Italian Voting Reforms Could Have Little Impact on Balance Between Parties

The left, right and populist Five Star Movement would remain roughly equal in size.

Italian parliament Rome
Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Italian parliament, in Rome (Shutterstock)

Voting reforms enacted by the Italian parliament this week could do little to make the country more governable, an analysis of Ipsos polling data by Corriere della Sera reveals. The three main political blocs would remain roughly equal in size.

The new law allocates a third of the seats in the lower chamber on a first-past-the-post basis and removes the premium for the largest party.

The expectation was that these changes would hurt the populist Five Star Movement and help the mainstream left and right.

But it turns out the effect could be negligible.

Little change for Democrats and Five Stars

Under the old system, the ruling Democrats and the Five Stars, who are polling at 26-29 percent support each, would win around 178 and 175 out of 617 seats, respectively. (Not counting the deputy from the Aosta Valley and the dozen lawmakers representing Italians abroad.)

Under the new system, they would have 174 and 178 seats.

That assumes pacts between the Democrats and their center-right allies in the Popular Alternative for first-past-the-post seats.

Bigger changes on the right

Under the old system, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia would have won 108 seats with around 14 percent support.

The Northern League would have won 101 seats with around 15 percent support.

The national-conservative Brothers of Italy would have won 31 seats with around 5 percent support.

Under the new system, Forza Italia would win sixty seats, the Northern League 59 and the Brothers sixteen.

But the three could win an additional 103 seats through electoral pacts, putting their total at 238.

No bloc would have a majority

Even a “grand coalition” of the Democrats and mainstream right (the Popular Alternative plus Forza Italia) would fall 38 seats short. They would need the Northern League for a majority.

But the League may be tempted to join with the Brothers of Italy and Five Star Movement instead. Such a three-party coalition of Euroskeptics could, with the support of independent rightwingers, cross the 315-seat threshold.

It looks like reforms that were meant to keep the insurgents at bay might just have the opposite effect.