CISE Public Opinion Trends – from the Luiss SOG Monthly Report 2/2020

Da ormai più di un anno, il CISE collabora attivamente – curando la sezione Public Opinion Trends – al “Monthly Report” (in inglese) sulla politica italiana pubblicato dalla Luiss School of Government. Il Monthly Report della SOG mira a fornire ad analisti, giornalisti e investitori internazionali una guida allo scenario politico, al processo decisionale e alle tendenze dell’opinione pubblica in Italia.
Ripubblichiamo di seguito i contenuti della sezione Public Opinion Trends, a cura del CISE, dal Monthly Report di Febbraio 2020. L’intero rapporto è scaricabile

The polls

In the last week of January and at the regional elections in Emilia-Romagna and Calabria, the League still polled above 30% (31.4%) (Table 1). However, a slight negative trend (-1 percentage point) is apparent compared to the December surveys. Although this is just a slight drop, it is noteworthy that this occurred in the context of an electoral competition (in particular, the one in Emilia-Romagna) in which the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, invested a massive effort in a clear attempt to politicize and nationalize the regional vote. It is still too early to establish whether this is the beginning of a more structural decline and whether (and to what extent) the outcome of the regional elections in EmiliaRomagna is affecting the electoral support for the League at national level, but after four months (September – December, 2019) of substantial electoral stability, the party has suffered electoral losses for the first time.

Tab. 1 – Electoral trends in recent surveys

However, if the League goes down in the polls, its coalition ally, Brothers of Italy (FdI,) goes up in parallel. In fact, Giorgia Meloni’s (no longer) small party has grown by almost one percentage point compared to December, stabilizing above 10%. Silvio Berlusconi’s party also recovered slightly (+0.4 percentage points compared to December), although Go Italy (FI) has been steadily under 10% share months and is reduced to being the smallest party in the centre-right coalition.

These data clearly signal that the League’s electoral losses have been reabsorbed by the partners of the centre-right coalition. This dynamic clearly leaves the electoral competitiveness of the coalition unchanged (and in fact it remains the strongest one in terms of votes, even compared to a possible enlarged centre-left coalition), but it could have major consequences on the dynamics within the coalition: in the centre-right, the electoral success of the League is now increasingly challenged by the rise of Brothers of Italy (FdI), whose potential for electoral expansion is high and extends to those voters who, for now, vote for the League. As we already signalled in previous reports, there are voters who are voting for Salvini today, but who consider FdI a plausible option in future elections.
Moving to the centre-left camp, the data show greater stability than observed in the centre-right (a clue that the electoral trends observed among the parties of the centre-right are to be attributed to flows within the centre-right coalition rather than to outflows). The PD remains substantially stable at around 18.9%, just over 0.3 percentage points up compared to the performance of December. Electoral prospects for Matteo Renzi’s party (Italy Alive) have instead worsened: the party has lost almost 1 percentage point compared to December. The experiment started by the former secretary of the PD does not therefore seem to be getting the desired results and remains stuck on a meagre 4%.

But the grass is no greener elsewhere. The Five Star Movement, currently in government with the PD and with Italy Alive, continues its electoral decline. Compared to the last month of 2019, the party has lost 0.7 percentage points and more than three percentage points compared to October 2019. The party is clearly suffering critical losses and, on the top of this, its organizational structure is seriously undermined after the resignation of its political leader, Luigi Di Maio.

The regional election in Emilia-Romagna and its national consequences

The victory of the centre-left candidate, Stefano Bonaccini, in the elections in Emilia-Romagna went beyond expectations. The 7.8% gap between the newly re-elected regional President (who got 51.4% of the votes) and the Northern League candidate, Lucia Borgonzoni (who got 43.6% of the votes), was greater than the pre-election polls predicted (Table 2).

Tab. 2 – Electoral results of single parties and coalitions in Emilia-Romagna in the last national, European, and regional elections[1]

The victory of the centre-left was mainly a personal and local success for Bonaccini, a success that certainly rewarded the good governance of the region. However, the result in Emilia-Romagna goes far beyond the region. In fact, there is no doubt that this result helps stabilize the Conte government.

For the Five Star Movement this election (as well as that in Calabria) confirms a by now consolidated negative trend. It is true that at the local level the performance of the Movement has rarely been brilliant, but now we are witnessing a real landslide among its electorate: from 27.5% in the general elections, to 12.9% in the European elections, down to 4.7% in the regional elections. Where did the voters of the Movement go? And why did they move away from their party?

The analysis of the electoral flows in some cities in Emilia-Romagna (Figure 1) clearly shows that many of those who voted for the Movement in the European elections, decided to vote for Bonaccini in the regional elections. The Movement had previously lost a good chunk of its right-oriented voters, who were mobilized by Salvini; now the party is losing those voters who came from the left and are now returning there. And this is a phenomenon that should make the Movement’s leadership think carefully about its national strategy and in particular about its relations with the current government ally (the PD). Especially since this result highlights a clear return to a bipolar structure in politics with two competing groupings and two leading parties within them (the PD and the League). In fact, the two major groupings together collected a total of 93.7% of the votes, with the Democratic Party and the League together getting 66.7% of the votes.

Fig. 1 – Electoral flows in Reggio Emilia between the European elections in 2019 (left-side of the figure) and the regional elections in 2020 (right-side of the figure)

In conclusion, for the Democratic Party this election was a positive one, also due to the strong mobilization of the youth and the Sardines Movement. Young people were precisely those who voted massively for the Democratic Party (and its allies). For the League and most importantly for its leader Matteo Salvini, it was a clear political defeat. True, the League is still around 32% in the region; however, the nationalization and politicization strategy adopted by the party, which tried to weaken the national government by means of these regional elections, was not rewarded. As for the Five Star Movement, the defeat in Emilia-Romagna, is a clear sign of the crisis that the party is going through. Meanwhile, the ‘battle’ slowly moves to other regions where regional elections will be held in the spring, including Tuscany – another ‘red’ stronghold at risk – where the League has obtained positive electoral performances in recent times.

[1] In the upper part of the table the proportional results are shown (for the general elections of March 2018, the votes expressly assigned to the parties are reported, before the assignment of the votes to the only supported candidate in the district); in the lower part majoritarian results are used. In the upper part of the table, each row adds the results of the related parties, regardless of the coalition of which they were part. The ‘Left parties’ category includes: PRC, PC, PCI, PAP, SEL, SI, MDP, LeU, RC, PCL. The category ‘Other centre-left parties’ includes: Insieme, PSI, IDV, Radicali, +EU, Verdi, CD, DemA. The ‘Centre parties’ category includes: NCI, UDC, NCD, FLI, SC, CP, NCD, AP, DC, PDF, PLI, PRI, UDEUR, Idea. In the ‘Right parties’ category are included: La Destra, MNS, FN, FT, CPI, DivB, ITagliIT. In the lower part the results of the candidates (single-member district) are added,classified according to the criteria indicated below. For the general election in 2018 and the regional elections in 2020, we considered as the votes of candidates the votes received by the coalitions (supporting a candidate, premier or governor). ‘Left alternative to PD’ brings together all the candidates supported by at least one among PAP, RC, PRC, PCI, PC, MDP, Leu, SI, SEL, PCL, Insieme, PSI, + EU, CD, DemA, Verdi, IDV, Radicali – but not by the PD. The ‘Centre-left’ is made up of candidates whose supporting coalitions include the PD; the ‘Centre’ brings together all the candidates supported by at least one among NCI, UDC, CP, NCD, FLI, SC, PDF, DC, PRI, PLI (but neither by the PD nor FI / PDL). The ‘Centre-Right’ is made up of candidates whose supporting coalitions include FI (or the PDL). The ‘Right’ brings together all the candidates supported by the League, FDI, La Destra, MNS, FN, FT, CasaPound, DivBell, ITagliIT – but not by FI (or the PDL)