Nothing was as important as poverty in determining why the Five Star Movement won Italy’s election, data analysed by the Financial Times show.
Sunday’s vote produced a starkly split map of the country, with Five Star triumphing in the poorer south and the anti-immigrant League helping a conservative and centre-right coalition dominate provinces in the north.
But even within those regions, economic distress was linked to votes for Five Star, whose leader Luigi Di Maio now hopes to play a part in forming the next government. The party scored 32 per cent of the national vote.
No other socio-economic measure had a similar relationship with the election outcome for Five Star — or for any party.
The trait for Five Star’s share of the vote to be higher in the provinces with lower income per capita and higher unemployment rates was already apparent in the 2013 election results. Five years on, the relationship is even stronger.
For example in Syracuse in Sicily, where unemployment is 24 per cent — higher than the regional average and more than double the national rate — Five Star’s share of the vote rose 20 percentage points compared with 2013 and the party gained an absolute majority of votes.
And similar trends were observed within each region. Whether in the north, centre or south, provinces with a higher degree of economic distress tended to produce a higher share of votes for Five Star.
This is in contrast with what happened with Italy’s other main parties. Their vote, unlike Five Star’s, was predominantly in the richer central and northern regions, making it seem that their support was closely linked with brighter economic conditions. But this is not borne out when looking at each region individually.
The Five Star Movement “used the universal basic income proposal as the main catch to get the votes of the unemployed and the less wealthy”, Nicola Nobile, economist at Oxford Economics, told the FT.
Votes not linked with immigrant population
Alongside Five Star, the League was the big election winner, campaigning with a strong anti-immigrant message. But the FT’s analysis shows that its success does not have a significant relationship with the size or distribution of the immigrant population.
At a national level, the League appeared to be more popular in provinces with a higher share of foreign-born residents and higher net migration from abroad. However, this is largely the result of the geographical concentration of the League in richer areas of the centre-north, which because of their relative wealth attract more immigrants.
When looking just at those central and northern provinces, the relationship between an immigrant population and support for the League disappears.
The League had its strongest election result in Sondrio, in the northern province of Lombardy, where it gained more than 40 per cent of the vote. But the foreign-born population makes up only about 5 per cent of the population in Sondrio.
Similarly, immigrants account for about a tenth of the population in both Treviso, in the Veneto region, and in Turin in Piedmont. But despite that similarity there were big differences in support for the League: it had its second-best result nationally in Treviso, whereas in Turin it received a share of votes below the regional average.