By Joel Selway and Allen Hicken
Note: Map of PT vote share updated 4/10/19. Provinces where PT only ran in some constituencies had been miscalculated.
Lead Picture: The Official Logo of the Pheu Thai Party
Among commentators on the recent Thai election a common claim is that the election results have revealed cracks in Pheu Thai’s basis of support [link]. There is certainly evidence to support this conclusion. While Pheu Thai won a majority of the seats in the 2011 election, it secured just over 27% in the most recent election. But looking just at seat totals is misleading for at least two reasons. First, we knew going into the election that the electoral deck was stacked against Pheu Thai, regardless of the party’s base level of support. The new electoral system was poised to reduce the number of seats the party won, even if the number of votes the party received had remained unchanged, while the electoral playing field was systematically biasedin favor of junta and its proxy party—Palang Pracharat. Second, Pheu Thai’s decision not to field candidates in 100 of the 122 constituencies being contested by its sister party, Thai Raksa Chart, means that comparting the seat totals from 2011 and 2019 is misleading.
Given these challenges, what can we conclude about support for Pheu Thai today? We take a look at that question from several angles in this post. (A later post will explore some simulations of how the party might have fared if it had chosen to contest all 350 constituencies).
1. Pheu Thai’s victory rate is unchanged from 2011
The first thing to note is that if we measure Pheu Thai’s level of success by its victory rate—the number of seats it won, given the number it contested (seats won/seats contested)—the party’s results look remarkably consistent. In 2011 the party won 204 of the 375 constituency seats it contested, a victory rate of 54.4%. In 2019 the party only contested 250 seats, and was victorious in 137 constituencies, for a victory rate of 54.8%. By this measure, support for Pheu Thai looks remarkably stable—the party won in just over half of the constituencies where it chose to field candidates in both elections.
2. Thai Raksa Chart tended to run in constituencies where Pheu Thai was weaker
Of course, the constituencies where Pheu Thai chose not to run may not have been chosen at random. The party may have allowed Thai Raksa Chart to run in constituencies where it was already weak. To investigate this possibility we examine the 2011 constituency vote share for Pheu Thai, averaged by province. (For purposes of the provincial average we ignore constituencies where Pheu did not contest.) We compare the average 2011 constituency vote share for provinces where it ran in both 2011 and 2019 to the average 2011 constituency vote share for the seventeen provinces where it failed to run a candidate in 2019: Chanthaburi, Kanchanaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phang Nga, Phetchaburi, Phichit, Phrae, Ranong, Ratchaburi, Satun, Songkhla, Surat Thani, Trang, Trat, Uthai Thani, and Yala.Pheu Thai’s 2011 average constituency vote share in those seventeen provinces was 27.7%, compared to an average of 46.3% in the remaining constituencies. In other words, Pheu Thai appears to have reserved the constituencies in which it was the strongest for its own candidates, and allowed Thai Raksa Chart to contest in constituencies where it was systematically weaker. (In a future post we will take a closer look at what might have happened had Pheu Thai contested in all 350 seats.)
Figure 1. Comparison of Seats Won by Party between 2011 and 2019 Thai Elections
3. Pheu Thai seat distribution remains concentrated in the North and Northeast
If we compare the distribution of Pheu Thai’s seats across regions between 2011 and 2019 the maps look roughly similar (Figure 1). (See this postfor more details). The core of the party’s strength is still in the upper North and Northeast. In the lower North and Northeast and Central regions, Pheu Thai lost some seats to other parties, particularly Pracharat, but most of the inroads the latter made in these regions came at the expense of the Democrat Party. 113 of the 137 (82.5%) constituency seats Pheu Thai won were in the North or Northeast. This compares to 153 of the 204 seats it won in 2011 (75%) being won in these two regions. Thus, from one angle, Pheu Thai’s support is even more regionally concentrated in the North and Northeast. Just 24 of Pheu Thai’s remaining constituency seats were in other regions, with no seats in the South.
Figure 2. Comparison of Pheu Thai Vote Share between 2011 and 2019 Thai Elections
4. Pheu Thai’s average provincial vote share falls sharply
Figure 2 compares the average constituency vote share for Pheu Thai broken down by province in 2011 and 2019. The general geographic support patterns are fairly consistent between the two elections. However, the degree of support changed dramatically. In 2011 Pheu Thai gained more than 50% of votes in twenty-eight provinces (and over 60% of the vote in most of those). In 2019 the party’s average vote share did not top 50% in anyprovince. Table 1 shows that support for Pheu Thai declined in almost every province, from a dip of only 2.0 percentage points in Tak, to a fall of 43.9 percentage points in Sa Kaew. In two provinces Pheu Thai’s vote share actually increases slightly: Nahkon Nayok and Sukhothai. Nationally, Pheu Thai’s average constituency vote share fell by almost half, from 44.3% to 22.3%. Again, in a future post we try and estimate how Pheu Thai would have performed had it contested the outstanding 100 constituencies, but it is not likely to get the party anywhere near its 2011 performance.
Table 1. Change in Pheu Thai vote share by province between 2011 and 2019.
Grey rows denote provinces where Pheu Thai did not run at all
* denotes a province where Pheu did ran in some but not all constituencies
In total, the results indicate that the decline in the seats captured by Pheu Thai is not just a reflection of the fact that it contested in fewer constituencies. Overall, voter support for Pheu Thai declined in almost every constituency across the country. So, while the party is arguably still the largest, it has fallen from its perch as the party able to command a reliable majority. However, a note of caution is in order given the uneven playing field of the 2019 election. It appears much of the decline in support for Pheu Thai is linked to the increased support for the junta-backed Palang Pracharat party (more on this in a future post). If the history of prior military-backed parties is any indication, the future of Palang Pracharat is likely not a long one. It remains an open question whether Pheu Thai can woo back voters who abandoned the party in 2019 if Palang Pracharat is out of the picture.
This is because the individual constituency boundaries are not consistent between the two elections.
This accounts for 61 of the 100 constituencies in which Pheu Thai sat out.