Explainer

Italian Election Guide

The electoral system, the parties, the issues and the possible outcomes, explained.

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

Italians vote in early elections on September 25. All 400 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 200 elected seats in the Senate will be contested.

The elections were called after Prime Minister Mario Draghi lost the confidence of the populist and right-wing parties in his coalition. Polls predict a victory for the right.

Here is everything you need to know.

Electoral system

Constitutional reforms in 2020 reduced the Chamber of Deputies from 630 to 400 members, and the Senate from 315 to 200 elected members. (There are six senators-for-life, including former prime minister Mario Monti.)

Of the 400 deputies:

  • 147 will be elected by plurality in single-member districts;
  • 245 will be elected by proportional representation nationwide; and
  • 8 will be elected by proportional representation in four constituencies for Italians abroad: North America, South America, Eurasia and the rest of the world.

Of the 200 senators:

  • 74 will be elected by plurality in single-member constituencies;
  • 122 will be elected by proportional representation in 21 regional constituencies; and
  • 4 will be elected by Italians abroad.

Parties

Italy has dozens of political parties. Many are small and running under the list of a major party. For example, the Sardinian Action Party, which has one senator, is running in Sardinia under the banner of the right-wing League. Various left-wing parties have grouped with the Democrats.

The major parties in turn have formed coalitions that are committed to go into government together. There are three: the right, led by Giorgia Meloni; the left, led by former prime minister Enrico Letta; and the liberal Third Pole of the Action party and Italia Viva, led by Carlo Calenda. The populist Five Star Movement is contesting the election on its own.

Party

Leader

Deputies

Senators

League Matteo Salvini 131 61
Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi 73 50
Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni 37 21
Us Moderates Maurizio Lupi 23 12
Total center-right 264 144
Democratic Party Enrico Letta 106 43
Civic Commitment Luigi Di Maio 54 11
Greens and Left Alliance Angelo Bonelli 6 1
More Europe Emma Bonino 1 1
Total center-left 167 56
Five Star Movement Giuseppe Conte 96 62
Action–Italia Viva Carlo Calenda 46 18

In order to qualify for single-member seats, a party must obtain at least 1 percent of the votes nationally and belong to a coalition that gets at least 10 percent support. In order to qualify for national (Chamber of Deputies) and regional (Senate) seats, a party must win at least 3 percent nationally.

Issues

High living costs, caused by record-high gas prices and forty year-high inflation, are the main issue in the election.

The right-wing parties would cut sales tax on energy and basic goods, cut taxes for the self-employed, raise child benefits and minimum pensions, expand opportunities for early retirement and partly pay for it by abolishing the “citizens’ income” — a guaranteed minimum income for jobseeker — the Five Star Movement and League introduced when they were in government in 2019.

The left has no common platform, but the Democrats would cut low- and medium-income taxes, introduce a minimum wage of €9 per hour and raise salaries in education and health care. The Five Stars would abolish regional business taxes (which are an important source of income for League-governed industrial states in the north).

The Democrats would cap electricity and gas prices and provide renewable energy to low-income households at low cost. The right-wing parties prefer nuclear power.

The Five Stars would issue eurobonds to finance an EU energy recovery fund, modeled on the €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund, of which Italy is the largest recipient. The right wants to renegotiate the terms of that bailout, but it hasn’t given specifics. One of the EU’s conditions they oppose is liberalization of beach clubs and taxis.

The Democrats want to make it easier for the children of immigrants to obtain Italian citizenship. The right-wing coalition wants to keep immigrants out, including by setting up EU-run “hot spots” in North Africa where asylum requests could be assessed.

The Democrats would legalize cannabis.

None of the major parties have pledged to reverse the defense spending increases Draghi implemented, nor to withdraw Italian support from Ukraine. Although none would add to it either, and Italy has been one of the least generous allies.

Polls

  • The far-right Brothers of Italy and center-left Democratic Party have been neck and neck in the polls with 24-25 and 21-23 percent support, respectively. But the combined right is clearly ahead with 45 to 48 percent against 28-29 percent for the left.
  • The League is in third place with 12-13 percent, but its popularity has come down from a high of 35 percent two years ago. Matteo Salvini made a huge mistake when he blew up his coalition with the Five Star Movement in 2019, which paved the way for first the center-left government of Giuseppe Conte and then the unity government of Mario Draghi.
  • Conte’s Five Star Movement has also disappointed voters, going down from 33 percent support in the 2018 election to 11-14 percent in the polls. It has been further weakened by the defection of outgoing foreign minister Luigi Di Maio’s Civic Commitment, which is polling at 1 percent.
  • Forza Italia is a shadow of its former self with 7-8 percent support.
  • The liberal alliance of Action and former prime minister Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva is polling at 5 to 8 percent.

Projections

Data analyst Gianmarco Di Lella gives the right a 95-percent chance of winning majorities in both chambers:

Coalition

Deputies

Senators

Center-right 246 125
Center-left 88 40
Five Star Movement 40 22
Action–Italia Viva 18 9

Possible coalitions

  • Center-right: The almost-certain outcome. A coalition of the Brothers of Italy, League and Forza Italia, led by Giorgia Meloni, who would be Italy’s first woman prime minister.
  • Grand coalition: Keeping Meloni out of the Palazzo Chigi would require the Democrats, League, Five Star Movement and Forza to work together. They did under Draghi, but the last three parties left the unity government. Why would they restore it? Especially when it allowed the Brothers to steal away disaffected right-wing voters from the League and Forza?
  • Renzi’s chance: I don’t see Salvini making the same mistake twice. But if Berlusconi could somehow be convinced to team up with the Democrats and Five Stars, the Christian democrats of Us Moderates — the smallest party in the right-wing alliance — and liberals of Action and Italia Viva might just be able to put such a centrist coalition over the top. More likely, though, Renzi, prime minister between 2014 and 2016, will once again fail to make a comeback.

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