Incumbency Effects under Proportional Representation: Leaders and Backbenchers in the Postwar Italian Chamber of Deputies

Published date01 November 2015
AuthorMiriam A. Golden,Lucio Picci
Date01 November 2015
University of California at Los Angeles
University of Bologna
Incumbency Effects under
Proportional Representation:
Leaders and Backbenchers
in the Postwar Italian Chamber
of Deputies
We study incumbency effects for individual legislators from two political parties
(Christian Democracy and the Italian Socialist Party) in Italy’s lower house of represen-
tatives over 10 legislatures (1948–92) elected using open-list proportional
representation. Our analysis finds no reelection advantage for the average incumbent
legislator. Only a tiny elite in each party successfully creates an incumbency advantage.
We find incumbents advantaged for reselection by their political party. We interpret
reselection advantage as a party loyalty premium. Our study depicts a political environ-
ment monopolized by party leaders who reward party loyalty but hamper legislators in
appealing directly to voters.
The systematic study of electoral advantages accruing to incum-
bent off‌iceholders comes out of decades of research into the United
States Congress. This legislature exhibits an unusually high rate of
reelection. Reasons put forth for the ability of US off‌iceholders to secure
reelection include two. First, incumbents use the privileges of off‌ice to
direct government resources to their constituencies. These resources
include pork, patronage, and individual services. Legislators are highly
effective in credit claiming for the proliferation of these resources. They
have generally been successful in constructing a substantially sized
“personal vote” that guarantees ongoing electoral success (Cain,
Ferejohn, and Fiorina 1987). Second, in part because of the effectiveness
DOI: 10.1111 /lsq.12087
C2015 The Comparative Legislative Research Center of The University of Iowa
of credit claiming, name recognition among incumbents is greater than
for challengers. These factors combine to discourage entry by high-
quality challengers.
In single-member electoral districts, credit claiming is straightfor-
ward. Each district has a single legislator, who has no legislative
competitors seeking credit for activities in the district. Every bridge,
every street improvement, every government installation and job, and
every bureaucratic obstacle overcome is directly traceable to the incum-
bent legislator.
Multimember districts present a challenge to individual
off‌iceholders, simply because there are so many of them in each electoral
constituency. Credit claiming is accordingly more complicated. Propor-
tional representation also gives political parties more power in candidate
selection. The power of the parties comes from the ordering of the elec-
toral lists. Although PR exhibits numerous minor variations, it is
common for each political party to select as many candidates as seats in
each electoral district and to present voters with an ordered list of candi-
dates. Because the party organization orders the list, it is taken as
representing the party’s statement of the political priority it assigns to
candidates. Incumbents are therefore dependent on their parties for rese-
lection, a feature that imposes a loyalty premium. This in turn reduces
potential incumbency advantage.
Thus, the PR setting simultaneously reduces the ability of incum-
bents to credit claim with voters and increases the ability of political
party leaders to ensure the loyalty of backbenchers. In addition, com-
pared with single-member districts (SMD), the larger size of PR districts
makes it more diff‌icult for candidates to achieve independent name
recognition among voters. Even in the United States, most voters are not
able to name their congressional representative. Name recognition is
obviously more diff‌icult when party lists have 10, 20, or even 40 candi-
dates on them. In such a setting, voters tend to use the party’s ordering
of the names as guidance, which reinforces party control over incum-
bency advantage. Where legislators must curry favor with their party
leadership in order to obtain a high position on the party list, the incum-
bency effect mainly accrues to the party.
These considerations lead us to expect that only party leaders will
experience incumbency advantage in multimember PR. To the best of
our knowledge, however, this has not been documented empirically with
appropriate data and systematic statistical analysis. We adapt the stand-
ard regression discontinuity design used to assess incumbency
advantage in single-member electoral districts to a setting of open-list
multimember proportional representation (PR): the Italian lower House
of Representatives over 45 years following the end of World War II. We
510 Miriam A. Golden and Lucio Picci

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT