Italy Explained: Berlusconi, The Northern League And A Working Class That Votes Centre-right
The extraordinarily lucid analysis below is my translation of an article published by “Notizie Radicali”, the online newletter of the Italian Radicals, a political party currently associated to the centre-left Democratic Party.
The original publication date was 4 May 2009. Little has changed since then, despite all the Berlusconi sex scandals. The results of local and European elections in June 2009 have seen a further erosion on the centre-left of the Italian political spectrum.
Probably, the best thing the Democratic Party could do at the moment would be to dissolve itself and give somebody, anybody the chance to start anew.
(the text between square brackets is all mine)
When the Working Class Votes Centre-Right
by Valter Vecellio
The People of Freedom (PDL) at more than 50 percent. The Democratic Party (PD) at around 26 percent. The data from the Ipsos-“Sole 24 Ore” opinion poll is not news in itself, rather a further confirmation of what was already common knowledge.
Among professionals and the self-employed the coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi reaches a “People’s Republic”‘s majority, around the 70 per cent. But the actual “bleeding wound” for the PD concerns that section of the electorate traditionally linked to left, the workers. Among them, consensus for the governing coalition of Northern League (Lega Nord) and PDL exceeds 43 per cent. The PD appears stuck at much more modest 22.4 percent.
The Democratic Party certainly is paying for the competition with Antonio di Pietro’s Italy of Values (IdV). The IdV has been widening its base by leveraging on demagoguery and low-level “qualunquismo” [the mindset of being unable to tell one established party from another].
PD is also paying for competition from its left, from parties such as Communist Refoundation, the Italian Communists [several of them], the Greens, the Socialists. Although those will be unable to cross the 4 percent threshold for being represented at the European Parliament, they will all be eroding valuable points of consensus and percentage from the PD.
Nevertheless, the fact that Berlusconi has managed to wrestle consensus from the centre-left is beyond dispute. A trend in this direction was already clear after the general elections of April 2008. In fact, surprising and inconvenient truths can be found in a very useful report, “Winners and losers in the elections of 2008” published by “Itanes” (Italian Election Studies), a research group started in the early 90s by the Cattaneo Institute in Bologna and guided by a “student” of Giovanni Sartori, Professor Giacomo Sani.
Those are surprising and inconvenient truths, of course, for the losers, not for the winners. According to the report, the PD has paid a combined effect: on the one hand the phenomenon scholars call “selective abstention”, affecting PD voters much more than PDL ones. On the other hand, there has been a real-and-present migration of support.
To put it simply: for every three PD voters of the past, one decided not to vote in the general elections of 2008, and one voted for the opposing coalition.
“The centre-left as a whole“, we read, “suffers from the flows of mobilization and demobilization a loss of around 4 per cent of the electorate .. . whilst the PD sees the disappearance of the votes of around 10 percent of those who had chosen the Olive Tree coalition in 2006, in favour of parties of the centre-right.”
The end result is that nowadays, the traditional centre-left electoral base has more overall confidence in the governing by Berlusconi than in the opposition by the PD. But we can go beyond that, by reading a well-researched book “Padanian Breed” by Adalberto Signore and Alessandro Trocino.
It is a book that chronicles twenty-five years of Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord, and it is not lacking in surprises: despite some “folksy” and “noisy” [i.e. bordering on the loony] public statements by Lega Nord leaders, the authors tell of a a political party made up of activists running local public Offices to the voters’ appreciation, regardless of the social group to which the voters belong.
In Lombardy or Piedmont, it is nowadays no longer considered odd to find members of the communist-leaning workers’ trade union CGIL also belonging to Lega Nord and/or having no qualms to vote for centre-right candidates.
At present, what is new is that how the above phenomenon has become consolidated and disseminated. An entire section of the Italian society doesn’t vote to the left any longer, tired of in-fighting, demagoguery, and inconclusive statements of intent. It is a situation exposed to little or no avail by those in the PD nearer to the electorate, for example the Mayors of Turin Sergio Chiamparino, and of Venice Massimo Cacciari.
Like the mythical Cassandra, nobody listens to them speaking the truth: instead Veltroni, assisted by a strategist of no strategy called Goffredo Bettini, collected a string of ever bitterer defeats, before resigning. Now we have Dario Franceschini seeking to unite the pieces of a vase broken in a thousand pieces. The outcome of all those efforts is reflected in the results of the Ipsos-“Sole 24 Ore” survey: bitter results, for the PD, but also a confirmation of a situation whose cause is to be found in the PD itself.
As things stand, the PD can only wait for its final decay. Its leaders have done their utmost to reach that goal, and now they are reaping what they have sown.