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June 5, 2010

A Waltz Played in 4/4 Time
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:18 PM *

I’ve been hoping for some time that would have a look at Wednesday’s Dutch elections. Although I really enjoy reading Peter Paul Koch’s analyses over at Quirksmode, I wondered what the the internet’s go-to guys on poll interpretation would do with the numbers. There’s so much to discuss, both in terms of content and methodology (particularly since the Netherlands has no electoral districts).

Well, 538 tackled the story today. Unfortunately, it covered almost none of the ground I was hoping for. Indeed, the article by Dan Berman starts to go wrong in the title: Is a Stable Government in the Netherlands Coming? There are several reasons that made me wince.

  1. It makes the Netherlands sound like it’s in the same kind of trouble as, say, Thailand. A country with an “unstable government” is one where the people are taking to the streets, where the army is considering taking over, where the Bastille is on the verge of being stormed. It is not the peaceful, stable place I live in, where a long-serving Prime Minster has, probably for the last time in his career, failed to keep his coalition together for the maximum time between elections.

    The headline is particularly annoying because it fits into a pervasive narrative that is only ostensibly about the Netherlands (and, indeed, Europe). Our “socialist” system is doomed, notwithstanding the global financial crisis. We’re on the verge of either mandating the hijab or crushing the Muslim community (I think it’s the latter, this week). Our decision to tolerate and monitor soft drugs and prostitution rather than push them underground makes Amsterdam a “cesspool of corruption and crime”. And now our government is unstable, probably because of all of the above factors. Alas that we are not like America, which has no problems with its economy, its treatment of immigrants, drugs, sex, or politics!

    I rant. I know this. But I also know that plenty of people will read the headline and connect it to the narrative I’ve sketched above. None of that farrago reflects the reality of Dutch life; it’s all about affirming a particular view of American culture. And the provocative headline fits in very nicely, however much the body of the article is actually relevant to the situation at hand.

    The kindest thing I can say about it is that it was written with a tin ear.

  2. It’s factually wrong, even in the limited sense that Berman means it. He sees the fall of Balkenende’s fourth administration as a bad thing for the Netherlands as well as for the Prime Minister.

    In reality, it just means that the country wants to choose a new direction, a new set of solutions to its current challenges. The mechanism for doing so in the Netherlands is different than in the US. One aspect of that difference is that one doesn’t have to wait for a year divisible by four to throw the bastards out. That’s not in- or unstability. It’s the approved process.

  3. The question expects a “yes” answer, but frankly, it’s not likely.

    The three-party coalitions (scroll down) that are even possible if the polls are correct are not very solid. Apart from the forbidden coalition (for historical reasons, the three central parties may not form a government), the choices require the right wing (VVD) to find common ground with the left (PvdA/Labour, and possibly the Socialists as well), or else to rely on Wilders and the PVV. Even the best of these options includes some deep divisions between participating parties. I wouldn’t put money on any of them lasting to full term. And a four-party coalition is even less stable.

    The smart money here says that the next government will be slow to form and quick to run into trouble.

The article itself isn’t bad in the assembly of facts it lays out, though its few links bias toward non-Dutch and non-expert sources such as the Guardian and Wikipedia. (There are specific factual niggles: it’s not clear from the text that Fortuyn was assassinated before an election. Balkenende’s portrayed as switching coalition partners “at will”, but there was an election between his second and third administrations, which means that it wasn’t his will that formed Balkenende III.) But it reminds me of a waltz played in 4/4 time: the notes are right, but they don’t mean what they should.

The place this really becomes a problem is in the conclusion and prediction of what will happen next. It very much oversimplifies the mechanics of forming a coalition. There’s no acknowledgement that incompatible platforms (or a simple refusal to work with each other) can doom a mathematically possible coalition. Nor is there any mention of the existence of a forbidden coalition, or the requirement that the new government include at least one party that increased its seats in the election. The only divergence from the assumption that the simplest coalition to hit the winning number gets the prize is a mention that Wilders may be too unreliable to sit in government.

That’s a pity, because coalition-forming is a fascinating part of Dutch politics. The intricacies and complexities of the process for forming a government here would make a wonderful article on

Instead, I refer you once again to PPK, who does have a complex and nuanced prediction of how the Netherlands will deal with forming a coalition if the election goes as the polls says it will.

Comments on A Waltz Played in 4/4 Time:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 08:30 PM:

... and now I'm trying to play a waltz, in 4/4 time. It's making my head hurt, and my nose polka.

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 08:45 PM:

How does a nose polka?
Do we want to knowse?

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 09:23 PM:

The problem here is that 538 knows the words but not the music. There's an, ahem, Anglo-Saxon assumption that a multiplicity of parties must be unstable. But Weimar was a kludge, and the Dutch system evolved out of a confederal structure that was already built on compromise.

BTW, Noord Holland looks set to add three new municipalities later this year -- Bonaire, Saba, and Statia. It's going to be a bit hard to reach them by fiets, or even bromfiets. They all get to participate directly in local and national politics too,once they're incorporated. They'll also have the best weather in the province.

Not to mention the worst. Look for hurricanes in Noord Holland in the future. Likely in two of the three new bijzondere gemeenten.

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 09:41 PM:

Those puzzled over what Fragano is talking about (hurricanes in Noord Holland?) should consult this for an explanation.

#5 ::: Joe Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 09:45 PM:

This "forbidden coalition" is interesting. Is it law or just custom that these three parties won't form a coalition with each other (the way, say, the Liberals and Conservatives in Canada would never even think of it)? If it's law, is there a mechanism for them to remove their forbidden status if they're ever knocked out of their central position?

#6 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 09:58 PM:

This sort of background article isn't 538's strength even when writing about the US. The complex coalition rules must make it harder for their approaches to work in the Netherlands, since you need to do so much more than predict who ends up ahead and since the competition isn't two-party even on a seat-by-seat basis. This is in contrast even to the UK, where there are multiple parties, but where there aren't a whole lot of electorates that have more than two serious contenders.

Xeger #1, For a waltz in 5/4 time, see El Hambo by the brilliant Jaakko Mäntyjärvi.

#7 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 10:14 PM:

They'll be the farthest south you can get in Noord Holland, too, won't they?

#8 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 10:22 PM:

French traditional music also does some 5/4 waltzes. I've never been quite clear on how they're danced, but once you get used to the idea that you're going to play something in 5/4, they're quite playable.

#9 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 10:26 PM:

Xeger #1: I recommend plenty of hot liquids and your decongestant of choice. ;-)

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 10:34 PM:

Xeger, #1: Not exactly what you're thinking about, but the "grand ballroom" scene in Disney's version of Beauty and the Beast shows Belle and the Beast waltzing to a song in 4/4. It's bizarre.

Thomas, #6: My experience with international dance is limited at best, but that sounds like a real hambo to me. Are hambos frequently written in 5/4, does anyone know?

#11 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 11:03 PM:

Expressions like "the government is unstable" or "the government fell" might sound ominous to American ears, but I've run across them various times in the media in British Commonwealth countries, in reference to the party or coalition that dominated the country's Parliament. (And yes, all they meant was that new elections resulting in a change in administration were likely, or had just happened.)

I'd been under the impression, therefore, that they were fairly common expressions in parliamentary countries. But perhaps I've been mistaken in my impression. Do Netherlanders tend to use different kinds of expressions when referring to the party rule about to change, or changing? (And do the expressions I've quoted above sound alarming or odd to folks living in places like Canada, Britain, and the like?)

#12 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 11:43 PM:

Lee #10: The composer's program notes say:
The hambo is a Swedish folk dance in 3/4 time. This
augmented hambo in 5/4 time is something of a
tribute to those folk musicians whose
enthusiasm much exceeds their sense of rhythm

#13 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 11:44 PM:

Saba and Statia are two of the "six islands visible from St.Kitts", which was a trivia question for bonus points on my anatomy exam more than twenty years ago.

#14 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 11:56 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @11 -

The difference, I think, is that in parliamentary countries, the business of government isn't necessarily connected with the politicians who like to think they're running things. The actual business of running the infrastructure is largely considered a professional task, to be carried out by career public servants. This means that unlike in the US, where everything political appears to grind to a screaming halt the minute an election looms on the horizon (and where the actual election campaigns are spreading to cover the full 4-year term between the elections themselves, thus ensuring the US government never gets out of "screaming halt" mode ever, because everyone's too busy worrying about their chances of being re-elected to actually do the job they're supposed to be doing) there's actually a certain degree of stability happening in the background. The politicians may come and go, but the public service bureaucracy is still making certain that things like social security payments are made, that the army gets the weapons it needs, and that all the "i"s are dotted and the "t"s are crossed.

Another concept which appears to be common in parliamentary countries, but which doesn't appear to have a USAlien referent, is the notion of the Opposition - that is, the group of persons who aren't in the government of the day who are also elected to the parliament, and whose business it is to raise issues and alternative measures to parliamentary debates. So the threats to the government are much more about party politics on a parliamentary level, and much less about things like total chaos in the streets.

If you're looking for something closer to total chaos in the streets, the magic words are "blocking supply". That phrase means the opposition party or parties are refusing to allow government money bills through the parliamentary process, and are thus denying money to all the recipients of government funds (ie public servants, the armed forces, recipients of any government payment such as social security etc). This is the strongest possible means of dissent within a parliamentary system, and a government in such a system cannot function with supply blocked - the more usual response is for the Head of Government to request the Head of State to dissolve the parliament and call new elections so the whole issue can be resolved.

#15 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 12:41 AM:

Meg @ 14:

I'm a little confused by your points because while the US system certainly does work differently, I don't see how it could be that there are no "USAlien referents" for a non-political civil service or an opposition party.

On the first point, the US government certainly does have many tens of thousands of apolitical employees who make sure that the wheels remain greased and the checks go out on time. The chief difference is in how deep political control goes.

In most parliamentary systems, the Minister of Defense is a politician and his immediate subordinates (say, the Under-Minister for the Navy, to pull a name out of a hat) may or may not be political appointees, but that's pretty much where political control ends.

In the U.S. the direct political appointees typically go 3 or four levels deep in most cabinet departments. So not only does the president appoint the Secretary of the Navy, he appoints his undersecretary and his assistant secretaries. But that still leaves the vast majority of federal employees as exactly the same sort of civil servants you see in Parliamentary systems.

So yeah, some political paralysis can result, but I think the real issue is a lack of continuity that leads to reinventing the wheel every 4 or 8 years. But the alternative isn't necessarily pretty either. Japan is a perfect example of what happens when the bureaucracy decides that it doesn't particularly have to pay attention to elections or the governments that they bring, because Ministers come and go with the wind, but Assistant Ministers and Undersecretaries have had decades to build up their institutional clout and can never be fired.

For the second point, I'm not sure what distinction you're drawing between parliamentary oppositions and the role of the opposition in the American system. It's not like the Republicans in Congress aren't "raising issues and alternative measures." (Some of their issues and alternative measures are rather insane right now, but I don't think that's a direct consequence of the structure of the American Congress.) Of course American parties are rather more amorphous and less disciplined than the parties in parliamentary systems, so the opposition sometimes looks less like one coherent alternative agenda and more like a hundred different, more or less congruent agendas, but diversity of views has its place in government as well.

#16 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:12 AM:

Chris W, Meg.

I think there used to be more difference between the US and the Westminster parliamentary systems in terms of the appointment of civil servants. It used to be that the government even at the highest levels was run by professional staff, not by political appointees (as caricatured in Yes, Minister). I think the UK still has more of the attitude that government experts should be independent of the politicians. As a side note, Paul Krugman has pointed out that this UK/US differences is reversed when it comes to monetary policy: the Bank of England is run by the Treasury, but the Federal Reserve Bank is a fairly independent quango.

I don't think the idea of the ''loyal opposition" is a difference, though. The US political structure has lots of places where the minority party gets participation in committees for more or less the same reasons you cite. The fact that the current opposition has largely decided to go rogue and not participate is unusual, as has been pointed out by many commentators (perhaps most melodramatically by Brad DeLong).

I would be interested in whether the 'loyal opposition' concept is as important in multi-party systems such as the Netherlands where there is a coalition government but no unified opposition.

#17 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:30 AM:

What, Nate has barely announced his deal with the NYT, and his cobloggers already report like Villagers?

Joe Mason @5, custom, not law. Basically, until very recently, the three main parties (and their predecessors before them) combined pretty much controlled politics, so a coalition between them would have been seen as something like a political form of a trust or cartel.

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 03:22 AM:


I can think of one set of circumstances where a country has accepted that sort of political cartel, seventy years ago in the UK when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.

And then WSC was able to write the history.

#19 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 06:19 AM:

Thomas @16, the Bank of England has been an independent body since 1997. (Thanks to George Soros.)

Fragano @3, not only is there a default anglo-saxon assumption that a multiplicity of parties must be unstable; buried within it, there is an assumption that a nation cannot thrive without authoritarian governance -- that is, a political administration empowered by an electoral mandate to ram its ideological agenda through, despite (possibly substantial) minority opposition.

I find this assumption questionable. (Not universally wrong, but frequently wrong.) And it's a howling mismatch for the Dutch way of doing things.

#20 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 07:08 AM:

Indeed, the article by Dan Berman starts to go wrong in the title: Is a Stable Government in the Netherlands Coming? There are several reasons that made me wince.

I think it was someone on Metafilter talking about the British elections that likened FiveThirtyEight's European Correspondent in Geneva to the American Correspondent in Costa Rica. And they were, of course, right.

General rule: Ignore 538 outside the US, or at least take it with a pinch of salt.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 07:44 AM:

P.J. Evans #7: A bit to the south of Zuid Holland.

Charlie Stross #19:

The Dutch and the Anglo-Saxons both look askance at the Austrian approach which has permitted grand coalitions of the major parties, which you'd expect to be opposed to each other. This was the solution that the Austrians dreamt up in order to re-establish their democracy after the War. It's been found to work in a couple of other places, sometimes as a a transitional method, as in South Africa right after apartheid, sometimes as a means of solving shorter-term problems.

#22 ::: martha ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 09:11 AM:

Back in the 80's, after still another inconclusive election in Greece, the Nea Democratia (far-ish right) and the KKE (Communists) formed an all-be-it brief coalition government - beat that for unlikely bed-fellows.

#23 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 09:24 AM:

Charlie Stross @19, "not only is there a default anglo-saxon assumption that a multiplicity of parties must be unstable; buried within it, there is an assumption that a nation cannot thrive without authoritarian governance -- that is, a political administration empowered by an electoral mandate to ram its ideological agenda through, despite (possibly substantial) minority opposition."

That sounds more like a specifically British than like a general anglophone assumption to me.

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 10:12 AM:

martha #22: Nea Demokratia and KKE had one thing in common: they both detested PASOK. The coalition in that case was deliberately brief and transitional.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 10:49 AM:

Raphael # 23: I've found that many American students react very negatively to the idea that you can have more than two political parties. They seem to think that this is, at the least, confusing to the voters.

#26 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 11:06 AM:

Fragnano @ 25:

But in the American system, with all its super-majoritarian checks and balances, a two party system doesn't mean that once a party wins a majority it can push its ideological agenda without reference to the minority party.

Think of the howling when the Democrats tried to use their supermajorities in both houses to pass a health care bill without any Republican votes. I can't imagine a similar level of outrage if, for example, the Tories had won 60% of the Commons on a platform of reforming the NHS and then proceeded to do so without consulting Labour or the Lib Dems.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 11:09 AM:

I wasn't sure but what Zuid Holland might include someplace farther south. (My school geography is, fortunately, still enough with me that I recognized the names.)

#28 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 11:31 AM:

@26: They didn't *try* to pass it without Republican votes; they just tried to pass it. Unfortunately the Republicans have a monopoly on the supply of Republican votes.

The really weird thing (OK, one of several really weird things) about American politics is that the media seems to think the *Democrats* have a choice about whether or not their proposals get any Republican votes, and therefore they're being big meanies if they don't invite the Republicans to join in.

Our decision to tolerate and monitor soft drugs and prostitution rather than push them underground makes Amsterdam a “cesspool of corruption and crime”.

Is that better or worse than a wretched hive of scum and villainy?

#29 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:09 PM:

Chris @28, why on earth would they need Republican votes? The Democrats have a majority! That means they've got a mandate to rule. See previous administration for precedent.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:25 PM:

The problem is that a lot of the Democrats are 'Blue Dogs', who will happily vote for any Republican proposal that isn't obviously insane, and are very uncomfortable voting for anything that can even remotely be called liberal. There are enough Blue Dogs to make a majority for the Republicans. (I have zero sympathy for them - if they want to be Democrats, they ought to be able to support the party platform.)

#31 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:41 PM:

Maybe the guys at 538 were confusing the Netherlands with Belgium

(though I now realise, looking at the date of this post that my understanding of Belgian politics is getting on for 3 years out of date)

#32 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 03:10 PM:

Chris W #26: Er, if the Tories were elected with abolishing the NHS as a manifesto promise they would seek to pass that legislation as a matter of course. Whether or not the Lib Dems and Labour objected. The current British method of ring-fencing policy initiatives is to submit them to referendum.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 03:21 PM:

If the Tories—or any British party —were elected with abolishing the NHS as a manifesto promise, you'd find me sitting in a room looking at a phone. If you see what I mean.

#34 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 03:51 PM:


Yes, they would, unlike the Dems in America who were elected to a supermajority on a platform that included a major health care overall, but still needed a year of wrangling to pass a bill that didn't do nearly all of what they set out to do.

My point is just that a two-party system doesn't imply the sort of strict majoritarian rule Charlie Stross talked about in @19. All of which is evidence in favor of Raphael's @23 which you seemed to disagree with in your @25.

(Sorry to be a bit pedantic, but I have a feeling this is turning in to one of those conversations where you have a clear idea of what we're talking about and I have a clear idea of what we're talking about, but our two ideas don't bear much resemblance to each other.)

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 04:26 PM:

Christ W #34: Congress doesn't have the kind of party discipline that a parliamentary system has. The primary system makes the Congressional district/state central to each member's vote, rather than the party leadership's ability to grant patronage in the form of ministerial office or threat of deselection, or whatever other incentive or disincentive is available to the cabinet (or central office or whoever). As a result, American parties are much looser coalitions than Westminster (or Westminster-style parties).

A British party is elected to office with a set of pledges laid out in its manifesto. It is going to seek to implement those pledges, provided it has a majority in the House of Commons. In most of Europe, because coalitions are the norm, things work differently. That's also the case in Britain at the moment since the current government is a coalition and an agreement had to be worked out in order for it to be formed (at, as Abi and others have pointed out, a much faster pace than in the Netherlands where coalitions typically take sometime to form). Should coalitions come to be normative in Britain (if AV+ is adopted, for example, then coalition forming will probably take place at the speed of Ireland or New Zealand rather than that of Holland or Belgium).

The United States falls between Britain and the Netherlands in terms of consensus. It is not as majoritarian or as authoritarian (to use Charlie's term) as Britain, but it isn't as consensual as the Netherlands. It has structures intended to foster consensus (bicameralism, separation of powers, federalism) but it has also got structures intended to foster majoritarianism with its more authoritarian elements -- single-member districts, presidentialism.

#36 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 05:49 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #35:

New Zealand would be a good example of the changing length of time to form coalitions. NZ went from FPP to MMP at the 1996 election and it took ~2 months for the coalition to form. There was a certain amount of frustration (verging on panic) because (oh noes!) no-one was leading the country! We were so used to FPP elections where the identity of the new ruling party was known mere hours after votes were cast.

Subsequently, the public have become much more sanguine about the length of time post-election negotiations take to form coalitions; after all, the two months without a parliament following the first MMP election did not result in the country imploding.

It certainly felt to me that the Tory/LibDem coalition was formed with unseemly haste following the recent UK election.

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 06:07 PM:

Soon Lee #36: A lot will depend, of course,on the coalitionability of parties. In some countries there are minor parties that can form coalitions with any major party (the Free Democrats in Germany, for example). In other cases, there are parties that have what Giovanni Sartori calls "blackmail potential" (they aren't going to be invited into any coalition, but they're large enough to block coalition formation by threatening to ally with some small parties; Sartori was thinking of the old Italian Communists). There are parties that will coalesce with some parties but not with others (an RPR-Socialist coalition in France, for example is not one I'd put money on).

#38 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 07:32 PM:

Fragano, 37: The RPR (oh, unless it was the UDM, UMP, I can't keep the name changes straight) and the Socialists colluded to keep the Front National out of the presidency. But that was a case of Socialist voters holding their noses and voting for the lesser of two evils. If the FN doesn't stop gaining seats, I can see a RPR/PS coalition happening.

#39 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 07:34 PM:

Oh hai! And speaking of language weirding brains, you have just seen my French interfere with my English. You don't say "an R" in French, so I didn't in English. Dur hur hur.

#40 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 07:54 PM:

TexAnne @ 39... you have just seen my French interfere with my English

Can't be as bad as my speaking French after years of speaking English.

#41 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 07:55 PM:

praisegod barebones @31: At this point, what most of us here are thinking is "We can has government? Kthxbai." Elections coming up next weekend; with any luck, we'll have a government in place before yearend.

I can only wrap my head around 5/4 time by humming Take Five.

#42 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 08:24 PM:

I have observed a few cases in the recent past of people making mistaken assumptions about coalitions. And those were people who should have a basic knowledge how they work:
When there was talk of a multi-party colition in Canada (Liberal, Democrats, Quebecois, IIRC) ousting the Conservative government, one political blogger assured the reader that this would be clearly illegal, since any coalition government had to include the largest party to protect the will of the majority. No "according to Canadian law", but as a matter of political fact.
And more recently, I read in a commentary about the UK coalition, that in the next general election, either a Tory or a LibDem candidate could run in any given constituency, but not both - according to "the principle of coalitions".
Apparently this really is a topic they saw no reason to read up about.

#43 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 08:42 PM:

Originally written as a BTW, but then it got bigger than the first part of my post:
If you are interested in coalition forming, in the biggest German state of Northrhine-Westphalia they are currently playing this game as well. With five parties (proportional representation, 181 seats in the diet, so any government needs the support of at least 91 members) and some interesting handicaps:

The former ruling Christian Democrats (34,56 %, 67 seats) have lost a lot and the same number of seats as the Social Democrats (34,48%, 67 seats) - but claim the leading role for having 6000 votes more (out of 13 million potential votes). This apparently makes a CDU-SPD coalition (134 seats) even more complicated. The FDP (currently would-be libertarians, 6,73%, 13 seats) have also lost quite a lot and CDU-FDP (80 s) wouldn't be enough. CDU-FDP-Green (103 s) would numerically work - BTW, it's called "Jamaica coalition" after that nations' flag: The CDU are symbolized by black, the FDP by yellow. But in Germany, FDP and Greens (12,13%, 23 seats) are fierce rivals for the votes of the so-called "educated middle-class" and have, of course large differences about industrial and environmental policy. This is also a problem for any "traffic light coalition" (103 s) of "red" SPD, "yellow" FDP and Greens. SPD-Greens (90 out of 91 needed) would have too few seats, too. The peculiarly called "red-red-green coalition” (101 seats) would include the Left as well, but apparently the regional Left party (5,61%, 11 seats) has acted too uncritically communist during the first and only day of talks.
In short - everything is unclear. Plus, after the election, the federal government has lost its majority in the Bundesrat, the chamber filled by delegates from the states' governments. Which makes much federal legislation much more difficult/expensive.

#44 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Somehow I am reminded of a book I read once called "A Discourse By Three Drunkards on Government" which is a nineteenth-century Japanese treatise about Western concepts of parliamentary systems and political philosophy in the form of a dialog between three people representing different typical points of view.

Sometimes the internet is a discourse by an infinite number of drunkards on government.

#45 ::: truth is life ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 10:37 PM:
I can think of one set of circumstances where a country has accepted that sort of political cartel, seventy years ago in the UK when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.

And then WSC was able to write the history.

Actually, this kind of grand coalition is somewhat more common than that...usually, it arises in times of national emergency (ie., war). Britain formed one during World War I as well as in World War II, and interestingly enough possessed one from 1931-1939, where the Conservatives, Liberals (or what was left of them), and certain elements of Labour united. That's a big reason why Churchill was able to lead a grand coalition--the bricks had already been laid by Baldwin and Chamberlain, he just had to step into their shoes.

Of course, in the US there's not quite such a thing as a real grand coalition. However, in the Civil War a sort of one was formed by the expedient of forming a new party dedicating to prosecuting the war, which dominated the 1864 elections. During World War II, I imagine that the Republicans significantly cooperated with the Democrats in terms of prosecuting the war, much more than they would have done if not in the war. However, I am not sure of that. Similar activity may have occurred in World War I, too.

#46 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 06:27 AM:

TexAnne #38: Yes, but that was a case of Socialist (and Communist and Green and far left) voters holding their noses, as you say, and voting for Chirac. It wasn't a cabinet in which the RPR (or UMP or UDM) was in coalition with the PS.

Normal French cabinet formation follows the principle of Gallia in tres partes divisa est (De Gaulle is divided in three parties) on the centre-right, i.e., the RPR-UMP-UDM coalition that forms the current cabinet, or the pas des énnemis au gauche PS-PCF-Greens that now seems to be the left-wing norm.

#47 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 08:08 AM:

Fragano 46: Well, no, but I mean that if the French don't come to their senses and reject those FN sshls, I think it'll come to a real coalition someday. The casual racism of French society casual they don't even know it's there until Le Pen says something outrageous, and then they act like he came out of nowhere. (Here's an example: in a recent Le Monde crossword puzzle they had the clue "drame en jaune." The answer was "No." FFS! Not to mention the Depardieu-as-Dumas fiasco. The young are better, of course, but they're not in charge yet.)

#48 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 10:23 AM:

Lee @10, xeger @1, the ballroom scene in Labyrinth also has the characters waltzing to a song written in 4/4 time. When we staged a re-enactment for a masquerade entry, we were forced to conclude that they'd applied the soundtrack separately, and substituted a rumba so as not to make the dancers crazy.

#49 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 10:33 AM:

Texanne @47: I hate to admit this, but my French isn't up to translating that (and Google translate makes no sense of it either). Care to explain?

#50 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 10:45 AM:

TexAnne: Unlike Charlie, I have no qualms about admitting my French (which I took in third through sixth grade, more than 40 years ago) isn't up to it. Second the request for translation/explanation.

If it were German, then I'd be embarrassed; that was almost as long ago, but I actually got quite good at it (4 years in highschool).

#51 ::: Jasper Janssen ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 10:50 AM:

@ #5, Joe Mason: Assuming I'm thinking of the same one, it's just that in the not-too-distant past (just previous to the current PM, even) they tried it, and it Ended In Tears for pretty much everyone, involved or not involved in said coalition, or at least everyone in politics. I have to say that as a citizen, I didn't see the big deal. (I'm talking here about Paars: PvdA VVD D66.)

@ #11, John Mark: One fragment from a 1950s or possibly 1960s Polygoon Journaal (the .nl cinema newsreel) used the audio "The cabinet has fallen!". Cue the image of a crockery sideboard laden with porcelain toppling over amidst loud crashes. At least that far back, the term was apparently not only in regular use, it could be lampooned with impunity (these newsreels are not known for edge in their humor..). So yeah. The government falls, we get to vote again, formation takes 3 tries and 6 months, and at the end we have fuckin' Balkenende in charge again. In my entire voting life (and I'm coming up on 31) I have only once ended up with not-Balkenende after voting.

What do you mean, unstable? Sure, he's spent a fair amount of his regency as demissionary, but he's still been sitting there since October '02. We're about due for someone else.

@ #17 Raphael: Lubbers III may have been two party, but they had (naturally) a majority together and they were the two largest parties, CDA and PvdA (Cristian center right and labour, respectively). At the time VVD and D66 weren't really part of any "The Big n" group, it was more the Big Two... and Zoidberg.

The pie chart shows the 2/3 supermajority nature of that one pretty well.

@ #41 Pendrift: Enh. We're doing reasonably well without one, as well.

#52 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 11:33 AM:

49, 50: the French clue translates literally as "drama in yellow" or "play in yellow". To which the answer is "No". Or, as we would write it in English, "Noh". As in Japanese Noh theatre.

And Depardieu as Dumas is odd presumably because Dumas had a black grandmother.

#53 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 11:36 AM:

Fragano @various, about the new municipalities of Noord Holland:

Will they also be some of the highest land Holland? Being, y'know, noticeably above sea level, and all?

Alternatively, will their new association give them any advantage planning for eventual sea-level rise and its sequelae (see also, "The Maldives, How Screwed They Are")?

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 12:26 PM:

TexAnne @ 47... the Depardieu-as-Dumas fiasco

The French miniseries of Le Comte de Monte Cristo had a great cast, but portly Gérard (called Gros Nez by my wife) was rather unconvincing as someone who's spent a few years in a nasty prison on a rather pitiful diet.

#55 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 12:27 PM:

Ajay's right--"yellow drama = Noh." Gaaaah. And Depardieu as Dumas gives me hives because Depardieu is a blue-eyed blond, who will be wearing blackface and a wig. (In his lifetime, Dumas was caricatured with extremely African features. Google "alexandre dumas caricatures" and be disgusted.)

#56 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 12:51 PM:

TexAnne #47: The French do, on occasion, make some great saves when caught committing racist acts. When Chirac was criticised for not bothering to attend Léopold Senghor's funeral, his response was to have Dumas pére exhumed and reburied in the Panthéon. You cannot, after all, be much more anti-racist that to have France's most significant non-white nineteenth century novelist interred in the Panthéon.

Sarkozy, of course, flew to Martinique when Césaire died, declaring "all France is in mourning".

#57 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 12:55 PM:

Elliot Mason #53: Oh, indeed. Especially in the case of Saba, which is an extinct volcano.

#58 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 01:15 PM:

"Extinct" being a term invented by real-estate developers, I think, and originally applied I believe to Mount Vesuvius. :-)

#59 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 11:07 PM:

truthinlife @45:
>During World War II, I imagine that the Republicans significantly cooperated with the Democrats in terms of prosecuting the war, much more than they would have done if not in the war. However, I am not sure of that.

Considerable cooperation -- FDR had, for instance, invited two Republicans into his cabinet as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy in 1940 after it became obvious that the latest European crisis was about to become a world crisis. This is about as close as the US gets to coalition governments.

And, yes, US parties are much looser than Westminster ones. The two main US parties are basically permanently fluid coalitions of major groups. It's rare for a group to shift between parties, though not unknown -- consider than in 1900 the environmentalists were Republicans, cf. Teddy Roosevelt, or the "Reagan Democrats" who moved over in 1980. Also note that the US is a lot larger than most Westminster countries, so it has a wider range of geographic interests as well.)

#60 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 12:13 AM:

Tony @ 59: "FDR had, for instance, invited two Republicans into his cabinet as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy in 1940 after it became obvious that the latest European crisis was about to become a world crisis. This is about as close as the US gets to coalition governments."

Yup. And that was in an era when both major US political coalitions kinda-sorta agreed, at least in principle, that "politics stops at the water's edge." Even in the most unbalanced portions of the 1930s, only the more extreme fringe elements of Left and Right (such as the CPUSA and the Bund) actually acknowledged in public the intensity of their alliances with foreign-based political movements.

After WW II, a slightly different version of that agreement was cobbled together in the late 1940s and early 50s, in the face of a somewhat different perceived set of threats, and more-or-less endured until the mid-to-late 1960s or so.

#61 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 06:58 AM:

It more or less endured until the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964 and '65 realigned the South. The southerners who'd been Democrats against Reconstruction split off and, after some hemming and hawing, Nixon lured them in and made the Republicans the new regional racist party.

#62 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 08:13 AM:

Note that the British coalition wasn't one of unquestioning loyalty - Churchill faced a no-confidence vote in January 1942, in the face of military defeats in North Africa and the Far East, and another later the same year just before the first battle of El Alamein stopped the advance on Alexandria.

#63 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 04:08 PM:

Jasper Janssen @51, "@ #5, Joe Mason: Assuming I'm thinking of the same one, it's just that in the not-too-distant past (just previous to the current PM, even) they tried it, and it Ended In Tears for pretty much everyone, involved or not involved in said coalition, or at least everyone in politics. I have to say that as a citizen, I didn't see the big deal. (I'm talking here about Paars: PvdA VVD D66.)"

No, in the original post that Joe Mason was referring to, "forbidden coalition" doesn't mean Paars; it means VVD+PvdA+CDA (or, in the old days, VVD+PvdA+KVP+ARP+CHU). But as you said, right now, that would still be less of a "cartel" than Lubbers III.

#64 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 04:09 PM:

Since this thread started with complaints about the quality of English-language reporting on Dutch politics, here's my speculation on how that'll turn out:

Come the election, the international media will probably make a big deal out of the fact that Wilders got so many more seats than last time, while talking a lot less about how he pretty much set out to become the largest party, and then (probably) ended in fourth place. If, as seems almost certain at the moment, a VVD+CDA+PVV coalition becomes mathematically possible, they'll probably set headlines like "Coalition with Wilders wins majority!" without talking too much about how that's not a done deal yet. And if, after that, the formation should end with some other coalition, parts of the right-wing media and blogosphere might go into "We wuz robbed!" mode.

#65 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 04:22 PM:

I discover, via Twitter, that one of my colleagues is a Wilders supporter.

(Goes off muttering samen leven, samen leven, samen leven...)

#66 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 12:43 PM:

abi @ 65: Oy. Samen leven indeed.

(I just read about the SGP at Quirksmode. It's as if the Amish had their own political party! I also think it's kind of adorable how their politicians can't deliberately set out to be on TV, but they no longer have to run away if a camera comes their way.

More seriously, I think it demonstrates the hollowness of much of the anti-Islamic rhetoric. The Dutch have been tolerating religious intolerance for centuries, albeit of the home-grown variety. The SGP has extirpating false gods and idolatry in their articles of principle--how can you beat that?)

#67 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 01:57 PM:

heresiarch @ 66

From the same link, I especially liked this:

'The next move the SGP makes to broaden its base will be the first.'

#68 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 04:44 PM:

heresiarch, praisegod barebones, apparently their leader took part in a TV debate this time. (Or perhaps that was internet only, I don't know.) I guess the rise of the internet and then broadband might have been confusing for people who used to have a simple "written media ok, tv bad" attitude.

#69 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 06:50 AM:

"...Wilders got so many more seats than last time, while talking a lot less about how he pretty much set out to become the largest party..."

Surely, in a national election, if you don't set out to do that, you aren't really trying, are you?

#70 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 07:17 AM:

alex, it's not that I have anything against you, but you got a hell of a lot to learn about multiparty systems.

#71 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2010, 01:05 PM:

alex #69: In a multiparty system with list PR it doesn't work the way you think it does.

#72 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2010, 01:36 PM:

In the party-list form of proportional representation voting, can it ever happen that a voting-area goes more than 50% for a candidate of a party, and then ends up being represented by somebody else? Actually, two questions -- is it theoretically possible, and would it ever happen? The second requires the first, of course, but in addition it would seem to require particular choices by the party that might not be wise.

I'm missing some detail (even after reading the short Wikipedia articles) somewhere, but I can't quite pin down what it is.

Do voters think of candidates as running "in a district" (or whatever you call the electoral subdivision)? If the #1 candidate on the "Christian Democrat" list (picking a party name that exists in quite a few countries that use PR, I believe) and the #1 candidate on the "Green" list are running in the same district, and both the CDs and the Greens get enough votes for their #1 to get in, do we then have two representatives from one district and none from some other? This seems unlikely. It seems to me that either the concept of a person representing a district goes out of the voters' heads, or else they carefully juggle where people run so as to preserve the appearance of a person representing a district most of the time. But this is all relatively recent book-knowledge to me, how does it really work?

#73 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2010, 07:01 PM:

ddb @ #72: In the party-list form of proportional representation voting, can it ever happen that a voting-area goes more than 50% for a candidate of a party, and then ends up being represented by somebody else?

Only if the candidate dies before taking the seat.

You seem to have misunderstood the list system. Each party has one list per county (or district, if you prefer) in which they're running.

Do voters think of candidates as running "in a district" (or whatever you call the electoral subdivision)?

Yes. Because that's what they do. They're on the list for that county.

E.g. To take the system I know best: The county of Rogaland currently sends 13 representatives to the Norwegian Storting. Progress Party 4, Labour Party 3, Conservatives 3, Christian Democrats 1, Centre Party 1, Socialist Left 1.

All these 13 people (supposedly) represent me and my local interests.

There's been a couple of cases where a candidate has been representing another county than his/her "home" (i.e. carpetbagging) because their party were unlikely to get in all the top candidates in one county. That's been quite controversial.

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 02:42 AM:

It's worth mentioning that Roy G. Ovrebo's summary is also correct for the Netherlands, except that for the purposes of the Tweede Kamer, the entire country is a single electoral district.

We have subdivisions for other elections, such as the gemeente (roughly equivalent to a county), the city councils (except for places like my gemeete, which is a rarity in that it is a single town)...and of course the water boards, which run on a completely different districting system.

#75 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 09:20 AM:

Roy@73: Well, I knew something was wrong, since what was in my head made no sense.

So the districts are much bigger (as to number of representatives chosen) than in the USA. And lists are per-district. Obviously things vary somewhat from country to country, with things like the Netherlands being a single district for the "Tweede Kamer" which I take to be their parliamentary assembly (and "kamer" sounds like a probable cognate to "chamber").

#76 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 09:42 AM:

ddb #72 What Roy and Abi are talking about are list systems with "natural threshholds" (i.e. seats are allocated on the basis, approximately, of votes/seats + 1; for more information you'd have to look up Hare, D'Hondt, Droop, and Saint Lagüe formulas). Israel, which like the Netherlands, is a single national district has an artificial threshhold: in order to win seats, a party must receive at least two percent of the vote nationally. Germany's mixed member system has a dual requirement, either a party has three seats on the "first vote" (i.e., three single member constituency seats) in order to win "second vote" PR seats or it must receive five percent of the PR vote nationwide (there was a transitional provision for the former East Germany, but I believe that has now lapsed). The Germans also have a special proportionality requirement in their electoral law that can produce extra seats, called "overhang seats" (überhangmandaten), in the Bundestag.

Ah, the Tweede Kamer. The States General was originally an assembly of the representatives of the Dutch provinces. When representative government was introduced in the nineteenth century, provincial representation was retained, so the legislature became bicameral. Rather than having a House of Provinces (or Senate, or whatever), and a House of the People (or Representatives or Commons, or whatever), the existing single chamber became the Eerste Kamer (First Chamber) of the Staten Generaal, the new representative chamber became the Tweede Kamer (Second Chamber) because it was the second to be formed. This is confusing to non-Batavian political scientists who think of the upper houses of bicameral legislatures as "second chambers" (and generally think of them as less powerful, which, in most cases, they are).

#77 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 07:23 PM:

The BBC reports that local elections in Reykjavik were dominated by "The Best Party" a new political party that promises things like a new polar bear for the zoo, free towels at the swimming pools, and maybe even a "drug-free parliament" within 10 years, though it sounds like they're less sure about that being feasible. They're in favor of change and "a bright future".

#78 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 08:15 PM:

Roy G. Ovrebo #73: The county of Rogaland currently sends 13 representatives to the Norwegian Storting.

Why would a county need 13 people to represent it in a legislature instead of one? How much population are we talking about in the county?

#79 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 08:27 PM:

A quick google search says 400,000, about 9% of Norway's population.

#80 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 08:36 PM:

Earl Cooley III @78 said: Why would a county [specifically Rogaland in Norway] need 13 people to represent it in a legislature instead of one?

To facilitate proportional representation instead of first-past-the-post. Specifically, there are 13 instead of 2 or 3 to increase proportional granularity, and lower the proportion of votes needed to win a seat.

He continued, How much population are we talking about in the county?

Wikipedia says Rogaland has a total of 26 municipalities, and that in 2010 its population was 428,352.

For those wondering what that means, it's a little less than Wyoming, which had about 544,270 in 2009 (according to Wikipedia again). Wyoming has 2 senators and 1 congressman.

However, the US legislature contains 100 senators and 435 (plus 6 nonvoting) congressmen. The Norwegian Storting has 169 members to cover appx. 4,886,900 people (2010 stat, also from Wikipedia).

So about 10% of the parliamentary seats to cover about 10% of the country's population sounds reasonable, to me? Wyoming, by contrast, has appx. 0.17% of the total US population, but 3/541 or appx. 5.5% of the available representatives, which IS disproportionate, but unfortunately given the extreme unevenness of population in the US, is probably unavoidable if you want to give them any vote at all.

#81 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2010, 08:38 PM:

Wait, my math was ludicrously wrong there in that final paragraph. I apologize, and have only sleep deprivation to blame ...

#82 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 10:28 AM:

Norway: 3.43e-5 USA: 1.6e-6

So the US has about 1/20 as many representatives per citizen, at the Federal level. It seems to me that 400+ is too large for a workable legislative body, but it's worked okay for a while. Maybe. At least the problems haven't been widely seen as particularly associated with its size.

In some ways Norway is really more comparable to a US (certainly size and population), and I think the representative ratio is more compatible with that. The Minnesota House has 134 representatives for 5216224 people, a ratio of 2.5e-5. Googling around, I find that we regard it as "too big", or at least some people do, it's an active issue right now.

#83 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 01:23 PM:

The US state of New Hampshire's legislature has 400 members in the lower house, so each representative supports about 3000 citizens or about 1000 voters. It's a bit large, but it means that the members can actually know the people they're representing and know what they want done. The districts are still winner-takes-all, so there aren't very many independent or third-party members, and at that scale they could merge districts and do proportional representation instead, but the politics are at least run on a fairly personal basis.

#84 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 02:21 PM:

As a general rule, the fewer the representatives, the less representative they are likely to be. Proportional representation, increases representativeness. So, too, does increasing the size of your legislative chamber, and thus the lowering the ratio of voters to legislators.

#85 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 02:53 PM:

I'm in favor of a representative system that rips the guts out of gerrymandering (as used to dilute minority representation). I don't see that happening in the US any time soon, though.

#86 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 05:36 PM:

Also gerrymandering as used to produce "safe" minority seats, I presume?

I don't know how to apportion districts "right". I think that drastic changes should be avoided unless there have been drastic population moves (when the system is up and running right; possibly drastic changes would be needed the first time or two one redistricted under the magic "new" scheme that will do the right thing). But that leaves the first redistricting or two wide open still.

One approach is to get rid of districts, and simply elect everybody at large. This is guaranteed to fix the "gerrymandered district" problem, and fairly likely to create interesting new problems. I think, today, with the population as mobile as it is, and the issues largely not locale-based, that it might match our needs better than a geographical system.

But to try to actually come up with districts -- maybe the following crack-pot scheme is worth further investigation.

Step 1: come up with a measure of the "goodness" of a districting scheme, which is objectively verifiable. I'd assign points for convexness of the geometric shapes produced, and take away points for the fractal dimension exceeding 1 in any significant amount (i.e. for complex borders). I'd take away points for unevenness of population.

Step 2: Given that rule, I'd then allow any organization at all to submit a redistricting plan. They'd all be run through the evaluation algorithm, and the one getting the best score selected (after the submissions cutoff). If multiple plans get the exact same score, one will be drawn at random.

After the first year, the rule would be modified to penalize drastic changes from the previous plan (perhaps the penalty would be based on the number of people changing district).

Good districting takes account of important demographic boundaries (often aligned with geographic boundaries), but those are rather subjective. Maybe omitting consideration of them makes it easy to game this scheme, though. Possibly taking account only of a relatively small set of geographic boundaries (watercourses, roads rated by traffic level) would be better; points would then be awarded for boundaries following geographical boundaries. Maybe some way to include impenetrable areas like lakes, parks, and airports as boundaries of some sort.

#87 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2010, 06:41 PM:

ddb #86: Also gerrymandering as used to produce "safe" minority seats, I presume?

When that happens, I usually suspect minority tokenism that can be used in a misleading fashion to cynically "prove the fairness" of the current gerrymandering system.

#88 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 09:15 AM:

Earl@87: And that's certainly what's going on at least some of the time, yes.

#89 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 12:58 PM:

roads and travel are odd, esp. in the areas where gerrymandering is the most effective; i.e. large, dense populations; which can be split by crazy shape to keep political affiliation in the defined area high.

Take, for example, Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley is bounded by mountains, but the travel patterns of the roads which cut through them (134, the 5, the 405, the 101 118) would imply it wasn't so so limited, because the a lot of the people who live there don't work there, and tend to not play there.

#90 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2010, 04:11 PM:

I think I was using roads the opposite way you are -- I'm not seeing roads as connecting things, I'm seeing major roads as important boundaries (along with rivers and lakes and mountains) -- all things that demographic boundaries very frequently follow. Thinking of how different the two sides of a freeway running through an urban area often are, for example -- as you say, the denser areas are where gerrymandering seems to work best.

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