Party Policy and Coalition Bargaining in Italy, 1948–87: Is There Order Behind the Chaos?

  • Alfio Mastropaolo
  • Martin Slater


The central paradox of Italian politics contrasts governmental instability on the one hand with the unchanging role of the Christian Democrats on the other. While there have been over forty separate governments in the postwar period, averaging slightly less than a year in office apiece, the Christian Democratic Party (DC) has formed the bed-rock of all of them. The DC took the largest share of the ministries in each of the 40 governments analysed here, and held the Premiership in 37 of them. The dominance of the Christian Democrats is not in itself unusual; this situation is reproduced in the Low Countries. But the fact that a dominant party can be found in a system with such governmental instability is unexpected. Sartori (1976) has explained this paradox in terms of ‘polarised pluralism’. According to this account, Italian parties are exceptionally fragmented and ideologically polarised. However, the presence of strong parties on the extremes — the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) on the right, and the Partito Communista Italiano (PCI) on the left — has obliged the other parties to combine to form coalition governments despite the fact that they have relatively little in common. Italian governments are often ‘negative’ coalitions, (Di Palma, 1978, pp. 331–3), whose cohesion derives more from a desire to keep others out than from anything else.


Policy Position Government Coalition Coalition Partner Party Secretary Party Policy 
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Copyright information

© M. J. Laver and Ian Budge 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alfio Mastropaolo
  • Martin Slater

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