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July 22, 2013


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The Italian lower house is... problematic. The winner-take-all allows coalitions to form and run together, hoping to gain a plurality. So far, so good. But that in turn means that a small party that's part of the winning coalition can claim a bunch of seats, while a small party that's not gets nothing. To give an extreme example, in the very last Italian election the Democratic Centre party was pretty much a flop -- it won just 0.5% of the vote. But because it was in coalition with the winners, it gained six (6) seats in the Chamber. Meanwhile, the Civil Revolution Party got 2.25% of the vote. More than four times as many as Democratic Centre! But since it wasn't part of any coalition, it got zero seats in the Deputy (and promptly ceased to exist).

Put another way, while the Italian Senate may be screwed up even worse, it's far from the only problem.

Doug M.

True that, Doug. Italy has a terrible election law all around. It deserves a more complete post.

It's interesting: how many political elements that seem "cultural" can actually be chalked up to fairly straightforward political institutions?(Italian instability, American conservatism, and Greek inefficiency come to mind.)

It also goes with my theory (which I'm sure isn't original to me) that much of governance depends on the constitutional structures - and therefore, caring about the constitutional systems isn't the sort of airy-fairy nonsense that British politicians dismiss it as, but the fundamental business of anyone who wants to enact change.

Anyone got any theories for how to make votes cast in places with higher population densities count for more than ones cast where population densities are lower, with a sufficient amount of camouflage that I can propose it with a straight face, rather than having to establish an explicit Urban Populist party (aka the "we hate farmers" party).

The one thing to be said in favor of the US Senate is that, unlike the House, it can't be gerrymandered. You might say it's *already* gerrymandered, of course, but the overrepresentation of small states does not seem to favor one party over the other to the extent it once did. After all, in 2012, Obama carried 26 states, compared to 24 for Romney, which almost exactly mirrors the two-party popular vote--whereas Romney carried 228 House districts to 207 for Obama. (This is not all the result of intentional gerrymandering; part of it is simply due to Democrats being disproportionately concentrated in heavily-Democratic urban areas; but the point is that for whatever reason, the Senate really is more politically representative of where the American electorate is right now than the House.)

"It's interesting: how many political elements that seem "cultural" can actually be chalked up to fairly straightforward political institutions?(Italian instability, American conservatism, and Greek inefficiency come to mind.)"

What are the institutions behind Greek inefficiency?

Richard: I don't see a need to make high-density votes count more. Having them count the same is easier to justify and I think enough; the problem is so many systems that inflate the power of low-population/low-density areas.

David: more accurate to say that the GOP took more seats than that Romney did. It could also be a result of split ticket voting, though in fact it wasn't and Democratic candidates got more total votes. I'm told that was unusual, though.

But yes, the Senate is resistant to short term gerrymandering, though it has lots of distortion built in. And the President kind of represents a popular majority, usually. But the House's single-member districts are a result of federal law; Congress could mandate each state to elect its delegation by some form of PR. (Nation-wide PR would require an amendment, I think. Neutering the Senate takes something between "aggressive constitutional convention" and "revolution". Or secession.)

Hi, Damien!

Short version: http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2010/03/empathy_short_supply

Add to that history an electoral law that created a two-party system much like Venezuela under the Punto Fijo pact: e.g., two parties that essentially acted like one big patronage machine.

Deep cultural influences may be at work, but only inasmuch as they produced the violence of the pre-1975 period.

Thanks! That was interesting.

Another example, more positive: Swiss egalitarianism might have driven direct democracy, but does direct democracy in turn sustain their egalitarianism? It certainly empowers it, with the law to enforce shareholder approval of CEO salaries, and the surprisingly popular proposal to limit salary ratios to 1:12.

(I suspect, looking at Athens and Switzerland, that the politics of high democracy and meaningful citizenship also feeds a culture of being ungenerous in doling out that citizenship.)

I wonder if parliamentary PR leads to anything particular.

One of the less recognized (and nastier) aspects of Swiss society: they're probably the most ruthless Western European nation in terms of exploiting guest workers. They use a lot of them, and they never give them any rights, and when they're done with them they kick them right out.

Does having a permanent underclass doing all the scut work may help drive egalitarianism? I suspect that under certain circumstances, yeah, it might could.

Doug M.

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