By Richard Wood
Italy went to the polls on Sunday 25 September 2022 to elect a new Chamber of Deputies as well as a new Senate. The election saw the significant rise in support of the far-right Brothers of Italy, who look set to have their first ever prime minister (leading a right-of-centre bloc). But how proportional was the election? And how does its mixed-member system compare to elections in Scotland’s?
Italy’s electoral systems
The Italian Chamber of Deputies has used a whole series of voting systems in its post-war history (Difford 2021). From 1948 – 1994, the country used an extremely proportional list system with no electoral thresholds. This was followed by three elections using a mixed-member system (known as Mattarellum) with most seats elected via First Past the Post and a quarter by list PR.
This was followed by a system of Porcellum, somewhat similar to the current Greek system, where the largest electoral coalition was given a bonus to provide them with 54% of representation in the chamber. This too didn’t last long and was replaced by the Rosatellum system which has been in place since the 2018 election.
Under Rosatellum, 37% of deputies are elected via First Past the Post while the remaining 63% are elected via party list PR. This results in a parallel voting system (mixed-member majoritarian) where there is no link between the FPTP seats and the PR seats. This is in contrast to mixed-member systems such as those used in Scotland, Germany and New Zealand where there is an explicit link between the two electoral components to strengthen overall proportionality.
The 2022 election saw a decrease in elected deputies, with 400 being elected across the whole of Italy.
Italy has a bicameral political system. In addition to the Chamber of Deputies, the country has an elected Senate with 200 members. Proposals to weaken the power of the Senate were rejected in a 2016 referendum meaning that the Italy remains a true bicameral democracy. Like with the Chamber of Deputies, the Italian Senate has a majority of PR representatives (63%) and a minority of FPTP members (37%).
READ MORE: New Zealand and Scotland – proportional but imperfect voting systems
Italy 2022 election results
This year’s Italian election results have certainly made the headlines.
Far-right Brothers of Italy emerged as the largest party at the 2022 election, taking 26% of the vote and 119 seats (of 400) in the Senate. The coalition of parties they led (including Forza Italy, Lega and Us Moderate) won a majority of seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (237 and 115 seats respectively).
The Democratic Party, led by former PM Enrico Letta, came second, but their centre-left coalition only managed to win 85 and 44 seats in the Chamber and Senate respectively.
The results mean that the right-wing coalition has majorities in both chambers. This is likely to lead to the appointment of Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni becoming the country’s prime minister – Italy’s eleventh since the start of the 21st century – certainly a worrisome prospect for Europe.
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How proportional was the 2022 election?
First Past the post has struck once again. While the Italian electoral system has significant proportional elements in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the election was far from proportional overall.
The right-wing bloc secured just shy of 44% of the Chamber of Deputies vote, however, they ended up with 59% of seats available (237 out of 40).
Brother’s of Italy’s vote count and seat count match up fairly closely. The party secured 26% of the vote and 29% of seats overall.
However, what skews the result in the right-wing’s bloc’s favour was the success of the right-wing populist Lega party in the First Past the Post element. The party won just 8.8% of the vote, however, they took 66 seats overall (16.5% of those available). They managed to do this by taking a whopping 42 First Past the Post seats, just seven fewer than their Brothers of Italy allies.
The overrepresentation of Lega in First Past the Post seats is the driving factor behind the overrepresentation of the right-wing bloc.
On the left, the Democrats were slightly underrepresented, taking 69 of 400 seats (17.25%) on 19.07% of the vote.
A similar story on both sides plays out in the Senate.
Overall, while the proportional element of Italy’s voting system enables a more multiparty system, the fact that almost 4 in 10 seats are determined by First Past the Post, skews the overall results, leading to overrepresentation of some parties and underrepresentation of others.
READ MORE: Sweden’s proportional voting system – an alternative for Scotland?
How does Italy’s voting system compare to Scotland’s?
As already mentioned, while the Italian system is a mixed-member system, there is no link between FPTP seats and list PR seats. In contrast, the Scottish system is designed to ensure an element of proportionality; list seats are allocated taking into account of FPTP won by each party in a region. At the last election, the SNP dominated the FPTP seats leading to Labour and the Conservatives winning more list seats to strengthen overall proportionality.
As there is no such mechanism in Italy, parties can be overrepresented leading to skewed results overall. This is a key factor in the dominance of the right-wing bloc in both chambers, driven by the relative overrepresentation of Lega in FPTP seats.
It’s also worth highlighting that while Scottish voters get two votes (one for the constituency and one for their regional list), Italian voters get just one vote, which counts as their constituency and list vote.
The case is clear: despite a proportional element, First Past the Post has distorted the link between seats and votes in the 2022 Italian election.
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