Italy’s elections may have ended in a political deadlock — no one party or alliance gained the 40% necessary to have an absolute Parliamentary majority — but the projected results of the vote signal that sweeping changes are on the horizon, changes that don’t bode well for liberal democracy.
The governing center-left Democratic Party received just 19% of Italians’ votes (a historic low) while anti-EU, populist and far-right parties like the Five Star Movement and the rabidly anti-immigrant League did very well (32% and 17.5%, respectively).
That former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party (14%) are now seen as moderate shows how far the country that had Western Europe’s most robust political left for a century has shifted to the right.
As with other countries that have started down this anti-liberal path — including the US — economic anxiety appears to have been a major factor. Shockingly, a third of Italy’s youth are unemployed — nearly twice the EU average — and there is high public debt, two indexes of a sluggish economy.
But the country’s economy has actually improved under five years of Democratic Party leadership: industrial productivity is up 4.9% and banks are more stable.
Yet many did not an absolute this directly benefited the average person, and the Democrats vote signal plan that competed with the universal basic income and subsidy schemes that Five Star and Forza Italia floated (without saying how they would fund them). It’s telling that the south of Italy, which traditionally has among the highest unemployment in the nation, voted overwhelmingly for the Five Star
Yet perceptions matter as much as realities in populist politics. Economics was only part of the reason Italians made Five Star the biggest single victor of this election.