The output indicators for Italy 2022: Yes, MMM in a smaller assembly really mattered

In the pre-election planting I pointed out how much more disproportional Italy’s electoral system would be, given the substantial reduction in assembly size. The current allocation rules and balance between single-seat districts and list-PR seats remained unchanged since 2018, but the assembly size was cut from 630 to 400. (Here I will be referring only to the Chamber of Deputies.) The system is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM).

Assuming I calculated things correctly–and I think I did, but the party vs. bloc calculations can be a little confusing, so caveats apply–here is how the change mattered.

I will report effective number of seat-winning parties (NS), effective number of vote-earning parties (NV), and deviation from proportionality (D2, the Gallagher index also known as the Least Squares Index). I will report both by individual party and by pre-electoral bloc. I believe that for an electoral system like this, the bloc figures are more meaningful, but here you have both and can decide which one works for your analytic purposes.

2018 Party2018 Bloc2022 Party2022 Bloc
NS4.322.905.582.40
NV5.103.366.623.44
D2 (%)3.985.027.3011.74

The change is pretty dramatic. Taking that last line first–disproportionality–we see an increase at the bloc level from around five percent to nearly twelve percent. The 2018 bloc-level figure is a level just below what we might see in a moderately proportional system like Estonia (5.3% in 2019) or Spain (5.37% in 2016) or Luxembourg (5.20% in 2013). The 2022 bloc-level figure is closer to what we might find with a majoritarian system, such as Canada (11.3% in 1988) or the UK (11.8% in 2019) or to take a “brotherly” MMM example, Japan (11.5% in 2000). Thus the increase is quite consistent with how I characterized the system in the previous post, as having changed from an effective seat product just over 900 (consistent with moderate PR) to one of 650 (the same as the value for the UK) solely due to assembly-size reduction.

The effective number of seat-winning blocs is certainly in the ballpark of expectations under a majoritarian system, with 2.90 in 2018 and a drop to 2.40 in 2022 when the assembly size reduction makes it even more majoritarian. The reduction in 2022 occurs in spite of a slightly increased fragmentation of the vote, even at the bloc level (from 3.36 to 3.44). That is, of course, why the disproportionality is so high in 2022.

The bottom line result is that the center-right bloc obtained 59.3% of the seats on 43.8% of votes–a classic majoritarian outcome. In 2018, for comparison, it had 42.1% of the seats on 37.0% of the votes. Its votes grew by 6.8 percentage points, but its seats by 17.2. Some of that is due to the bigger gap between the top two two blocs this time around, which in turn was a product of the center-left’s less complete alliance formation, but a lot of it is the lower number of single-seat districts resulting from the cut in the Chamber size.

Based on the seat product model, by which we expect NS=(MS)1/6, and using the numbers reported earlier for effective seat product, we should expect the 2018 system to yield NS=3.12 and the 2022 system to yield 2.94 (based on effective seat products of 920 and 650, respectively). These are “politics blind” expectations, based solely on the systems’ fundamental design features–district magnitude of the basic tier and the sizes of the tiers that comprise the assembly. We can see that in both elections the actual outcome by blocs was a little less fragmented than these expected values, but not to any extraordinary degree. The calculation of effective seat product for these complex systems gets their impact on the assembly party system about right.

As I mentioned, I do think these indicators are more meaningful when calculated on party level for a system like this. The parties within a bloc coordinate nominations in the single-seat districts, and the contest over who will form the post-election government takes place between blocs. Thus the blocs are the meaningful units. On the other hand, nothing commits the parties within a bloc to continuing to work together, and they agree that the votes for list will determine which one gets the prime ministerial post if the bloc wins a majority. The parties thus remain relevant and competitive actors, too. The outcome at party level was a little less “blocky” overall this time, with more parties gaining significant vote and seat shares despite being outside a bloc.1 But even at the party level, what is likely to matter most–at least in the short run–is that the largest party within the largest bloc has a majority of its bloc’s seats (119 of 237 for the Brothers), despite only 26% of the overall vote for parties.2

All in all, the the key take-home outcome is that the MMM system strongly rewarded the parties that had coalesced to form the biggest bloc, and the largest party within that bloc. That is just as we would expect MMM to do, particularly with such a reduction in assembly size.

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  1. Five Star was in this category both elections. In 2018 it won 32.7% of votes and 36% of seats. This time it dropped to 15.4% of votes and 13% of seats. In addition, Action–Italia Viva in this election had 7.8% of votes and 5.3% of seats. More to the point, the three biggest blocs (counting Five Star as one of the “blocs”) had 92.5% of the votes in 2018 but just 85.4% in 2022.
  2. Quite different from 2018 when the League had just 47% of its bloc’s seats–which were in any case not a majority of the Chamber. The League’s party vote in 2018 was 17.4%.

Italy 2022

Italy votes in general elections today. The Brothers of Italy is expected to be the largest party, in a pre-electoral alliance with the League and Forza Italia that may end up with a substantial majority of seats in both houses.

The electoral system is similar to that used in 2018 in that it is mixed-member majoritarian despite having just over 60% of seats elected in the party-list proportional component of the system. In an important sense, however, this year’s version is even more majoritarian–the size of both chambers has been reduced substantially. Other things equal–as they are–a smaller assembly is less proportional (or “permissive” to small parties). And when you combine a relatively majoritarian system with a smaller assembly, you get a more majoritarian system overall. The new Chamber of Deputies, at 400 seats, is closer to the cube root law expectation for a country the size of Italy, but nonetheless the impact would be to favor more substantially than before the largest party or pre-electoral alliance, relative to the 2018 system which had a Chamber size of 630. The size of the Senate has been reduced correspondingly from 315 to 200 seats.

How is the system mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) and not mixed-member proportional (MMP)? This question has been asked before. The answer is straightforward: the seats a party wins in the list component are simply added on to those that it wins in the nominal component (single-seat districts decided by plurality). There is no compensation mechanism, not even a partial one like in the 1994–2001 version Italy used.1 There is a single vote, but whether voters can split their votes between nominal and list components has no bearing on the classification, which depends entirely on whether the list seats are allocated so as to compensate for deviations from proportionality arising from the district results (as under MMP) or not (as with “parallel” allocation under MMM).

The results from 2018, aggregated by pre-election alliances that coordinate nominations in the single-seat districts, certainly made this clear. The center-right alliance combined for 37% of the votes. This alliance won 42% of the seats, which is not terribly disproportional. However, we have to remember that more than three fifths of the seats are elected by PR. The nature of the system can be seen by looking at the detailed breakdown. The alliance won 111 nominal seats (out of 232, for 47.8%). Thus they were over-represented in this component of the system, as expected from single-seat plurality. If the list component were compensatory, as under MMP, the share of list seats won by this alliance should have been lower than its share of the vote. Yet it won 39.1% of them (111 of 386). It should have ended up with somewhere around 233 seats were these seats compensatory, but instead won 265 (including 3 seats for Italians overseas).

If we take the largest opposition force, the dynamic is even clearer. This was Five Star, which ran on its own, not as a part of any pre-electoral alliance. It won 32.7% of the vote, and 93 of the 232 nominal seats. That is 40%, so it is also slightly overrepresented in this component. To this it added 133 list seats, which is 34.5%, ending up with 227 seats total (including 1 abroad), or 36.0%. That the system was MMM becomes clearer still if we consider the second largest opposition alliance, the center-left. It had 22.9% of the vote, and won 28 nominal seats. This is only 12.1% of these seats–sever underrepresentation, as expected for a third party under single-seat plurality. Its list seat total was 88, which is 22.8% of the list component. Yes, 22.8%, so it got near-perfect proportional representation. However, it got this proportional result only in the list seats themselves. Overall, due to the punishment in the nominal seats, it was underrepresented, ending up with 122 seats (including 6 from Italians abroad), which is 19.4%. It was not severely underrepresented in the final result because–again–the list component is so large. However, were the system MMP they should have had approximately 110 list seats instead of just 88, in order to make their overall seats proportional to list votes. And, as already covered, the other alliances and parties would have had their list seats cut somewhat due to a compensation mechanism, if it were MMP. Thus the system is MMM, albeit with a large list component. I should also add that when I say “list votes” I mean votes aggregated from the nominal contests, given there is only a single fused ballot and not separate list and nominal votes (as there are in the MMM systems of Japan and Lithuania, or in the MMP systems of Germany and New Zealand).

Because polling for today’s election shows the Brothers of Italy in the lead and the combined center-right alliance clearing 40% of the vote while the second place center-left alliance looks to be under 30%, the system likely would provide a substantially larger boost to the center-right this time around than last, even if the rules were unchanged. However, assembly size is a core defining characteristic of an electoral system. If the rules for how seats are allocated are unchanged, and the balance in an MMM system between nominal and list seats is also unchanged, the key variable in how majoritarian it will be overall is assembly size. As already noted, both houses are half as large in the 2022 system as they were in 2018. This change promises a further boost to the winning alliance. There are only 147 single-seat contests in the Chamber of Deputies this time (around as many as in the Australian House of Representatives) and only 74 in the Italian Senate (about as many as in Liberia’s first chamber), it will be even more “work” for the list-PR component allocation to offset, despite its size relative to the nominal, given it is non-compensatory.

In terms of effective seat product, my estimations have it at 920 in the 2018 election. The goal behind the effective seat product is to allow us a rough approximation of what simple electoral system a given complex system is most similar to, in terms of its impact on the party system. Simple, single-tier systems with seat products in the 900–1000 ballpark include Luxembourg (900) and Greenland (961). The former has an assembly about ten percent the size of Italy’s in 2018, yet in terms of impact of the party system, the design of Italy’s system made it more like the simple PR system for the 60-seat assembly of Luxembourg than like other assemblies with 600+ seats and PR allocation (e.g., Germany’s effective seat product is currently around 1800 and Italy’s under its old PR system prior to the early 1990s was around 9800). As for Greenland, they get an effective seat product of 961 from an assembly of only 31 seats by allocating in a single territory-wide district. In other words, while Italy 2018 was a system of MMM, the large assembly and large share of seats allocated in the list component make the Chamber system of 2018 similar to a small-assembly PR system. But what about 2022?

The calculation of the effective seat product for the new Chamber of Deputies system would be around 650. In other words, roughly the same effect on a party system as Britain’s FPTP system, despite the election of over three fifths of deputies in a PR component. This is a fairly substantial reduction. It is based on the “as if” calculation of (1) an MMP system with same parameters as Italy’s new system, which would be an effective seat product of around 2860, and (2) a FPTP system of the actual size of Italy’s nominal component (147). For MMM, we take the geometric average of these two values, which is (rounded) about 650. This is very slightly less restrictive than the MMM system that was in use from 1994 to 2011 (for which the effective seat product could be said to have been around 660). Applying the same procedure to the Senate electoral system of 2022 would yield an effective seat product of around 370, implying roughly the same impact on the party system as the FPTP system of the Canadian House of Commons has.

In conclusion, Italy now has the most restrictive and thus plurality-favoring electoral system it has had in the post-WWII era.2 Despite still having a fragmented multiparty system in which parties enter pre-electoral alliances, it has an electoral system that is more like FPTP in the UK (in the case of the Chamber) or Canada (in the case of Italy’s Senate) than like a PR or MMP system. If the largest alliance clears 40% of the votes, as expected, it should obtain a substantial bonus in seats, due to the relatively majoritarian design of the system.

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Notes

  1. That system was also MMM. It was often mis-classified in various sources as MMP. The misunderstanding was somewhat more justifiable than for the current one, because of the partial compensation mechanism, which was based on adjusting party-list votes according to nominal seat performance (rather than allocating list seats with regard to nominal seats won as is done under MMP). Even with the partial-compensation mechanism, that former system also should be classified as MMM.
  2. All of Italy’s post-war electoral systems have been complex in one way or another. Above I mentioned that the system in use as of the early 1990s had an effective seat product around 9800. That was a remainder-pooling PR system and Italy has not used a PR system since then. The mixed-member system put in place in 1994 had an effective seat product around 660. The bonus-adjusted system from 2006 through 2013 comes out to around 1325 (but this is a more challenging system to estimate because of its unusual features). In all cases, these numbers refer only to the Chamber. Also, the calculation of effective seat product for the 1994–2001 system does not take the partial compensation mechanism into account. Perhaps it should, which would increase the effective seat product of that former system to some (small) degree. However, it is not clear how one would carry out such an adjustment, given the unusual nature of the mechanism. I do not think it is necessary or worthwhile to attempt.

Italy’s new electoral law

Guest post by Filippo Tronconi

 

On Monday, 4 May, 2015 the Chamber of deputies has finally approved Italy’s new electoral system. It has not been a consensual decision, as Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had initially hoped. Although Berlusconi’s Forza Italia had voted in favor of an identical text in the previous passage at the Senate, it subsequently withdrew its support. Part of the Democratic Party led by Renzi himself has opposed the reform too, together with Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement and other minor opposition parties.

The new electoral law, similar to the one adopted in 2005 and invalidated by the Constitutional Court in 2013 is a bonus-adjusted proportional representation system. At the same time, many differences have been introduced, the most important of which are 1) the fact that the majority bonus is now allocated to the most voted list, and not to a coalition of parties; 2) a run-off between the two most voted lists is foreseen in the event that no one reaches 40% of valid votes in the first round; 3) a national threshold is set at 3% of valid votes, in place of the multiple thresholds of the old system; 4) preference voting has been re-introduced.

Let’s analyze the functioning of the new system in detail.

Italy’s 630 Deputies are divided into 618 members elected from the national territory, and 12 members elected by Italians living abroad. The latter are elected through proportional representation. Of the 618 national MPs, 340 are allocated to the most voted list, provided that it reaches 40% of the valid votes nationwide. In case no lists reach this threshold, a run-off is held two weeks later between the two most voted lists. Of course, in the unlikely event that a party obtains 340 seats thanks to the proportional distribution, no further bonus is awarded. Therefore, whatever the result, this is a majority-assuring system. Either after the first or the second round, one list gets 340 seats, equal to 54%. A few additional seats are likely to join the majority from the ones elected by Italians living abroad. The remaining seats are allocated proportionally (via Hare quota and largest remainders) to the other parties obtaining at least 3% of the valid votes nationwide; parties below this threshold do not get any parliamentary representation.

While the bonus is allocated in a nationwide arena of competition, intraparty competition is based on 100 districts electing 3 to 9 MPs, depending on the resident population (with particular arrangements for the two Alpine regions of Valle d’Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, characterized by the presence of Francophone and German linguistic minorities). In each district, lists are made of a head-of-list, whose name is printed beside the symbol of the respective party, and the remaining candidates, whose number range from half to the full number of seats to be allocated in that district. Voters can express one or two preferences for the “open” candidates (i.e. excluding the head-of-list) of their party, writing the corresponding name or names on the ballot. If a party is entitled to only one seat in a district, that is reserved to the head-of list. If more than one seat must be allocated, they go, after the head-of-list, to the candidates obtaining more preference votes. Heads-of-list (and only they) can be candidates in up to ten different districts; if elected in more than one district they will opt for one after the elections. The remaining districts where a head-of-list has been elected will allocate those seats to candidates chosen by preference vote.

In sum, this is a flexible list system, where voters are allowed to choose among candidates only beyond the head-of-list. The most voted list will have 340 seats, with 10 to 100 of them being filled by “closed” candidates and the remaining 240 to 330 by “open” candidates, depending on how extensively the multi-candidacy rule is used. For opposition parties, the balance between “closed” and “open” MPs will mainly depend on vote fragmentation. In general, the smaller the party, the higher the chances to have only heads-of-list elected.

Several rules are oriented to increase a gender-balanced representation: 1) heads-of-list of the same gender cannot exceed 60% within the districts of each region; 2) “open” candidates are alternated by gender; failing to comply with such rules determines the exclusion of the list from the ballot; 3) voters who express two preference votes need to choose one man and one woman; if not, the second preference is invalid.

One final important remark is in order. All the above refers to the Chamber of Deputies only. The electoral system for the Senate is currently the 2005 one as modified by the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which means open-list proportional representation without majority bonus. A comprehensive Constitutional reform is currently under way in Parliament, which would transform the Senate into a sort of federal chamber, indirectly elected by Regional assemblies and without the power to vote the confidence to the executive. For this reason the new electoral rule for the Chamber will be effective only from July 2016, when the Constitutional reform is expected to complete its second reading in Parliament. It is clear that the effects of the electoral reform would be seriously jeopardized in the event that the current symmetrical bicameralism remains in place.

Overall, the new electoral law is intended to have a strong majoritarian imprinting, similar to the 2005 system for the Chamber of Deputies. The nationwide competition for the bonus makes the Italian territory similar to one big district, and this is expected to lead towards a two-party equilibrium in the long run. On the other hand, the relatively low threshold will leave room for small parties, though preventing them from gaining a pivotal coalitional power, as currently happens. Clearly, nothing prevents parties from agreeing to form ad hoc joint lists before elections and splitting once in parliament, although this will have the cost of not displaying their own symbol on the ballot. Furthermore, the new electoral system cannot be expected to reduce the traditional factionalism of Italian parties, nor the trasformismo of elected representatives. But this is probably something one would better avoid to expect from any electoral system.

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Model of the new ballot:
new ballot italy

Young and inexperienced–how common?

New Italian PM Matteo Renzi has never served in the national legislature or cabinet (till now), and is only 39. These are unusual characteristics. Usually parliamentary parties prefer to “vet” their executive talent for a while through having them serve in the legislature and/or cabinet before being elevated to the top job (much more so than in presidential systems, where the candidate for the top job has to be able to win a plurality or majority as an individual–see Samuels and Shugart, 2010, 2014).

How common is it for the head of government of a parliamentary democracy to be as young and inexperienced as Renzi? Some insight comes from the Executives Biographical data of Samuels and Shugart. Here I offer some lists selected with intent to compare Renzi to other PMs. Caveat: in addition to being post-WWII only, the dataset ends with 2005. I won’t be updating it any time soon, but of course I would welcome readers’ additions via comments to this entry.

The first list (Dropbox link) is of all the parliamentary PMs in the dataset who had never served in the legislature before, along with how many years they had served in the cabinet prior to becoming PM (yrscab) and their age when starting their stint as PM (agestart). The list contains only 24 names–these are all the PMs in parliamentary systems who had no prior legislative service. That’s out of 411 total. So lack of legislative experience is quite rare. Exactly one of them was younger than Renzi is now (Vasile Petru Tarlev of Moldova, 38 when he took the job in 2001). Several on this list can be explained through newness of the democratic regime itself (e.g. Mandela) or immediate post-war years. You will note the multiple appearances of a few countries* on the list, including… Italy.

A second list has all parliamentary prime ministers who assumed the position before the age of 40. It is also a short list, and it is heavily dominated by young democracies, mainly in Central-Eastern Europe. It looks like our youth champion is Pandeli Majko of Albania, 31 when he assumed the job in 1998, followed by Mart Laar of Estonia, 32 when he became PM in 1992; Laar began a second stint seven years later, when he was still about the age of Renzi now. We also see from the list that, despite their youth, some of these PMs had considerable experience already in the legislature (e.g. Felix Gaillard of France, 10 years**) and a few had cabinet service (e.g. Stanislav Gross of the Czech Republic and Aigars Kalvitis, 4 years each).

One more list of background relevant to Renzi: how common is it for a PM to have been a mayor, but not a legislator or cabinet minister before elevation to the top job? Renzi might be only the third (see caveat above), following Jirí Paroubek of the Czech Republic (2005) and Jawaharlal Nehru of India (1947, the year of Indian independence). Upon assuming office, Paroubek was 53 and Nehru 58.***

So Renzi’s combination of youth and inexperience, aside from having been mayor of a major city (Florence), is indeed unusual.

Previous related post: Age of PMs and presidents upon assuming the position, in new and old democracies.

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* There are five Netherlands PMs on this list, which is a bit surprising. Service in the senate, perhaps? And that makes me wonder if we counted service in the Italian senate, which we should have, given it has confidence powers over the cabinet, unlike most other second chambers.

** Ilir Meta of Albania, 15 years service as MP, is, I am sorry to say, a mistake in the data! He was born in 1969, elected to parliament in 1992, and became PM in 1999 (not 2001, as the list indicates), according to an online bio.

*** Nehru was a mayor? That is what the dataset says. According to Wikipedia, he was elected chairman of the Allahabad Municipal Board in 1923. (Yes, students, I can use Wikipedia. This is a blog post.)

Italian electoral reform deal?

The BBC reports that the center-left Democrats and opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi have struck a deal on electoral system reforms. Such reforms are necessary as a result of the Constitutional Court having invalidated the current law.

I wonder if any readers have details. The BBC says little other than to quote Democrat’s leader Matteo Renzi as saying the new system “favours governability and a bi-polar system, and eliminates the blackmail power of the smallest parties”. And about the current system, the BBC says “The current electoral system has left Italy with a series of shaky coalitions.”

The latter is not a very accurate claim about the current electoral system, which, after all, gave the Democrats and their allies an absolute majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies despite such fragmentation that they had barely over a quarter of the vote. The deeper problem is the strong bicameralism and the fact that the Senate must have regional representation. The bonus provision–that which manufactured the Chamber majority–is applied region-by-region in the Senate, to which the government is also responsible.

Moreover, currently it seems that it is not small-party blackmail that is the real problem needing fixing (even if we assume that a regionally elected, coequal Senate won’t be changed). Even in the Senate, which is indeed divided, the three biggest individual parties combine for well over 80% of the seats, and the two biggest for just under two thirds. (This refers to numbers at the election, before Silvio Berlusconi’s party split, with the splinter supporting the government after Berluscoini withdrew support from it.) Rather, Italy’s two biggest political forces are relatively polarized, and Italian voters were deeply split into three antagonistic blocs at the last election; in fact, the Democrats likewise led the Senate vote with just 27.7%, yet won over a third of the elected Senators thanks to the bonus provisions. These are hard problems for any electoral reform to fix, unless one is willing to tolerate really extreme disproportionality. But as the results of the 2013 election show, what they have is already quite disproportional!

Italy’s electoral law ruled unconstitutional

Italy’s Constitutional Court has invalidated the country’s electoral law. Reuters:

The constitutional court picked out the “winner’s bonus” system where the coalition with the biggest number of votes automatically gets 55 per cent of the seats in the lower house, irrespective of its actual share of the vote.

That can give a political grouping without an overall majority total control of the lower house, but none at all of the upper house, the Senate, which is voted in through a different system.

Actually, the Senate system is the same, but the bonus is calculated region-by-region, rather than nationwide, as it is in the Chamber.

If the ruling is against the bonus provision, then it is not quite accurate to refer to “a system blamed for creating parliamentary deadlock”.

The article says that options include a two-round system or a return to the 1994-2001 mixed-member system.

The ruling is not retroactive, so it does not invalidate the election held earlier this year.

Thanks to Filippo Tronconi for the tip. Filippo tells me that the provisions for a closed list were also mentioned in the court’s ruling. The reasoning behind the court’s decision will not be released for a few weeks.