in some polls until not very long ago. But the campaign has been pretty bad, and its economic policy has been under attack by both left and right. In addition, perhaps voters have shied away with electing a party which has little executive experience. Yet, anything short of an historic success (beating 1992’s 19%) would be a defeat for Labour.

Sinn Féin dropped its abstentionist policy towards the Dáil in 1986 and has stood in elections since 1987. It won one seat in 1997, 5 in 2002 and 4 in 2007. Traditionally, its Irish base has been limited to Republican areas bordering Northern Ireland and some working-class areas of Dublin. The party in Ireland received a major boost when Gerry Adams, its traditional leader and until then MP for West Belfast, decided to move his political career south, probably to leave Belfast open to Michael McGuinness. SF originally experienced a boom, out-polling FF for third place (prior to Martin taking over). Pearse Doherty easily won a seat from FF in a by-election in Donegal SW in November 2010. The party opposed the bailout and wants to default on at least some of the deficit. But the party’s economic policy has been heavily criticized and Adams himself was shown to be particularly weak on economic issues. It remains to be seen if it can perform as well as it polls, or if 2011 will be another disappointment like 2007.

The Greens won nearly 5% and 6 seats in 2007, but being in government until very recently with FF has killed them both because the government is as popular as the plague and because they were particularly incompetent in government. They’ll need to fight to retain all of their seats, and it certainly is foreseeable that they’ll lose all of them.

A bunch of small far-left groups, notably Joe Higgins’ Socialists, formed the United Left Alliance (ULA) to contest this election. Joe Higgins, who won a seat in the 2009 EU election in Dublin, is contesting his old seat, lost in 2007, in Dublin West. He’ll undoubtedly win, but it’s tough to tell if the ULA will manage more.


Here were the results of the 2007 election:

Fianna Fáil 41.56% (+0.1%) winning 77 seats (-4)
Fine Gael 27.32% (+4.8%) winning 51 seats (+20)
Labour 10.13% (-0.7%) winning 20 seats (±0)
Green Party 4.69% (+0.9%) winning 6 seats (±0)
Sinn Féin 6.94% (+0.4%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Progressive Democrats 2.73% (-1.3%) winning 2 seats (-6)
Socialist Party 0.64% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Independents 5.15% (-3.8%) winning 5 seats (-8)

In the 2009 European elections, FG won 29% against 24% for FF, while Labour won 14%, SF 11% and the Greens 1%.

Here are the current ranges for the parties in polls since February 20:

Fine Gael 37-40%
Labour 17-20%
Fianna Fáil 14-16%
Sinn Féin 10-12%
Greens 1-3%
Independents and others (incl. ULA) 14-19%

Seats are hard to estimate, but FG will likely fall short of a majority on these numbers. With Labour falling back, it is likely to not win more seats than FF. Labour has a very weak organization in a lot of rural areas, where it can hardly find itself good candidates and totally lacks a base. On the other hand, FF is still a party with a machine and isn’t (yet) a dead shell. However, in STV, FF could very well be toxic – it would get very few transfers. It faces wipeout in Dublin, and if transfers are awful FF could do extremely poorly. Sinn Féin will likely gain some seats, but given its tendency to overpoll, I’d be very reluctant to give them more than 8 or so.

Enda Kenny will more likely than not be the next Taoiseach, and he could do so with an overall majority of his own. That, of course, would be an even larger feat than just merely outpolling FF. Enda Kenny with a majority might not be a good news for the country’s finances, but it would be the best situation for Labour. It wouldn’t need to enter a government that will need to do some major slashing and cutting, and could establish itself as the main opposition party to FG and in doing so work to kill off FF. However, FG will probably fall short of a majority which means a coalition with Labour is most likely. While some of FG’s neoliberal minds such as Leo Varadkar might be highly critical of Labour, FG might itself like a coalition with Labour in that it would neutralize a source of potential, populist opposition to the tough economic policies which are inevitable. As for FF, the size of its defeat will determine where it goes. I’m always a bit wary of talk about earth-shattering political changes, so I’m not one to believe that FF will die after this election. After all, the PRI and LDP haven’t died after they lost the leverage of power, and FF will probably remain a strong political machine. In the case of a FG-Labour coalition, it would more likely than not be the main recipient of popular opposition to the government which will be inevitable once Kenny gets down to slashing and cutting. After all, no FG-led government has ever won reelection and I certainly have a hard time seeing how a government which will need to implement some very austere economic measures will be able to maintain high numbers. Questions of whether 2011 will be realigning or a mere deviation won’t be answered on Friday, and they probably won’t be answered in 2011.

A geographical history of George Wallace

George Wallace, who served seventeen years as Governor of Alabama, is known to the world for a variety of things but most notably as the icon of racist resistance to Civil Rights in the 1960s. However, popular views of Wallace are characterized by broad stereotypes and symbols which ignore many interesting aspects of his career and of Alabama politics in general. This post aims not to ‘revise’ popular judgement on Wallace, but rather to offer an analysis of his career and of Alabama state politics between the 50s and 80s through use of one of my favourite mediums, maps.

The map below shows the results of all Alabama elections, including (obviously) primaries in which Wallace (or his surrogate wife Lurleen) was involved in between 1958 and 1982. Results are obtained from, which despite being a headache to navigate offers an unexploited wealth of information about American politics. Its sections on Alabama are particularly top-notch.

Similar to all other Confederate states, Alabama was dominated by the Democratic Party between the end of Reconstruction in 1876 and, at the presidential level, 1964. At the state level, however, Democrats held the governor’s mansion between 1874 and 1987 and the state legislature only fell to the Republicans in 2010. Fairly obviously, the Democratic dominance of the state worked alongside disenfranchisement of blacks and poor whites through poll taxes, literacy tests and documents such as the 1901 Alabama Constitution. A copy of a voter registration form in Alabama is here, and a copy of a sample civic literacy test is here. Both are fascinating documents, and even those with good knowledge of American constitutional law and politics will find some parts of the literacy test hard. Section 182 of the Alabama Constitution, which has not been repealed, provides a good example of legal disenfranchisement of a whole slew of people, notably those who are “idiots” and those convicted of “crimes against nature” (homosexuality), “miscegenation” or “moral turpitude”.

However, unlike Mississippi and South Carolina during the era of the Solid South, Alabama was not entirely a one-party authoritarian state. Those who could vote could do so rather freely, which explains why Democrats never reached the peaks achieved by Democrats in Mississippi and South Carolina where the vote was rigged to result in elections giving over 95% to Democrats. Yet, turnout in Alabama was, like in the rest of the Solid South, ridiculously low.

Prior to the rise of George Wallace, the Alabama Democratic Party lacked a dominant faction or figure similar to Georgia’s Eugene Talmadge, Memphis’ E.H. Crump’s machine or Virginia’s Byrd Organization. There were even some remarkably progressive moderates within the party, most notably Big Jim Folsom, who served as governor between 1947 and 1951 and again between 1955 and 1959 (governors could not succeed themselves until 1968). Folsom, a populist who achieved some social measures, was also a moderate on the race issue, trying to build a coalition of blacks and poor whites to break the dominance of the Democratic Party’s elite leadership. He was also, however, very corrupt.

The 1958 Democratic primary included a whole barrage of candidates, the most notable of which were Attorney General John Patterson and Barbour County circuit judge George C. Wallace. Patterson was a hardcore segregationist and received the endorsement of the KKK. On the other hand, Wallace, who had been a rather liberal judge, ran as a racial moderate and even received the endorsement of the NAACP. Patterson received 31.8% in the first round and Wallace got 26.3%. The map reflects a very friends-and-neighbors type of primary, which is commonplace in a lot of primaries then and now. In the runoff, Patterson handily defeated the moderate Wallace with 55.7% against 44.3% for Wallace. Wallace’s strength was confined to his native southeastern Alabama, notably taking 91.5% in Barbour County.

A bitter ambitious Wallace commented that evening that he had been “outniggered” by John Patterson and vowed to never be “outniggered” again. Most former racists who seek forgiveness years later often claim that they were not racists by conviction, but rather race-baiters by necessity. Patterson, who is still alive and voted for Obama in 2008, commented that you had no chance at winning if you weren’t a race-baiter. Wallace realized that in 1958 and by the 1962 Democratic gubernatorial primary, he was the traditional radical segregationist candidate. Beyond the racial rhetoric, however, Wallace was more of a ‘populist’ than a ‘conservative’ or ‘reactionary’. As a state legislators, he had decried the “Big Mules” – bankers, railroad owners and cotton mill owners. As governor, he had a populist economic policy which included rural development and free textbooks for schoolchildren. When he ran for President, he campaigned as the Southern populist against the wealthy classes and supported a generous welfare state – for those who ‘deserved it’. Yet, economic populism never took the forefront in Wallace’s early campaigns. As he noted, white voters were ambivalent when he talked to them about roads and such stuff, but they “stomped the floor” when he talked about “the niggers”.

Wallace was opposed in 1962 by his former mentor, former Governor Jim Folsom, who was disappointed that Wallace had abandoned his moderate integrationist ideals. Folsom was one of the rare few Southern politicians who remained true to his beliefs, and who despite being a crook, merits some recognition as an early racial moderate. Folsom, although he was from Wallace’s region of southeastern Alabama, built up his electoral base in northern Alabama. Northern Alabama was outside King Cotton’s great empire in 1860, and as such has always had a smaller black population (which led to less racial tensions) and had, after the New Deal, a working-class tradition fueled by the load of TVA dams in the region around Huntsville. Northern Alabama was also slightly less Democratic than the Black Belt, because poorer white farmers and workers felt little attachment to the slave-owning plantocracy of the Black Belt. ‘Less Democratic’ means that Democrats won 65-75% instead of 75-95% of the vote, with the notable exception of Winston County, a hardcore Unionist enclave dating back to 1860 (as such, it was the Republican Party’s only base in the state until the growth of suburbia).

The other main candidate was Tuscaloosa attorney Ryan de Graffenried, who was also a racial moderate. Folsom’s chances were hurt both by the fact that his corruption hurt him with the middle-class voters and because he had already taken to the bottle by 1962 and appeared visibly drunk in a television appearance. Graffenried, strong in urban areas such as Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, beat out Folsom for second taking 25.2% against 25.05% for Folsom. Wallace took 32.49%. Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor, the man who later sent the dogs after black protesters in Birmingham, took 3.6% and ended up in fifth.

Wallace easily beat the moderate Graffenried in the runoff, taking 55.9% against 44.1% for Graffenried who carried Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and parts of Folsom’s primary base in northern Alabama. He also won heavily black Macon County with 60.3%, which means that blacks had gained the right to vote there prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Wallace, however, easily trounced him with over 70% of the vote in the rest of the Black Belt and southeastern Alabama. Wallace won the general election, and upon his inauguration in January 1963 pronounced the words for which he will stick to him: segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Deeply ambitious and with eyes on the Presidency, Wallace did not like term limits much when his term came to a close in 1966. He attempted to change the constitution, but when that failed, he got his wife Lurleen (who already had cancer) to run as his surrogate. Lurleen Wallace won the primary by the first round, taking 54% against 19.4% for Alabama’s liberal Attorney General Richmond Flowers. John Patterson won a pitiful 3.5% and Folsom won 2.7%. By 1966, blacks had started to be registered en masse following the VRA, and they largely voted for the liberal Flowers over the Wallaces. Wallace won with only 63.4% in the general election, with conservative Republican representative (elected in the 1964 Goldwater landslide of the South) James D. Martin winning 31%.

Lurleen Wallace died of cancer on July 5, 1968; while her husband was running for President for the American Independent Party. Discussion of Wallace’s presidential campaigns would require a whole new post, so this will focus only on the results of the 1968 election in Alabama. Needless to say, Alabama was Wallace’s best state with 65.9% of the vote against 18.7% for Humphrey and 14% for Nixon. Blacks had started to be registered by 1968, but they hadn’t started voting en masse. As such, Wallace won most of the Black Belt, albeit by narrow margins while Humphrey won only three heavily black counties such as Macon. Wallace had tremendous appeal throughout Alabama, even in the least Dixiecratic area of northern Alabama (he even won Unionist Winston County).

As much as Wallace had fought tooth-and-nail against desegregation in 1963, by 1968 he had slightly modified his rhetoric to fit the day. Instead of going with outright racism and direct abuse on African-Americans, he preferred to talk in terms of ‘states’ rights’, ‘law and order’ , ‘welfare cheats’ and an African-American ‘bloc vote’. As such, Wallace’s 1968 campaign was different from the one-issue ephemeral Dixiecrat campaigns such as Strom Thurmond’s 1948 campaign. He had a broader message, and appealed to a much wider electorate than the traditional racist Dixiecrats of the Deep South.

Lurleen’s Lieutenant Governor, Albert Brewer, succeeded her in office in 1968. Originally a Wallace conservative, Brewer completely overhauled his rhetoric and became a moderate, perhaps because that would be the only way for him to stay in power in his own right. To stay in power, Brewer was the first governor to directly appeal to black voters in an attempt to build himself a liberal coalition of blacks, working-class poor whites and urban intellectuals. Wallace, who lived for electoral campaigns, was eying a comeback in 1970 which would consolidate his local power ahead of another run for President in 1972, this time as a Democrat.

The 1970 primary was Wallace’s toughest and his local and national political career hinged on its outcome. Nixon, carefully calculating that a Wallace defeat would likely weaken Wallace’s chances in 1972, endorsed Brewer. Wallace retorted with one of Alabama’s nastiest campaigns, calling Brewer a sissy. Brewer made much of Wallace’s ambitions, notably by hammering that he’d be a “full-time governor”, while Wallace campaigned on more national issues such as busing. In the May 5 primary, Brewer edged out Wallace with 42% against 40.8%. Businessman Charles Woods took 14.7%, with arch-racist KKK leader Asa Carter taking 1.5% and Folsom taking 0.4%. Wallace lost the Black Belt and the urban centres of Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa while performing poorly in northern Alabama.

In the June 2 runoff, Wallace saved his political career, edging out Brewer with 51.56% against 48.44% for the sitting Governor. Brewer trounced him in the Black Belt, Birmingham and the Huntsville area, but Wallace prevailed almost everywhere else. Wallace won 74.5% of the vote in the general election, with his closest contender being black activist John Cashin of the pro-civil rights Alabama National Democratic Party. Cashin won four majority black counties.

An assassination attempt on May 15, 1972 left Wallace paralyzed and aborted his successful presidential campaign, but Wallace ran for reelection in 1974. It was his easiest primary ever, trouncing Gene McLain 64.8% to 30%. Folsom took 3%. McLain did well in the Black Belt but only won Macon County. Wallace served as governor until 1978, at which point the Democrats nominated former Republican Fob James, a conservative, who was not connected to any old faction and won the primaries. Fob James was a poor governor, though he returned to power in 1994, this time as a Republican.

By this time, Wallace had converted to George Wallace version 4.0. He had become a born-again Christian and apologized to the black community for his past wrongs. A shadow of his past self, Wallace sought a final term in 1982. He faced Lt. Governor George McMillan and Speaker Joe McCorquodale in the primary. Wallace dominated the first round, taking 42.5% against 29.6% for McMillan and 25.1% for McCorquodale. For the first time in his career, Wallace won a substantial amount of black votes, enough black votes to save him in the runoff. Wallace defeated McMillan 51.2% to 48.8%. Unlike Brewer in 1970, McMillan didn’t trounce Wallace in the Black Belt (though he probably narrowly won it). For the first time since 1966, the Republican candidate, Montgomery mayor Emory M. Folmar, was not a sacrificial lamb and stood a decent chance.  Wallace won 57.6% of the vote against 39.1% for Folmar. Folmar won the urban areas of Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville. However, Wallace won the Black Belt for the first time in the last election of his career.

George Wallace was perhaps not the arch-racist he was made out to be. Arguably, he was never a hardcore fanatic racist. Instead, he was an opportunistic race-baiter who used race to get elected, as Patterson admitted. When Wallace lost in 1958, perhaps running as his true populist self, he jumped on the race-baiting discriminatory rhetoric which Patterson had won on and went on to win on it in his own right in 1962. However, when the days of segregation were past, Wallace adapted his views. While he hadn’t done a full 180 by 1968 and 1970, he had moderated the race-baiting and turned it into a mix of traditional Dixie populism and right-wing law n’ order rhetoric. The question is whether Wallace and others’ opportunistic race-baiting is better or worse than the ideological fanatical racism.

His 1968 campaign for President laid the groundwork for the Southern Strategy which Nixon won on in 1972 and, arguably, previewed the gradual evolution of working-class white voters, dismayed by the violence of 1968 and the liberal society of the national Democrats, away from the New Deal Democrats towards the Republicans. This shift perhaps culminated in 2008, when Obama did almost historically poorly for a Democrat with certain old white working-class voters. In this, Wallace’s campaign was significant in that it previewed the future Republican rhetoric which has moved away from old ‘intellectual’ conservatism towards the ‘populist’ conservatism of people such as Sarah Palin. As such, maybe it isn’t shocking that George Wallace’s politically unfortunate son is a Tea Partier.

Hamburg (Germany) 2011

Hamburg held a snap election for its 121-seat Parliament, the Bürgerschaft on February 20. The last election had been held in 2008, and resulted in the first ever black-green (CDU-Green) coalition at the state level. Relations between the CDU and the Greens progressively worsened and got really sour following the retirement of popular CDU mayor Ole von Beust in favour of Christoph Ahlhaus. The CDU-Green coalition was finally dissolved in November 2010, making for snap elections this year.

The industrial northern German Hanseatic city-state of Hamburg is a traditional stronghold of the left-wing SPD, governing the city uninterrupted between 1957 and 2001. The SPD won over 50% six times since 1946, peaking at 59% in 1966. In 2001, the CDU’s Ole von Beust managed to form a coalition with a right-wing protest party, the PRO of former judge Roland Schill. Schill’s populist outfit managed 19% and 25 seats in 2001, but collapsed spectacularly to a mere 3.1% in 2004. His party, in the meantime, had split and Schill had been booted from the coalition in 2003 though not before insinuating von Beust was gay in a revenge press conference. Schill has since fled to South America. The CDU won an absolute majority alone in 2004, but lost it in 2008 leading to the black-green coalition. Obviously, Ahlhaus never enjoyed von Beust’s personal popularity and he has further been hurt by the relative unpopularity of Angela Merkel’s federal CDU-FDP coalition. The SPD was led by former labour minister Olaf Scholz.

Hamburg elected a new electoral system in 2009 which is slightly confusing. The city is divided into 17 constituencies electing between 3 and 5 state MPs for a total of 71 constituency MPs and 50 city-wide MPs. Voters have ten votes, five to split between candidates or lists at the constituency level and the five others to split between candidates or lists at the city level. For example, at the constituency level, voters may award all five of their votes to one candidate, or all five to the entire party list or he/she may split it between different candidates of different parties. On election day, all votes are accumulated and seats are split between parties winning over 5% of the vote. Priority is given to candidates elected in constituencies and other most-voted candidates.

SPD 48.32% (+14.2%) winning 62 seats (+17)
CDU 21.94% (-20.7%) winning 28 seats (-28)
GAL 11.18% (+1.6%) winning 14 seats (+2)
Linke 6.65% (±0.0%) winning 8 seats (nc)
FDP 6.41% (+1.8%) winning 9 seats (+9)
Pirates 2.09% (+1.9%)

Turnout was 57%.

The map is a boring one, the election results are not exciting but they’re quite phenomenal. The SPD has won an unambiguous victory, an outright majority and the best result since 1982. The party’s vote has increased by nearly 15% since the 2008 state elections and by nearly 20% since the 2009 federal elections. This comes at the expense of the CDU, which has won a pitifully low result of 21.9%, its worse showing ever. It lost votes to the SPD, obviously, but also bled a good number of votes to the FDP, which won a surprisingly good result, even entering Parliament, which is good considering the dire straits the FDP is in federally. The Greens have certainly been hurt by their participation in black-green, which means that the Greens will now shriek away from such combinations. Considering how well it is apparently doing federally, a mere improvement of 1.6% over an election which was pretty poor for them (2008) is bad, very bad in fact, for the Greens. They probably bled some votes to the Left, which further cemented its position in Hamburg. The Greens also lost votes to the Pirates, who did well, and the smaller joke party Die PARTEI (The Party). Die PARTEI notably supports rebuilding the Berlin Wall and war against Liechtenstein. Both did well in areas where Greens do well. The SPD easily topped the poll by over 10% in every constituency, with its strongest results in the centre of the city (around the industrial areas in the harbour) while doing poorer in the wealthier suburbs at the extremities of the city which traditionally vote for the right but obviously abandoned the CDU in droves. For example, the gentrified Docklands-like HafenCity in the core of the city saw the CDU vote collapse by 34% (from 62% to 28%) with the SPD improving by 24.3% and the FDP improving its 2008 result by 6%. Such seems to be a good example of where the CDU vote went. The SPD’s top candidate and mayor-elect Olaf Scholz is a Schröderite on the party’s right, which might have helped the SPD considerably in picking up centrist swing voters.

The next elections in Germany are in Saxony-Anhalt on March 20 but the real fun comes on March 27 in Baden-Württemberg, where the Greens hope to form the first ever green-red coalition in a stronghold of the right currently governed by a traditional black-yellow coalition.

Swiss Referendum 2011

Switzerland held one of its traditional referendums on Sunday, February 13. This time, Switzerland voted on a popular initiative which would basically ban the storage of military-grade weapons in private households. The ban was supported by the Socialists, the Greens, the PST (communists) and smaller Christian-left type parties. Radicals, Christian democrats and the nationalist SVP opposed it. Homicides resulting in death are pretty rare in Switzerland, and only 20% or so of them are done through use of a handgun.

Gun referendums in the world are pretty rare, and they’re always of some interest given that it’s a politically controversial subject matter in a lot of places. The last major one was a 2005 referendum in Brazil aiming to control firearms, which failed badly.

Turnout was 48.86%, which is pretty good for Switzerland.

No 56.26%
Yes 43.74%

The initiative was soundly rejected despite some polls showing that it had a decent chance of passing. The low homicide rate in Switzerland likely played a role, as did arguments by opponents that storing guns in private households was a deterrent to criminals.

The map is largely the traditional one, and reveals yet another urban-rural split and liberal-conservative division common to such wedge issues. Urban communities voted 48% in favour, while barely 32% of rural inhabitants voted in favour. The more socially liberal and ‘bobo’ type voters of urban French Switzerland voted in favour (56% yes), very heavily so in the case of Geneva. While French rural areas voted against (58% no), working-class areas of the Jura and Neuchâtel such as La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Delémont seemingly voted in favour (which doesn’t seem to be the case in German Switzerland). Opposition was strongest in the historical heart of Switzerland in the mountains of German Switzerland, a traditionally deeply conservative and very rural region. The very conservative and isolated mountainous half-canton of Appenzell-Inner Rhodes had the most opposed, with 72% voting against. Outside of Zurich, Luzern, Basel and Arlesheim no district of German (or Italian) Switzerland voted in favour.

Elections in two isolated places

Instead of covering the two recent votes of interest in the world in two separate posts, despite the fact that both these places have little in common besides being relatively isolated places few people know much about. These places are Baja California Sur in Mexico and Cape Verde.

Baja California Sur

As mentioned last week in a post on another Mexican state election in Guerrero, Baja California Sur held gubernatorial and local elections on February 6. These are the last ones before the exciting slew of state contests on July 3. Baja California Sur, which covers the southern end of the Baja California peninsula (and includes the touristy spot of Cabo San Lucas), is a sparsely populated, in fact the least populated, state in Mexico which is largely arid and desert. For some reason, the state has been a stronghold of the PRD for at least the last ten years or so, and has had a PRD governor since 1999. In contrast, Baja California (which covers the north of the peninsula) has been a PAN stronghold for ages, making the peninsula one of the few regions where the PRI is exceptionally weak.

Given that weakness, there was no incentive here for a PAN-PRD alliance of the like of the similar alliances cropping up in other states. The PRD candidate was Luis Armando Díaz, supported by the PT. The PRI-PVEM candidate was Ricardo Barroso Agramont. The PAN candidate was Marcos Alberto Covarrubias Villaseñor, a federal deputy for the PRD who left the PRD when he didn’t get their nomination. There was also a Convergencia and PANAL candidate.

Marcos Covarrubias Villaseñor (PAN-PRS) 40.35%
Ricardo Barroso Agramont (PRI-PVEM) 33.52%
Luis Armando Díaz (PRD-PT) 21.41%
Blanca Meza Torres (PANAL) 1.66%
Martín Inzunza Tamayo (Convergencia) 0.5%

This victory is not as much a victory for PAN as a personal victory for the “PAN candidate” who likely took a lot of votes away from the PRD, which finished third, but also from the PRI which had won 36.1% in 2005. The PRI’s result is perhaps the only one which can be interpreted from a partisan viewpoint without being too much off the mark, and from that standpoint the PRI result is certainly disappointing for them. The PRI’s great success in national polling for 2012 is hardly seen at the local level, last week in Guerrero and this week in Baja California Sur. This could mean that the PRI’s support even nationally is quite fickle.

In legislative elections, the PAN won 9 of the 16 direct seats with the PRI-PVEM taking 4 and the PRD 3. Seemingly, the remaining six PR list seats haven’t been distributed but all participating slates (which line up with the five participants of the gubernatorial contest) have passed the 2% threshold. In terms of share of the vote here, PAN has 31.87% against 28.24% for the PRI, 23.77% for the PRD, 9.1% for PANAL and 3.82% for Convergencia. The PAN’s success hasn’t been replicated in local elections, where it has only won one of the state’s five municipalities (Comondú) with PRD and PRI sharing the remaining four (PRI took the capital, La Paz).

Cape Verde

Legislative elections were held in the African island of Cape Verde on February 6, and come a few months out from a presidential election likely to be held this summer. Cape Verde is one of Africa’s democratic success stories, having had a slightly surreal peaceful transition of power from one party to another and more importantly from authoritarianism to democracy following free elections in 1991. Since then, governments have peacefully alternated in power and elections are free and also exceptionally close, with a 21-vote margin in the 2001 presidential election.

Two parties dominate the political life of this archipelago of dry and wind-swept islands off the coast of west Africa. The incumbent government is formed by the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), which is the post-1980 name of the PAIGC. The PAIGC, founded by Amilcar Cabral, was a Marxist party fighting for the independence of Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea and which got what it wanted in 1974 when Cape Verde and Guinea became a single independent entity. The Cape Verdean domination of the state didn’t please the mainland, which separated in 1980 but which surprisingly didn’t bother dropping the ‘and Cape Verde’ from the PAIGC’s name like the PAIGC did with the ‘Guinea’ part in Cape Verde. The PAIGC re-branded as PAICV ruled Cape Verde until 1991 as a one-party officially Marxist state. The Cape Verdean economy was (and is) pretty bad and the country, despite its communist rhetoric, was isolated and interestingly befriended apartheid South Africa as an unlikely ally. The PAICV was wiped out in free elections by the liberal Movement for Democracy (MPD) in 1991, but returned to power narrowly in 2001 (by 21 votes in the presidential contest) through former Prime Minister Pedro Pires (who was PM from 74 to 91) who was reelected with a narrow albeit slightly wider majority in 2006 over former MPD Prime Minister Carlos Veiga. Broadly speaking, the PAICV is a socialist party with an “African” orientation while the MPD is a more liberal party, supporting free trade and various other liberal measures. There is also a third party with legislative presence, the centre-right Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union (UCID) which remains weak.

PAICV 51% winning 37 seats (-4)
MPD 41.9% winning 33 seats (+4)
UCID 4.9% winning 2 seats (nc)

The MPD seems to do best in non-agricultural areas dependent on salt, while the PAICV does best in traditionally agricultural areas or in dense urban areas such as the capital, Praia. I don’t know how the electoral system works, but seemingly MPD has gained seats despite polling slightly less percentage wise than in 2006 (41.9% vs. 42.8%) with most lost votes going to the UCID who got 2.6% in 2006. There are also 6 diaspora seats, which split 3/3 between both main parties. Barely anyone voted for those seats, which means that Cape Verdeans abroad (of which there are a lot, especially in the US) either don’t vote or don’t have Cape Verdean nationality.

President Pedro Pires is not running again in the presidential election, instead incumbent Prime Minister José Maria Neves will be the PAICV’s candidate, once again facing Carlos Veiga. It’s hard to tell how these will go, but they’ll certainly be close given that the PAICV seems to do better in legislative elections than in presidential elections. Furthermore, party support has basically been the same since 2001 with the PAICV having a tad more support than the MPD but the country basically split down the middle 50/50 between both parties.

Guerrero (Mexico) 2011

A gubernatorial election was held in the Mexican state of Guerrero on January 30. The incumbent and term-limited Governor is Zeferino Torreblanca of the left-wing PRD, who ended decades of PRI rule with a victory in 2005.

Guerrero is one of Mexico’s poorest states, and has the highest Afro-Mexican population of the country in addition to a sizable indigenous minority. For western tourists, Guerrero includes the touristy spots of Acapulco (a resort on the Pacific) and Taxco (an old mining city). Traditionally a stronghold of the PRI, the PRD’s win in 2005 seems to have been followed by a strengthening of the PRD in the state, which now means that Guerrero can be counted as a PRD-leaning state. Guerrero has been the focal point of much drug cartel-related violence and killings, to which the state government’s response has been largely incompetent. The general failure of the outgoing PRD administration added on to the national swing in favour of the PRI gave the PRI hopes for a pickup in a state which it had held rather easily until 2005. The PRI candidate was former Acapulco mayor Manuel Añorve Baños, and was supported by the PVEM and PANAL. The PRD candidate was Senator Ángel Aguirre Rivero, an incumbent senator and former governor who was a PRI stalwart until he scrambled to join the PRD in 2010 when Añorve got the PRI’s nod. He was supported by the PRD’s traditional partners, the PT and Convergencia. The ruling centre-right PAN, traditionally very weak in the state, at first nominated a candidate who later backed out and in no uncertain terms endorsed the PRD candidate. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of Mexican politics since the PRI’s 2009 midterm win and the supposed inevitability of its victory in 2012 has been the rapprochement between the PAN and PRD. Although both parties are divided by ideology, they are united by the memories of a common struggle since 1988 against the formerly hegemonic PRI whose 2000 defeat to the PAN ended seventy years of quasi-single party rule by the opportunistic and ideologically heterogeneous PRI. Faced with a PRI machine which has everything going for it, the PAN and PRD see their alliance as the only way to prevent a PRI win in 2012. In Guerrero, it seems to have dashed PRI hopes:

Ángel Aguirre (PRD-PT-Convergencia[-PAN]) 55.92%
Manuel Añorve (PRI-PVEM-PANAL) 42.74%
Marcos Efrén Parra (PAN, dropped out) 1.34%

Obviously, one will ask how the PRD and PAN could get along considering the response by the PRD’s 2006 candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), to his narrow defeat. For reminders, he refused to accept the legitimacy of the results and formed a shadow government which to this days refuses to accept the legitimacy of President Felipe Calderón. The answer is an internal fight since 2008 or so within the PRD, which resulted in AMLO’s internal rival, Jesús ‘Chucho’ Ortega, winning the party’s presidency. Chucho, who barely conceals his contempt for AMLO, favours an alliance with the PAN and the PRD and this anti-AMLO faction is pushing the candidacy of Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard for the 2012 election. It remains to be seen if the Christian democratic PAN, which lacks a clear frontrunner, will come around to supporting a PRD candidate who got headlines for legalizing gay marriage in Mexico City. Supported by the PRD’s sidekicks, PT and Convergencia, it is noteworthy that AMLO may still run even against Ebrard, who despite not being enrolled in Chucho’s faction, has recently moved away from AMLO.

Baja California Sur, a PRD stronghold governed by the party since 1999, goes to the polls on February 6. There, the PAN candidate (a former PRD member) has a significant lead over the PRD. In a state where the PRI is not a threat, there is thus incentive for a PAN-PRD alliance. However, the 2011 electoral season will heat up only July 3 when the states of Coahuila, Nayarit and most importantly México will elect governors. The PRI is on the defensive in all three states, and crucially the outgoing governor of México, Enrique Peña Nieto, is the frontrunner for the 2012 presidential election despite a general lack of talent or charisma. Coahuila and Nayarit seem safe enough for the PRI, but if the PRI were to lose México it would seriously hurt Peña Nieto’s ambitions for 2012. Yet, a PAN-PRD alliance in México seems unlikely, given that the PRD could very well nominate Alejandro Encinas, a former mayor of Mexico City and close ally of AMLO (and thus an opponent of an alliance with the PAN). Yet, the PRD leadership and Ebrard (as well as the PAN) still favour an alliance with the PAN which could still win the day, though at the cost of Encinas bolting from the PRD and running as a left-wing with the PT’s support, and possibly that of Convergencia. The PAN-PRD definitely want to recreate their 2010 alliances which cost the PRI the governorships of its longtime strongholds of Puebla, Oaxaca and Sinaloa.