Italian voter turnout at all-time low in ‘flop’ referendum

Historically low numbers of Italians voted in a referendum on reforms to the country's justice system on Sunday, while local elections across 975 towns and cities also saw a low turnout.

Italy saw a historically low vote turnout in Sunday's 'justice referendum'.
Italy saw a historically low vote turnout in Sunday's 'justice referendum'. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

Only 20.9 percent of Italians of voting age turned out for Sunday’s referendum giustizia, or justice referendum, according to media reports – far less than the 50 percent threshold required for the results to be binding.

The numbers are the lowest seen for any referendum held in Italy since World War II, according to the financial news publication Il Sole 24 Ore, which described the event as a “historic flop”.

READ ALSO: What are Italians being asked to vote on in Sunday’s ‘justice referendum’?

Turnout was also low for the municipal elections held in 975 towns and cities across Italy on the same day, reportedly reaching just 54.72 percent – lower than the 60.12 percent seen in previous similar elections according to news agency Ansa.

Referenda are a historically popular legislative tool in Italy, but for the results to count a ‘quorum’ of 50 percent plus one of the electorate must vote.

Up until the mid-90’s, this threshold was almost always surpassed, with eight of the nine plebiscites held between 1974 and 1995 attracting a higher than 50 percent turnout (votes on the right to divorce and abortion drew particularly high numbers, with 87.7 and 79.4 percent of voters showing up respectively).

Over the last couple of decades, however, those figures have seen a direct reversal. Of the nine referendums conducted in Italy since 1997, only one has reached a quorum, making holding one a risky and expensive bet.

This latest vote had a particularly poor turnout – worse than the 2009 ‘flop of flops’ promoted by Mario Segni and Giovanni Guzzetta on proposed reforms to the electoral system, in which 23 percent of voters participated.

Representatives of the far-right League party, which led the campaign for the justice referendum, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, which supported it, blamed a ‘media blackout’ for the lack of voter interest.

The vote was “boycotted with absolute silence in many newspapers and on state television,” Berlusconi said.

But according to the news daily Corriere della Sera, 82 percent of Italians were aware of the referendum. Critics say the result was predictable and the fault of promoters for including arcane questions that most laypeople would struggle to understand.

The referendum asked Italians to vote on five issues, some of them highly specialised, such as whether people should require supporting signatures to present their candidacy for election to Italy’s High Council of the Judiciary (Csm).

The questions were “very removed from people’s daily lives,” concluded a Vanity Fair editorial, “on issues that were not only linked to politics, but also extremely technical.”

When the results first came though, League party leader Matteo Salvini was reportedly initially unavailable for comment as he was out of town with his daughter.

He later acknowledged the outcome in a tweet in which he offered his “thanks to the 10 million Italians who chose to vote to change the justice system.”

“It is our duty to continue to make their voices heard!” he wrote.

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Who will pay less income tax under Italy’s planned reforms?

Italy is planning an overhaul of the tax system meaning new income tax rates for many - but who will benefit the most, and least?

Who will pay less income tax under Italy's planned reforms?

Italy’s government on Thursday submitted the text of a long-awaited tax reform bill which ministers say will be the first step in a sweeping overhaul of the system planned by 2027

As previously reported by The Local, the bill will introduce a raft of major tax changes aimed at gradually reducing Italy’s notoriously high tax burden and making investment in Italy more appealing. 

The plan includes a substantial change to Italy’s main income tax, Irpef (Imposta sui Redditi delle Persone Fisiche), with the number of  tax brackets dropping from four to three.

READ ALSO: Flat tax for all? Italy announces plan to overhaul tax system

This change is expected to mean a new tax rate for many workers in Italy starting from next year. But who’s going to benefit the most from the changes? 

Here’s what we know at this point. 

Irpef, which applies to all employees, many self-employed workers (regular partita Iva holders, but not those on the flat tax rate) and pensioners, currently counts four brackets, which are arranged as below:

  Income (annual) Irpef rate
First bracket Up to 15,000 euros 23 percent
Second bracket Between 15,000 and 28,000 euros 25 percent
Third bracket Between 28,000 and 15,000 euros 35 percent
Fourth bracket Over 50,000 euros 43 percent

The coming tax reform will reduce the number of tax brackets down to three, with the second and third bands being merged into a single one.

The tax rate for the lowest earners is expected to remain unchanged at 23 percent (for those earning 15,000 euros a year or less).

The tax rate should also stay the same for the highest earners taking home 50,000 euros a year or more, at 43 percent.

But middle earners who are currently in the second or third bracket may end up paying more or less tax – and it’s still unclear exactly what will happen. 

READ ALSO: The tax changes in Italy to know about in 2023

While Thursday’s announcement confirmed the number of tax bands will drop to three, the newly published bill didn’t specify what tax rate the new band would carry nor confirm how rates in other bands would be readjusted. 

However, Meloni’s cabinet is reportedly considering two options. 

First scenario

Under the first, and currently more likely, option, the new middle bracket will mean all taxpayers earning between 28,000 and 50,000 euros a year will pay a 33-percent rate.

Rates for the first and last brackets would remain the same.

This would mean all those who are currently in the second (income between 15,000 and 28,000) and third bands (28,000 to 50,000) would see their tax rate drop by two percent next year and subsequently benefit from sizable cuts to their Irpef payments. 

  Income (annual) Irpef rate
First bracket Up to 28,000 euros 23 percent
Second bracket Between 28,000 and 50,000 euros 33 percent
Third bracket Over 50,000 euros 43 percent

Second scenario

Meloni’s government is also considering a second scenario, with a 27-percent rate for a larger middle band – an option that would be much more costly to the state, and so seems less likely.

This would mean people currently in the second bracket (15,000 to 28,000) will see their tax rate increase by two percent, while those in the third bracket (28,000 to 50,000) would benefit from a whopping eight-percent cut

Rates for the first and last brackets would again remain the same.

  Income (annual) Irpef rate
First bracket Up to 15,000 euros 23 percent
Second bracket Between 15,000 and 50,000 euros 27 percent
Third bracket Over 50,000 euros 43 percent

Which path will the government go down?

While it was hoped that the bill’s text would clarify what rate the new band would carry, there are currently no details as to which option the government intends to go with.

That said, the first option seems to be the more likely one at this point in time, not least because implementing it would reportedly cost state coffers around 6 billion euros, whereas the second option would present the treasury with a 10 billion-euro bill.

Further information over which route the government will ultimately go down should emerge in the coming weeks as the bill goes through parliament. 

And even the possibility that Meloni’s executive might end up adopting an Irpef system other than the two described above cannot be ruled out at this time.