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Abstract:

Development Discussion Paper
Enfranchisement and Representation: Italy 1909-1913
Valentino Larcinese
December 2011
Paper No' EOPP 032:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: D3, D7, I25, N33, N34


Tags: democratization; voting; electoral competition; inequality; swing districts; political violence; vatican; socialism.

This paper presents evidence on the consequences of the 1912 introduction of 'quasiuniversal' male suffrage in Italy. The reform increased the electorate from slightly less than three million to 8,650,000 and left the electoral rules and the district boundaries unchanged. This allows us to exploit the heterogeneity in enfranchisement rates across electoral districts to identify the causal effects of franchise extension on a number of political outcomes. The reform caused an increase in the vote share of social reformers (Socialists, Republicans and Radicals), together referred to as the Estrema. One standard deviation in the share of newly enfranchised voters over the total number of registered 1913 voters caused an increase of around 2% in votes for Estrema candidates but had no impact on their parliamentary net seat gains. Enfranchisement had also no impact on the parliamentary representation of aristocracy and traditional elites. Other outcomes (the chances of having candidates from the Estrema and the Herfindel-Hirshman index of electoral competition) were also unaffected, with the exception of turnout, which decreased. These findings show that de jure political equalization did not cause major changes to political representation, although the voting choices of the formerly and newly enfranchised citizens differed on average. This apparent puzzle is the consequence of the heterogeneity of the effect across a number of both social and political dimensions. The paper documents elite's effort to minimize the political impact of the reform.