09 April 2007

Condorcet for President

The presidential electoral campaign in France has just started. The French president is elected by majority runoff rule, which is less bad than simple plurality, but still pretty bad in order to guarantee a consensual winner.

This rule offers incentives for many candidates to run at the first round, thus not choking political pluralism in the system. From the first presidential election during the present 5th Republic in 1965 to the one in 1995 the number of presidential candidates was between six and eight. In contrast, in 2002 there were nothing less than sixteen candidates and now there are twelve. This shows that the foundational project of constraining multipartism into a couple of polarized alternatives has failed.

But under majority runoff, a high number of candidates increases the probability that the winner may not be the Condorcet-winner, that is, the candidate supported by the median voter that would be able to win by absolute majority against every other contender. Neither General de Gaulle in 1965, nor socialist Mitterrand in 1988, nor populist Chirac in 1995 and 2002 were Condorcet-winners; they won the elections because other potential winners against them were eliminated at the first round.

The only advantage of majority runoff is that the Condorcet-loser –that is, the most rejected candidate that would be defeated by absolute majority by every other candidate-- cannot win, because he would be beaten at the second round. This is in contrast to what happens with plurality rule, which permits extreme minority contestants with broad rejection among voters to win. A number of catastrophic experiences of Condorcet-loser presidents in Latin American countries have provoked conflicts, coups d’état and other major crises. In France, by contrast, a trotskyte or a Le Pen could not become president. Under majority runoff, if the Condorcet-loser goes to the second round, he loses the election. If the Condorcet-winner does, he wins –by definition, because he is able to collect the support of a majority against any rival.

But the problem is that the two survivors for the second round do not necessarily include the Condorcet-winner. Five years ago, if you can remember, the second round was between Chirac and Le Pen –a choice between “a thief and a fascist”, as some posters said at the time. The left was absent as a consequence of the dispersion of votes in the first round among two trotskytes, a tradeunionist, a communist, a left-radical, a socialist, a green, and a jacobite aspirants. This year the radical and the jacobite don’t run, but there is one new antiglobalization contender. Given the still high number of candidates, socialist Segolene Royal seems to be induced to approach leftist positions to attract followers about there, but this is moving her away from the center and giving more opportunities to the centrist candidate François Bayrou, the main novelty in the pre-campaign.

For the first round, survey polls predict an advantage of conservative Nicholas Sarkozy over Royal, while centrist Bayrou looks a close third. If this were confirmed during the next two weeks, some left voters could ponder that, if they were going to have to choose the lesser evil any way, it could be better to vote for Bayrou at the first round, make him to the second round and thus prevent the victory of the conservative Sarkozy. This time, thus, the Condorcet-winner might win the election. Bayrou seems to be the candidate with fewer rejections among voters and the only one able to beat everybody else.

Watch a selection of candidates' speeches about French national identity, the flag and the Marseillaise. At the end the video, even the national team of football is chanting the anthem, under Chirac scrutiny, but some of the best players do not sing: CLICK


Jan-Erik Lane said...

You forget one thing: rational expectations. The left should coordinate and vote for her so that Lepen does not become 2ond candidate.

Gianfranco Pasquino said...

Is Condorcet running alone? Could you please tell me who are the other candidates? In the case of the 2007 French presidential elections, Bayrou appears to me the potential Condorcet winner essentially and only by default, or not? Or are all Condorcet winners obliged to have a low profile?

RE: Condorcet-winners have nothing to do with high or low profile, just with their capability to attract a majority of votes against every other candidate in elections by pairs. If there is a single ideological dimension, such as left-right, the median voter's candidate is the Condorcet-winner.
Pompidou in 1969, Giscard in 1974, Mitterrand in 1981, for instance, were high-profile Condorcet-winners. But the other French presidents I mentioned were not.

I referred to "profiles" with the tongue in my cheek. Never mind. As you know, my ideological dimension would lead me towards the Socialist candidate, any way, anytime.
Jean François Pasquin


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