Summary of new Italian electoral system

If you have been unclear on what the new Italian electoral system–to be used the first time this March–really is, there is a good summary.

Broadly, it is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, and definitely not MMP, contrary to a few claims I have seen). But with only 3/8 of the seats elected from single-seat districts, it stretches the definition at least a little bit. Anyway, the components (nominal-district and list-PR) are allocated in parallel.

There are some complicated provisions regarding the relations of votes for district candidate and lists, having to do with parties running in alliances, but there is no way to split across alliances. There is no partial compensation mechanism as there was in the MMM system (which had a balance tilted more in favor of the nominal tier) that Italy used between 1994 and 2001.

26 thoughts on “Summary of new Italian electoral system

    • It will complicate things. M5S is in first right now, and while they don’t seem to have much of a platform as to how they will govern, at least under the old system a government would be formed. Now you’ll have a protest part that despises both the center-left and the Berlusconistas as the largest part and potentially needing to form a coalition to govern.

      • The issue with the old system was that the majority bonus handed to the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies couldn’t be reflected in the Senate (given that Senate seats can only be apportioned based on region-wide results)-the old system did limit the number of parties that could lead a government (basically to 1), but it’s not as if it didn’t require broad and unwieldy coalitions. Indeed, the incumbent government, as I understand it, started as a grand-ish coalition between the Democrats, the Monti coalition and Berlusconi’s party.

        While it’s true that M5S will be the largest *party*, it will probably be in second or third place after the Democratic Party joins up with minor left and centre groups and Forza Italia and Lega Nord run jointly.

  1. Dear Matthew Shugart,

    we disagree with your assessment and classification. In the new Italian electoral system seat allocation is not linked (the two tiers run almost in parallel) but the vote linkage is absolutely present. Given its ballot structure (no vote-splitting and no individual vote), there is an automatic transfer of votes from the nominal tier to the list tier (and vice versa). Such a system of full/absolute vote linkage makes the new electoral system work as a MMP, prioritizing the list-PR tier, and accordingly the principle behind majoritarian systems (that is, giving an advantage to a large party) entirely disappears.

    All the best,
    Gianfranco Pasquino (University of Bologna), Marta Regalia (Luissi Guido Carli-Roma), Marco Valbruzzi (University of Bologna)

    • A well-informed friend comments “The Italian professors are wrong and Shugart is right. Yes there is a transfer of votes – including those from successful candidates. MMP deducts those votes either directly or indirectly (by deducting seats). This being a one-ballot system doesn’t make it MMP.

      Granted, in practice in may be more proportional than AMS (Scottish MMP) given the high number of PR seats, but that’s not really relevant to categorizing the system. How proportional a system is depends on circumstance, whereas the system itself is categorized by how it behaves across all circumstances.”

      I defer to those who can read Italian.

      • He adds “I should add that this is a massive improvement over the super-majoritarian system previously used in Italy though. 29% was good enough for a majority last time around. They’ve harmonized things more with their senate too which should reduce their propensity for deadlock.”

  2. how could anyone define a system that allocates about 66 per cent of the seats according to a PR formula less than Mixed Member Proportional is a mystery that we will allow the allegedly “well-informed”, though, apparently not knowledgeable, friend to solve. The previous electoral law was PR plus a majority bonus. If the coalition obtained 40 per cent of the votes the majority bonus was 14 per cent additional seats. In parliamentary democracy rarely do the deadlocks depend from the electoral law. Mostly they are the product of the inability/unwillingness of party leaders to reach agreements.

    • The system is not more proportional. But because 100% of the seats are not aligned proportionally, give or take, it is not MMP. MMP does not describe a system where some members are seated based on proportional voting, it is a system where every member sits in a caucus sized in proportion to its overall vote, but with some members selected locally.

      • Whoop! Meant to say that the new system is more proportional than the old system

  3. If Google Translate and I have correctly interpreted the Gazetta Ufficiale record of the law of 3 November 2017, the multi-member districts are to have between 3 and 8 seats for the Chamber of Deputies, between 2 and 8 seats for the Senate. [Presumably, they are coterminous with groups of between 2 and 4 single-member districts, in such a way as to achieve the overall 5-to-3 ratio between MMDs and SMD.]

    It is not obvious that the large fraction of PR seats will result in good PR, given the small district magnitudes (compared to Scottish MMP regions, say). A bug or a feature?

    • Proportional seats are FIRST distributed nationally and THEN allocated to local districts. So, no reductive effect of small districts.

  4. I have a feeling people are arguing from different perspectives. To the Anglophones, the lack of seat (or vote) deduction is decisive in making Rosatellum bis not proportional; while to the Italians (I think), given Italy’s experience with scorporo, disallowing vote splitting and having 66% proportional tier seats makes it proportional, or at least more proportional than say New Zealand, whose very proportional elections are more results of people acting irrationally (i.e. not setting up decoy lists) rather than institutional design.

    • The Italians can call it whatever they want to, but the new system does not fit any definition of “mixed-member proportional” as that term is conventionally used in English language political science. If 3/8 of the seats are awarded on a plurality basis, and then 5/8 of the seats are awarded proportionally not counting the plurality seats, that is pretty much a textbook example of a “mixed-member majoritarian” system.

      Parties in New Zealand don’t run decoy lists because the political culture is vastly different than Italy and such a move would likely result in the party losing seats. I’d also say it’s far from “rational” to expect the average voter to understand an electoral system well enough to vote in order to game that system. It’s absurd to suggest that because of a minute theoretical possibility of using a decoy list that the Italian system, which has a built-in non-proportional component, is somehow more proportional than the New Zealand system.

      If you’re going to assume that the New Zealand system acts in a highly improbable manner, you’d also have to presume that the Italian system is going to deliver an unorthodox result, like M5S winning all of the constituencies on 20% of the national vote. If that were the case, M5S would win 309 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (49% of seats) and 155 seats in the Senate (49% as well) without vote splitting or decoy lists. That is hardly a “proportional” system by any definition. And that scenario is hardly an outlandish prediction for the Italian system.

      • And if New Zealand is the “outlier,” what explains Germany, Scotland, Wales, and London where, with real differences in sitting list members, none of them have decoy lists or other ways of gaming the system.

  5. It would seem to me that while Italy’s new electoral system is clearly mixed-member and mostly proportional, it is not mixed-member proportional (MMP), given the absence of a top-up mechanism to partially or completely compensate for the distortions introduced by the FPTP component.

    At the same time, I can see that it may appear counter-intuitive to describe Italy’s new and predominantly proportional electoral system as mixed-member majoritarian; nevertheless, in the same manner as typical MMM systems – namely those featuring a large FPTP component – with Rosatellum bis “the list-PR allocation is unlikely to prevent any party that can emerge from the nominal tier over-represented (perhaps substantially) from retaining over-representation. […] any party in a position to be over-represented in the nominal tier will also obtain a large (and approximately proportional) share of the list-tier seats. It thus will retain some degree of over-representation far and away beyond what it would have with any compensatory mixed-member system (MMP), even one with a relatively small PR tier and/or small magnitudes in that tier.”

    To illustrate the impact of Rosatellum bis compared to MMP, I re-ran last September’s Bundestag election in Germany under the new Italian system. Excluding the special cases of Valle d’Aosta and the expatriate seats, the remaining 617 Italian Chamber of Deputies seats have a PR-to-SMC ratio of 386:231; since Germany has 299 single-member constituencies, there would have to be 500 party list seats to attain the same ratio, for a total of 799 seats. (This figure may seem large compared to the minimum Bundestag size of 598 seats, or even its current size of 709 after last year’s election, but simulations of 1990-2009 Bundestag election results under the fully proportional system introduced in 2013 indicated that an 800-seat Bundestag was well within the realm of possibility.)

    Now, Rosatellum bis does not allow split-ticket voting, so the second vote (Zweitstimme) was used to allocate both single-member and party-list seats. This would have resulted in an even more lopsided CDU/CSU victory in the single-member constituencies, with the Union parties capturing 256 of 299 direct mandates (210 CDU and 46 CSU), while SPD would have been reduced to just 29 seats; meanwhile, both The Left and AfD would have won seven seats each. (Compared to the actual first vote outcome, CDU would have lost four seats to AfD, SPD would have lost 29 seats to CDU and one to The Left, which would have also captured the sole seat won otherwise by Alliance 90/The Greens.) Following the nationwide distribution of 500 list seats by the largest remainder method of PR, the composition of the Bundestag under Rosatellum bis would have been as follows (with numbers in parentheses showing the percentage of mandates and the difference with respect to the actual MMP outcome):

    CDU – 351 (43.9%; +151)
    SPD – 137 (17.1%; -16)
    CSU – 78 (9.8%; +32)
    AfD – 73 (9.1%; -21)
    F.D.P. – 57 (7.1%; -23)
    The Left – 56 (7.0%; -13)
    Alliance 90/The Greens – 47 (5.9%; -20)

    Incidentally, it would have made no difference for CDU and CSU to run separately or in coalition for the allocation of list seats, as the Union parties would have won the same number of mandates under either scenario. More importantly, with 429 of 799 seats (53.7%) Frau Doktor Merkel would have secured an absolute majority of 59 seats with just 32.9% of the vote, which would have allowed her to form a CDU/CSU government right after the election. While this is a purely notional outcome – there is no way of telling how voters would have cast ballots under a different electoral system – the difference with respect to the actual, inconclusive outcome of last September’s election is quite dramatic.

    Finally, it should be noted that while Rosatellum bis did under-represent minor parties in the notional scenario, they would have still fared better than under nominally proportional systems such as that of Spain. In fact, the levels of representation attained by the smaller parties would have been roughly comparable to those achievable under bonus-adjusted PR systems such as Italy’s now-repealed Porcellum.

  6. Interesting thread; thank you to all who have commented. To be clear, I am using the definitions of MMM and MMP that Wattenberg and I introduced in our 2001 book. What places a system in one or the other category (and, yes, intermediate cases are possible) is not whether there are two votes (allowing ticket-splitting) or what the percentage of seats is in each component is. It is all about the process by which the list-PR seats are allocated: Do nominal (plurality or majority) wins count towards the seats won by PR, or are the seats won in the two components simply added to each other?

    It is my understanding that the new Italian system does the latter, which would be parallel allocation. Therefore not MMP. If my understanding is wrong, then I would need to revise my conclusion.

    I already addressed in the initial post the question of whether “MMM” was a good name for a system where the percentage of PR seat is so high. Perhaps not. But I believe for reasons of terminological clarity, we should reserve the term “MMP” for compensatory mixed-member systems. And, yes, just as “PR” systems can have low magnitude districts and thereby be relatively non-proportional in effect (as in the Spanish case Manuel references), so can “MMP” have small compensation regions (e.g. Scotland). By the same token, perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to allow “MMM” to have a high percentage of PR seats, as long as the mechanism is parallel and thus a large party can win an above-proportional share of seats via winning many plurality races, for which the other parties are not compensated.

    • District magnitude is not always the main contributor to disproportionality in MMP elections to the Scottish parliament. In 2016 the SNP won 64 seats, while its 41.7% share of the regional vote would have justified a total of 54 seats. The SNP won 60 constituency seats, of which 6 seats came from overhangs in 5 of the 8 regions. Going to 1 region of magnitude 129 have seen just 4 SNP regional seats redistributed among the Greens, Lib Dems and UKIP.

      In 2011 the situation was reversed. The SNP gained 69 seats, would have been entitled to 57 by the popular vote and had 5 overhang seats. In this case the region magnitude (16) was more important, eliminating 5 parties that each had more than 1/129 of the popular vote and giving a “D’Hondt bonus” to larger parties.

      Overhang compensation is especially important in MMP if one party has >40% of the vote and 3 or 4 other parties are scrabbling for the remaining <60%, as in Scotland in 2016.

      • The described phenomenon in Scotland is one of “compensation magnitude”–the size of the regions (nominal seats plus compensation list seats) over which compensation is carried out. Of course, the formula used will matter, too, and all the more so when compensation magnitude is low.

        I looked into some of these issues in more detail, as reported in one of the on-line appendices to Votes from Seats, linked at the book’s webpage (click on “Resources”).

  7. The electoral system introduced by the latest Italian electoral law (n. 165/2017) is clearly a mixed-member system. However, the world of mixed-member system is vast and eterogenous. The so-called “Rosato law” refers to the subtype of mixed-member majoritarian (MMM). In fact, in those latter cases the two tiers (proportional and majoritarian) are not linked (see Shugart and Wattenberg 2001). Therefore, the majoritarian boost received by a list/party in the nominal tier is not wasted/weakend by the proportional allocation of seats. This latter aspect is confirmed by the fact that votes conferred to candidates in the plurality part only are proportionally allocated to the lists of the coalition, so that the lists are not affected in their final score in the PR part. And, therefore, it is confirming the “division” between the two tiers and the MMM nature of 2017 Italian electoral system.

    • If I am not mistaken, this means that the Shugart and Wattenberg definitions from the 2001 book do not regard the electoral system of Baden-Württemberg as MMP, since it does not allow for split-ticket voting. I would find that most peculiar.

      • As MSS states above: “What places a system in one or the other category (and, yes, intermediate cases are possible) is not whether there are two votes (allowing ticket-splitting) or what the percentage of seats is in each component is. It is all about the process by which the list-PR seats are allocated: Do nominal (plurality or majority) wins count towards the seats won by PR, or are the seats won in the two components’ simply added to each other?”

      • Baden-Wurttemberg is the one that was called “Dual Member Proportional” in a recent Canadian poll and where a runner-up is selected from each district to balance the FPTP winners is it not?

        If it is not MMP, what is it then?

  8. Right you are. I must’ve misread something earlier! By those criteria the B-W system would rightly not be classed as MMM.

    • What is the B-W system called? Here’s a radical idea: let’s ask them what they call it? Answer: the Personalized No-List Proportional System. Germans call MMP the Personalized Proportional System, or sometimes the Improved Personalized Proportional System. So the distinctive element of the B-W system is “no list” (ohne listen). Some call it a “best losers” system, or a “best runners-up” system, but not the Germans.

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