EU referendum forecast update: 79 per cent chance of Remain winning

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Stephen Fisher and Alan Renwick have developed a method for forecasting the outcome of the EU referendum based on current vote intention polling and analysis of opinion polling from previous referendums in the UK and across Europe. Since the last update two weeks ago the probability of a Remain win has increased from 72 per cent to 79 per cent.

There has been a small shift towards Remain in the polls over the last two weeks. Excluding don’t knows, our polling average for Remain has moved from 52 per cent on 10th May to 53 per cent now. This figure is based on the most recent polls from each of seven companies: one from each but two from ICM (one by phone and one conducted online). The Remain share has been adjusted down by 2.15 points for telephone polls and up by the same amount for online polls to account for the relatively stable gap between these different methods in the levels of support they tend to give the two sides.

Using the historical experience of referendum polls and referendum outcomes in the UK and on the EU elsewhere, as discussed here, our latest forecast is for Remain to win 55 per cent of the vote in a month’s time. The 95 per cent prediction interval surrounding this estimate has narrowed very slightly to ±12.5 points. So we are forecasting that Remain will win between 43 per cent and 68 per cent of the vote.

Values closer to the middle of this range are more likely. Overall the probability that the Remain vote will be larger than the Leave vote is now 79 per cent, up from 72 per cent two weeks ago.

This post was originally published on Elections Etc. and is re-posted with permission.

About the authors

Dr Stephen Fisher is an Associate Professor in Political Sociology and the Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Trinity College, Oxford.

Dr Alan Renwick is the Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit.

Canadians to debate electoral reform, again – but at this stage success seems unlikely

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Canada’s Liberal government, elected in October 2015, came to office with a commitment to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system. A parliamentary committee has now been established to consider the options for reform and report by December. Louis Massicotte offers an overview of the long, and largely unsuccessful, history of attempts to reform the Canadian electoral system and discusses the prospects for the current debate. He concludes that at this stage success seems unlikely.

In October 2015, Canadians elected a new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who quickly reached international celebrity status and has been enjoying a prolonged honeymoon with the public since then. A few months earlier, when his party languished in third place in opinion polls, Trudeau had boldly promised that the 2015 election would be the last one conducted under first-past-the-Post (FPTP), and that a parliamentary committee would consider two options: ‘ranked ballots’, known as the alternative voting (AV) in Britain, where it was rejected at a referendum in 2011; and MMP (mixed-member proportional system), a German-created mixed system that inspired the systems used for electing the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the London Assembly. On May 10, the terms of reference of the committee were disclosed. The committee is expected to consult widely and to report by December 1. The prospects for success will be discussed below, but it is fitting that we start by summarising the history of electoral system reform in Canada.

Earlier attempts at electoral system reform

In theory, a federal country with ten powerful provinces, including mostly French-speaking Quebec, is the kind of setting that offers plenty of opportunities for electoral innovation. Yet, the predominance of single-member plurality throughout the country is now absolute, and has rarely been challenged successfully in the past. The break-up of the two-party system following World War I, at a time when most of continental Europe was switching to proportional representation, led some Canadians to advocate either AV or the single transferable vote (STV). In 1920, STV was adopted for electing Manitoba’s provincial MLAs from Winnipeg, and this move was completed a few years later by introducing AV for electing rural members. In 1924, Alberta emulated this move by having provincial MLAs from Calgary and Edmonton elected by STV, and rural MLAs by AV. Both provinces kept these mixed systems until the mid 1950s, when they returned to first-past-the-post normalcy. An attempt to adopt the same hybrid failed in Ontario a few weeks before the 1923 election.

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The 2016 Queen’s speech and the constitution

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Last week’s Queen’s speech included proposals to bring forward a British bill of rights and a commitment that ministers would ‘uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons’. Mark Elliott suggests that if action was taken to implement them these measures would be highly significant. However, there is no sign of developed government thinking in these areas at this stage and so, in practice, they may amount to very little.

This year’s Queen’s speech touches on two possible constitutional reform measures. (I pass over the Wales Bill, which was published in draft in October 2015). The first concerns the replacement of the Human Rights Act 1998 with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, while the second concerns the sovereignty of parliament and the ‘primacy’ of the House of Commons. If implemented, these measures would be highly significant. But the signs are that, for the time being anyway, they may amount to very little in practice – not least because the Government’s thinking in relation to them appears to be undeveloped to say the least.

A British bill of rights

The Conservative Party has for some considerable time said that it wants to replace the Human Rights Act (HRA) with a bill of rights (albeit that exactly what would thereby be entailed has been, and remains, shrouded in uncertainty). Any attempt at reform in this area was stymied in the last parliament by the politics of coalition, the Conservatives’ Liberal Democrat partners being staunchly committed to the retention of the HRA. The most that could be managed then was a Commission on a Bill of Rights, whose proposals, such as they were, came to nothing.

Freed from the shackles of coalition, the Government promised in last year’s Queen’s speech to bring forward ‘proposals for a British Bill of Rights’. This year’s speech contained an almost identically worded undertaking promising ‘proposals’ but not a bill as such. The fact that little, if any, progress appears to have been made in this area is testament to the legal, constitutional and political difficulties that arise (matters that I consider further here). In political terms, the government appears to be divided on the question of whether the UK should remain a party to the ECHR – the Home Secretary thinks not – while the politics of devolution represent a major complication.

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Scotland, Wales and Ireland point to how governments should be formed in hung parliaments

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Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones have this week been re-elected as First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, whilst two week ago Enda Kenny was re-elected as Irish Taoiseach. In each case the newly elected parliament elected the head of the new government. In a new report Petra Schleiter, Valerie Belu and Robert Hazell argue that a similar procedure should be adopted at Westminster, where currently the Queen decides who should be Prime Minister before parliament meets. Robert Hazell explains why.

This week has seen the re-election of Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones as First Ministers in Scotland and in Wales, following the devolved elections on 5 May. Two weeks ago we witnessed the re-election of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach in Ireland, ten weeks after the Irish election on 26 February. What these three countries have in common is not just that the same leader has been re-elected, but that in their recent elections Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland all saw the return of a hung parliament in which no party gained an overall majority. In these circumstances it does not fall to the Queen to decide who shall be First Minister, or in Ireland to the President; under their constitutions it falls to the newly elected parliament, whose first business (after election of a presiding officer) is to elect the head of the new government.  That is what happened in Ireland on 6 May, in Scotland on 17 May and in Wales on 18 May.

In a report published this week, which I have written with Professor Petra Schleiter and Valerie Belu of Oxford University, we suggest that is what should also happen in future at Westminster. Instead of the Queen having to decide who should be Prime Minister before parliament meets, the first business of a newly elected House of Commons should be to select the Prime Minister, who would then be formally appointed by the Queen.

This may seem unnecessary after elections when a single party wins an overall majority, and it is obvious who is going to be Prime Minister: as happened in the UK in 2015. In those cases the election of the leader of the majority party to head the new government would be a formality.  The value of asking the House of Commons to choose the Prime Minister is when it is not obvious who can command confidence in the newly elected parliament. That is always going to be the case in a hung parliament, especially if it is closely hung. We risk forgetting how narrowly we escaped from having such a parliament after the 2015 general election. In the weeks before the election the polls suggested a very close result, with some forecasting a dead heat between the two major parties. Although the Cabinet Manual says it is for the political parties to work out who can command confidence in the new parliament, there is a risk of confusion and uncertainty if there is a standoff, with both main parties claiming to be able to form a government. The only reliable way to determine who can command confidence in such a situation is a nomination vote in the House of Commons. That would be a quicker and cleaner solution than the traditional vote on the Queen’s Speech as the first test of confidence in a new government.

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The Chilean constituent process: a long and winding road

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Chile’s current government is committed to the replacement of its 1980 constitution. To formulate a new constitution it has instigated a unique bottom-up process, focusing debate in the public sphere through local meetings and citizens’ assemblies before any discussion in traditional institutional venues begins. Alberto Coddou Mc Manus offers an overview.

Chile is undergoing a unique constituent process. A longstanding aim of several social movements, the idea of a new constitution now dominates the agenda, and is one of the main commitments of the current government. The commitment to replace the Constitution of 1980 stems partly, but not exclusively, from its origin in dictatorship. In an era where structural reforms have been at the forefront of centre-left governments around the region, various constraints put in place by the 1980 Constitution have assumed a central place in the Chilean political public sphere. It seems that Chileans have to discuss, design and implement every policy under the shadow of Pinochet’s constitution, which was carefully crafted to preclude the institutional articulation of progressive political projects. Several critiques of the current constitutional arrangements have emerged: the powers of the Constitutional Court, which has threatened to strike down major reform packages; super-majoritarian laws that regulate fundamental issues (like education, local government, or the organisation of the armed forces), which were mostly enacted during the dictatorship and to which any reform can be blocked by a congressional minority of 3/7ths; and, echoing a problem that is widespread in the region, a hyper-presidentialism that relegates Congress to a secondary role.

In this scenario, and under the pressure of social movements that during the last presidential election called on people to mark their ballots in order to support a Constituent Assembly, President Bachelet committed her political forces to launch a constitutional process that would comply with three standards: respect for the current institutional arrangements, in order to motivate the participation of sceptical sectors of the political establishment; active participation of the citizenry, that for the first time in the Chilean history has been invited to be the main actor of this process; and inclusiveness, which implies being aware of different groups that have been historically and structurally excluded from political debates. What was drafted in general terms in her political manifesto is now being implemented, and the precise articulation and design of the constituent process is something that may attract the interest of broader regional or global audiences. Three features of the current constituent process should be highlighted.

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Reform is needed to restore public and parliamentary confidence in the private members’ bill process

Last month the House of Commons Procedure Committee published a report on the private members’ bill process in which a number of proposals for reform were put forward. The committee’s chair, Charles Walker, offers an overview and argues that the alternative to reform is that more members will abandon the existing process and backbench legislation, as we know it, will cease.

Procedure Committees past and present have examined the private members’ bill (PMB) process and found it gravely wanting. It is becoming more and more evident that parliamentary and public confidence in the process is waning. The current process misleads the general public, often falsely raises expectations about legislative action, and operates under procedures which are too easily gamed to prevent genuine legislative proposals from proceeding. The Procedure Committee undertook its latest inquiry into PMBs in light of experience of the process in this session and increasing dissatisfaction with the House’s procedures for PMBs, building on the work of the predecessor committee in the last parliament.

We identified two fundamental problems with the present process. Our chief concern is the lack of transparency: the process is impenetrable to the general public and too often brings parliament into disrepute. Our second concern is that it is now extremely difficult for a genuine PMB to reach the statute book—increasingly, not because the House as a whole has decided that a bill should not progress, but because a small number of members opposed to a measure can effectively veto it.

Evidence we heard suggests that the public is baffled by the process. Colleagues are frequently lobbied by constituents and others with requests to be present at Westminster on a sitting Friday to support a bill which has little (if any) chance of being debated, let alone reaching the statute book.

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As Spain heads for a second election in six months, its parties have failed to correctly interpret the result of the first

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Spain will have a fresh general election on June 26 after government formation negotiations following December’s hung parliament failed. Alberto López-Basaguren discusses how things got to this stage, arguing that the parties have failed to correctly interpret the implications of the December result. The new election is not in their own or the public interest and the parties could, and should, have avoided it.

On May 3 King Felipe VI approved the dissolution of the Spanish parliament, calling a fresh election for June 26. In doing so he complied with Section 99(5) of the Constitution, given the inability of the Lower House to elect a Prime Minister within two months of the first investiture vote.

The election results of December 20 situated the political forces at the entrance to a maze into which, almost without exception, they have insisted on going further and further, so far indeed that they have been unable to find the exit. We have had months of uninterrupted electoral campaigning, as if for the parties there existed no other prospect than new elections.

Only the conservative Popular Party (PP), and the social democratic Socialist Party (PSOE), could form the backbone of a government majority. The strategy of both has basically been the same: the appointment of a PM being the objective, at any price, come what may afterwards, in the hope that the conditions making this possible would fall like ripe fruit. Although each of them had in mind a different fruit.

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