Multiparty Presidentialism

No, presidentialism does not lock us into two parties.

Speaking of the ways in which electoral systems might affect the behavior of office-seekers, including candidates and political parties, my mind turns to the fact that Colombia is in a presidential election year.

Below is the recently released ballot for the first round of elections to be held on May 29th:

2022 tarjeta-presidencia Colombia primera vuelta

It is worth noting that Colombia elects its president by requiring a slate to win an absolute majority (50% plus 1) of the vote, meaning that if no slate wins that many votes, a run-off between the top two slates will take place roughly a month later.

Presidential candidates are selected via a combination of methods. Some parties use internal mechanisms (ranging form party elite selection to conventions) while others use a form of primary.

Those parties that use primaries hold a single national election and the winner of that contest is nominated. There has been an increased use of party coalitions using the primary (or, the “open consultation” as it is called in Colombia) to determine which party in the coalition will be able to head the ticket.

So, for example, the Pacto Historico, headed by Gustavo Petro, considered to be the frontrunner for the presidency (and possibly the first leftist president of Colombia), chose their nominee via a consulta wherein candidates from five parties who are part of the coalition competed. Petro won 80.51% of the vote and eventually asked the second-place winner to serve as his running mate.

What we see here is the ability of smaller parties to form and compete, and to then also make alliances with other parties in an attempt to build majority support.

I bring this up if anything to illustrate that it is not the fact that we have a presidential system that leads to two-party competition. Indeed, most places with presidential elections have more than two viable choices on the ballot.

I would note, too, that the process to nominate the candidates and finalize the ballot took place in March for a first-round election that will take place roughly two months later. This is to be contrasted with the US process that takes, formally, almost a year, and really starts almost a year (or more) prior to that.

Side note: it is always fun to see the photos. I wonder what Rodolfo Hernández is pointing at? It’s a shame he can’t even get his running mate to look. Plus, you have to love Francia Márquez Mina’s (Petro’s running mate) pose–there is a definite “don’t mess with me” vibe going on there. It is also a reminder of how boring US ballots are.

FILED UNDER: Colombia, Comparative Democracies, Democracy, Electoral Systems, Latin America, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Steven, I don’t think you ever responded to a question I’ve asked a few times before: What is the evidence that governmental systems formed with more parties achieve better results?

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  2. just nutha says:

    @MarkedMan: Better by what measure? Government is still only as “good” as the leaders. Hopefully the leaders reflect the values of the society, but even that is not guaranteed.

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  3. DK says:

    @MarkedMan: Like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

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  4. @MarkedMan: Depending on the answer you are looking for, it is a pretty massive answer.

    In the simplest of terms, it strikes me as axiomatic that if a governing system does a Bette job of reflecting society’s factions and preferences that is preferable to one that does a poor job of reflecting those preferences.

    This seems especially salient in the US case, where not only do we have limited choices, the minority has more power than the majority.

    Another simplistic question is: what would you rather have, two choices of ice cream flavors, or five choices?

    Maybe a place to point you is chapter 10 of A Different Democracy wherein there is table after table of empirical policy outcomes, where the US ranks poorly relative to the other democracies in the study. That does not prove that more parties is better, per se, but that the policymaking systems in most other countries are more efficacious (and most of those democracies have more parties).

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    it strikes me as axiomatic that if a governing system does a Bette job of reflecting society’s factions and preferences that is preferable to one that does a poor job of reflecting those preferences.

    That’s what I get caught on whenever this topic comes up. I don’t see it as axiomatic, instead I see it as begging the question. The question of effective governance is about quality of legislation and quality of execution. It does not seem obvious to me that having a bunch of narrow interest factions coming into and out of power to varying degrees will automatically result in better governance than having two parties that need to represent broad coalitions but can emphasize different areas.

    I suspect that when you think of multi-party governance you envisage Sweden and The Netherlands and I envisage 1970’s Italy and Israel. But given the disparity in quality of governance between multiparty systems I feel confident in saying that simply switching to multiparty-friendly structures will not automatically bring about better governance.

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  6. @MarkedMan:

    The question of effective governance is about quality of legislation

    If a system is devised in a way that the politicians have clear connections to constituencies, and their jobs depend on producing outcomes, you get a highly probability of quality legislation. There is not a very good feedback loop in this regard in our system.

    I suspect that when you think of multi-party governance you envisage Sweden and The Netherlands and I envisage 1970’s Italy and Israel

    I am not thinking of a specific case. I am thinking of a panoply of cases. Again, c10 is a place to start, not that it makes the case in exactly the way you are asking.

    More parties is not a panacea, but a more representative electoral system (and governing apparatus) will get more of what you are asking for than what what we currently have.

    As such,

    I feel confident in saying that simply switching to multiparty-friendly structures will not automatically bring about better governan

    Well, indeed.

    But, the thing is, you don’t just switch to a multiparty system. I think this is the part you are missing–it is the broader mechanisms that foster multipartism that help bring about (but not guarantee) improved governance.

    I am not simply saying “more parties good.”

    In the OP, for example, I infer that different nomination processes and a different way of electing the president could lead to an improved connection between citizens and electoral outcomes, with part of that manifesting as more parties.

    How can it be better for all of the US political spectrum to be reduced to two choices?

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  7. Kathy says:

    There are many factors involved in the quality, or lack thereof, of governance. The number of parties is just one.

    Mexico allocates seats in the Chamber of Deputies (equivalent to the US House of Representatives) in a mixed system. Some are first past the post district elections, which can be won with a plurality of the vote. The rest are awarded to the parties based on their percentage of the national vote in a given election, be it a presidential or midterm one.

    This allows for the existence of many parties, as well as coalitions of parties. But there are a plethora of other differences, from plurality wins in all elections to different constitutions, to different means for amending the constitution, etc. etc.

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  8. Lounsbury says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    How can it be better for all of the US political spectrum to be reduced to two choices?

    How, well, while I would not per se hold the position, it may be better if the alternative to two party dominance ends up in real terms being instable political party fragmentation à l ‘Italie as evoked, particularly (to think in USA terms) also if it leads to sub-national fragmentation by regions.

    Not to defend the USA set-up as is (nor to have a strong opinion really), but @MarkedMan: rather has a point, as you do indeed rather appear to assume the conclusion.

    (for myself I am reflecting on the utter cock-up of the current situation in Tunisia, but is it system that produced failure or more than that. Regardless, buggered our RE financing).

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  9. @Lounsbury:

    as you do indeed rather appear to assume the conclusion.

    Less “assume the conclusion” as base it on a lifetime of study.

    My view, based on years of studying comparative democracy, is that we would be better off with conditions that would allow for more parties. I constantly try to explain why (and, of course, this post, which was just an example, isn’t going to fully answer the question).

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If a system is devised in a way that the politicians have clear connections to constituencies, and their jobs depend on producing outcomes, you get a highly probability of quality legislation.

    But what about Israel? The fanatic minority single issue parties have pushed the country to insanity. In ten years they will be 1980’s South Africa. That is due to their multiparty system. As is the fact that secular people cannot even get married, nor orthodox women get divorced, except with the permission of religious extremists.

    And what about Italy of even 20 years ago? Paralyzed for decades, incapable of dealing with domestic or world politics, completely adrift. But fifty parties all fighting for a seat or two.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    How can it be better for all of the US political spectrum to be reduced to two choices?

    Because then the political leaders are not beholden to obsessive and extremist single issue parties for the tie breaking votes?

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  12. @MarkedMan:

    But what about Israel?…And what about Italy

    Obviously, those both present potentially very detailed answers. I suppose the simplest answer is I am not advocating for either the Israeli or the Italian systems (or, in the case of Italy, more than one system).

    I understand why you don’t think these two cases, but one can note the general value of multiparty democracy and not have to be advocating for Italy or Israel.

    What about Germany? What about New Zealand? What about any number of other cases?

    There is a middle ground between “I don’t want the Israeli party system” and rejecting the notion that there can’t possibly be any value in advocating for the usefulness of more parties.

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  13. @MarkedMan:

    Because then the political leaders are not beholden to obsessive and extremist single issue parties for the tie breaking votes?

    Again: the notion the only other possible outcome is Israel is to ignore much of the world.

    Although why the US situation is better, wherein an entire party can be taken over by the fringe is better is beyond me, but it would take a more nuanced argument to break that down than I am willing to make at the moment.

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  14. @MarkedMan:

    But fifty parties all fighting for a seat or two.

    Where have I ever argued for an endless supply of parties? There is space between 1 and 50.

    All I would ask is that you consider the possibility that the entire universe of party competition is not the US or Israel.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    While I agree that most political systems would benefit from multiple choices, our system might well be so broken that it can’t so benefit. Still, having multiple choices would not impair our system and would leave open the chance of a lightning strike. How we would get to multiple choices is anyone’s guess. Still, Dr. Taylor is not incorrect in his theory, no matter how many outliers one rallies to the discussion. (And so far, two doesn’t look like a game breaker to this ignint lil’ cracker.)

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