Italy’s center-right parties performed impressively in last month’s local elections, prompting former Prime Minister and Democratic Party head Matteo Renzi to acknowledge that the polls “could have gone better” for his center-left formation. But turnout was just 46 percent, according to Reuters, and there were questions as to whether the results are predictive of how the various parties will fare in next year’s general elections. In an email interview, Mark Gilbert, a professor of international history at Johns Hopkins University-SAIS Europe, describes the factors that fueled the center-right’s success and the issues that are most important to Italian voters.
WPR: Is the center-right’s success in the latest local elections surprising, and what are the factors that might have fueled it?
Mark Gilbert: No, the success of the center-right in this most recent vote is not especially surprising. The past crimes and misdemeanors of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—who declared himself “the driving force of the center-right” when results came in—are being forgotten. Matteo Salvini, leader of the populist Northern League, has positioned his party well on a number of key issues, above all immigration. Meanwhile, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has lost credibility with the electorate and is increasingly seen as just another party playing the political game. The public is also generally frustrated with 10 years of austerity largely overseen by the center-left.