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Taking Strategic Voting to a New Level: The 2013 Italian Parliamentary Elections

- February 24, 2013

Italians are heading to the polls today in the first of two days of balloting to determine the composition of the new parliament, and – as Italy is a parliamentary system – the new government. Lots of news stories will focus on the consequences of the election, the mood of voters, and remaining uncertainty over what the results will be.

As a political scientist, however, I am fascinated by what seems to be an extreme case of the dictates of strategic voting colliding with whatever innate desire voters have to vote sincerely. Simply put, there are voters in Italy today who – if they want to produce a government that is most likely to pursue their preferred policies – ought to be voting again Berlusconi in the lower house elections but for Berlusconi in the upper house elections. Moreover, some of these people are likely to be among the most opposed to Berlusconi in the country: supporters of current Prime Minister Mario Monte or the most likely next Prime Minister of Italy, Pier Luigi Bersani. I explain why in detail in an op-ed at Al Jazeera English. The essence of the argument is found near the end of the piece:

The only way then that Bersani can be prevented from winning all of the regions in the Senate election is if the Berlusconi coalition wins some of them. This means that (a) if you want to see Bersani ruling in coalition with Monti and (b) you live in a region where Berlusconi is actually competitive, the best chance you have of seeing Monti in the government is if you cast your vote for the Monti coalition in the Chamber of Deputies, but for the Berlusconi coalition in the Senate.

What makes this even stranger is that the exact same logic holds for more centrist supporters of Bersani. Without going into too much detail, Bersani’s party has a more centrist (which today means more pro-economic reform, or more pro-austerity) wing, as well as a more traditional leftist wing. Moreover, the other parties in Bersani’s coalition are to the left of his party. If you are from the centrist wing of Bersani’s party, you may actually prefer to have your party form the new government in coalition with the Monti parties than with the coalition partners with whom you are contesting the election.

Should this be the case – and should you live in a region of the country where Berlusconi is competitive – then even if your preferred party is Bersani’s party, it still probably makes the most sense for you to vote for the Bersani coalition in the Chamber of Deputies election, but for Berlusconi in the Senate. Strategic voting indeed!

The full op-ed can be found here.

[Photo by Joshua A. Tucker]