Scarcely a day goes by without an opposition leader reminding the Lebanese public about which side won the popular vote in the last election. Interestingly, though, I have not yet read much analysis that attempts to explain exactly how the opposition managed to win as much as 10% more of the popular vote while still losing the election.
Kamal Feghali, a pollster said to be sympathetic to the opposition, has released a final report on the elections. On the second-to-last page, he provides a very helpful graph that shows how many votes the two coalitions received in each district, the winning percentages, and the margins of victory. I’ve reproduced the graph below as a JPEG for your convenience.
Studying the results, it becomes clear that the winning percentages in opposition-won districts are, in general, much higher than those of loyalist-won districts. In particular, the winning percentages in Hizbullah/Amal-dominated districts are absolutely enormous, ranging from 77% (Marjeyoun) to 88.1% (al-Zahrani) to 93.2% (Bint Jbeil). By contrast, the March 14-won districts have far lower winning percentages, coming in at an average of 61.2% based on my calculations, versus 88% in Hizbullah/Amal districts.
Higher winning percentages — particularly in large districts — translate into higher margins of victory. The problem with high margins of victory, however, is that they don’t amount to any additional electoral gains; winning a district by a single vote is just as good as winning it by 100,000 votes, as far as getting elected is concerned.
To illustrate this problem, let’s imagine a tennis game between me and Roger Federer. For the first two sets, I dominate him, winning 6-0, 6-0. In the third set, I’m winning 5-0 and serving for match point when the tide suddenly turns and Roger roars back, eventually winning the set 7-5. The same thing happens in the fourth and fifth sets, and Roger, alas, wins the match.
Who do you think won more games in that match, Roger or QN? As it turns out, I did, winning 27 (6+6+5+5+5) to his 21 (0+0+7+7+7). And yet, I couldn’t win when it counted most.
The numbers in Feghali’s election graph tell a similar story. Let’s take a look at the six opposition-won districts with the highest margins of victory: Baalbek (94,841 votes), Sour (66,470), Nabatieh (56,112), Bint Jbeil (48,687), al-Zahrani (40,662), and Marjeyoun (37,000). All told, the opposition earned 343,782 more votes than its opponents in these districts. (Remember, these figures reflect margins of victory, not total votes. In other words, they are “surplus votes” earned beyond the 50% needed to win the district).
Now let’s look at the six loyalist-won districts with the highest margins of victory: Beirut III (51,619), Akkar (36,000), Shouf (35,453), Tripoli (25,366), Miniyeh/Dinniyeh (21,636), and Aley (13,053). All told, March 14 earned 183,127 more votes than its opponents in these districts.
If we subtract March 14’s surplus votes in its biggest districts from March 8’s surplus votes in its biggest districts, we are left with 160, 655 votes, which is nearly the difference in the popular vote results. In other words, had March 8 won its districts by the same margins of victory that March 14 won its districts, the difference in the popular vote would be practically negligible.
Conclusions: The reason that March 8 won 165,000 votes more than March 14 and yet still lost the election is essentially because Hizbullah and Amal trounced their opponents by an average of 88%, winning tens of thousands of votes more than they needed in their districts. By comparison, March 14 won its districts by an average of 61.2%, with far more modest margins of victory. The difference in “surplus votes” between the top six districts for each coalition produces a net gain of 160,000 votes for the opposition.
Michel Aoun’s Change & Reform bloc, by contrast, won its districts by an average of around 56.5%, so it is a little bit disingenuous for Aoun and Frangieh to say that they reflect the popular will. The discrepancy in the popular vote was not generated by their own supporters but rather by Hizbullah’s and Amal’s.