Czech Election Update: The (Slightly) Bigger Picture

Another quick and ugly post from vacation (thanks to my family for tolerating my obsession even as we drive from city to city to visit loved ones).  I wanted briefly to put the 2010 Czech election into the context of the Czech party system over time (the next quick and ugly will, I hope, put it into broader regional perspective, if Josh Tucker of the Monkey Cage doesn’t do it first.

For now, all I wanted to do was to post a few pictures about what the most recent elections say in raw quantitative terms about the Czech party system circa 2010.

The big news is that thanks to this election cycle the Czech Republic’s party system looks significantly different today than it did ten years ago (indeed it is closer to 1992 or 1996) and signs are that the current changes will presage more change (or, to put it in a different and more awkward way, a period of stable change as opposed to stable stability)

Let’s start with the number of parties:

While the actual number of parties in parliament (the green line) did not change from last election to this one other measures suggest a substantially increased number of parties.  The red and blue lines show calculations of party system size based on Taagipera and Laakso’s method which show more significant parties in the voting than any time since 1992 and more even distribution of seats in parliament since 1992 as well (and it actually comes quite close to reaching 1992 levels.

The second major difference is in volatility–the number of seats changing hands from one election to the next.  This is actually quite a complicated question because it depends on how we consider succession from one party to the next, but in this election in the Czech Republic the lines of succession are fairly clear (not so in previous elections).  Without going into too much detail, volatility in Czech elections looks like this:

While not approaching 1990-1992 levels (and there is a good argument that even 1990-1992 was not that high), this is the highest volatility the Czech Republic has seen since, with only 61% of seats remaining in the hands of parties that held them before the election.  (As I will try to discuss tomorrow, while this is unusual for the Czech Republic it actually brings it more within the “normal” range for Central and Eastern Europe.)

This shift is even more interesting because of the nature of the volatility.   Both Tucker and Powell and Mainwaring et al have done fantastic work in the past two years distinguishing between types of volatility and suggesting that it makes a difference if the shift is between parties already in parliament or between parties in parliament and new parties.  I do not have time to recreate the calculations of the authors above, but there is another method for displaying it that is perhaps even more provocative.  The graph below shows the share of vote going to parties depending on when they first appeared on the ballot (more or less corresponding to when they were created):

What this graph says to me is two things:

  • Until this election, nearly all of the Czech vote went to parties that were created in the first two years after the fall of communism.
  • New parties appeared, but they almost never survived.  It is remarkable that even though dozens of new parties appeared in the Czech Republic between 1992 and 2006, the combined vote totals for those parties in 2010 was less than 1%.  The Czech Republic’s political scene today contains parties that are (by Czech standards of 20 years of democracy) rather old (60%) or entirely new (39%) and almost none in between.
  • Given that, pattern, the question is what the Czech Republic looks like in 5 or 10 years.  If the current new parties show the same survival patterns as their “new” predecessors, they will not exist in one or two election cycles (this is the pattern elsewhere in the region).  The old parties may recover some of their voters but probably not all of them and the rest will go on to other new parties which will be equally short lived.  The larger this space gets, the larger space it may create for the next election and the more likely the Czech Republic is to find itself with the same patterns as the Baltics and other countries in the region.  The Czech party system dog has stopped not barking.

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