Enfranchisement and Representation: Evidence from the Introduction of Quasi-Universal Suffrage in Italy
What are the political consequences of introducing de jure political equality? Does it change patterns of political representation and the identity of elected legislators? This paper uses an important electoral reform passed in 1912 in Italy to provide evidence on these questions. The reform trebled the electorate (from slightly less than three million to 8.650.000) leaving electoral rules and district boundaries unchanged. By exploiting differences in enfranchisement rates across electoral districts we identify the effect of franchise extension on various political outcomes. Enfranchisement increased the vote share of left-wing social reformers but had no impact on their parliamentary representation, no impact on parliamentary representation of aristocracy and traditional elites and no effect on political competition. We show that left-wing parties decreased their vote shares and were systematically defeated in key swing districts. We document elite's effort to minimize the political impact of the reform and, in particular, we show that the Vatican's secret involvement in the post-reform electoral campaign had a substantial impact on voting results, although formerly and newly enfranchised voters were equally affected. We relate our results to economic theories of democratization, which appear to be only partially compatible with our evidence. Keywords: democratization, voting, electoral competition, inequality, swing districts, political violence, Vatican, socialism. JEL code: D72
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