Italian general elections saw big gains by the Five Stars Movement, which became the biggest political force in the country after their first surprising electoral performance in 2013. Right-wing parties were also considerably successful, and Lega incredibly expanded their voting share: led by Matteo Salvini, it turned from a North-based secessionist movement into a nation-wide party running as the biggest centre-right force. The great losers were all progressive and centre-left forces, primarily the ruling Democratic Party led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, and the moderate Forza Italia led by another former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who finally lost control of the conservative camp he first founded in 1994.
As for the electoral campaign, political parties behaved as followers rather than as influencers or leaders. They were strongly conditioned by the swinging moods of the electorate, mainly focused on specific topics such as heavily mediatised immigration, taxes and unemployment. The focus on certain issues and the general disillusionment of the Italian people regarding politics and politicians, elevated the players who were able to renovate their narrative and their team, and bring new and extreme positions into the public debate. The newly elected parliament will indeed be renewed and will have the lowest average age and the highest presence of women in the history of our Republic: even though time will be needed for all these novices to gain the necessary experience for properly handling their job, this is for sure an interesting setting for communications and public affairs professionals.
From a communications perspective, the Five Stars Movement was able to set the pace of the electoral fight and connect with the deepest feelings of the Italian electorate. In the last days of the campaign, their leader Luigi Di Maio chose to present a team of ministers for his future government. This effectively reduced the impact of Five Stars’ major weakness, namely their alleged “unfitness to govern”. Their call to action - “Participate, choose, change” – and their simple policy messages (such as a “universal basic income”) were welcomed by a resounding voting share, especially in the South of the country. While the Five Stars Movement is considered the first Italian “Internet-generated party” (its first communications and organisation unit was the blog of Beppe Grillo, a widely known comic actor), their representatives used offline channels to win the consent of Italians. Popular leaders such as Alessandro Di Battista participated in several television talk shows and even engaged common people in the central plaza of many cities with aggressive rallies.
Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini successfully stressed the topics of criminality and immigration, maintaining a strong right-wing identity within his coalition. He called for a flat tax for companies and families, and he successfully appealed to working class voters. On television, Salvini looked both determined and reassuring. Thanks to the job of a motivated and experienced digital communications team, and to the easy diffusion of right-wing content within the internet, Matteo Salvini also deployed striking social media techniques, creating a devoted community of young and older users who effectively turned into voters at the polling stations. Using this double approach, Lega’s leader managed to surpass his ally Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and become the defining force for the future of the Italian centre-right camp.
Democratic leader, Matteo Renzi, did not ultimately manage to recover his old fashion. During the campaign, he tried to show a fit, ready-to-rule team formed by his successor as prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and the interior minister, Marco Minniti, who successfully fought illegal immigration during 2017. The Democrats’ communications strategy lacked a top policy message such as those successfully deployed by Lega (“flat tax”) and Five Stars Movement (“basic universal income”), and it was mostly based on European values as well as on the results of their administration, using data, articles and scholarly contributions. However, these did not prove to be effective and after five years in government, Italians seemed to be too tired of the Democratic Party’s policies to give any credit to Renzi’s leadership.
In conclusion, these general elections were both thrilling and interesting. From a communications perspective, they set a new standard of consensus-building and electoral mobilisation strategies for future campaigns. From a political perspective, the revolutionary scenario that was determined by electoral results is sure to influence the future of our country. At this time, however, no party or coalition holds a clear majority in the new parliament: president of the Republic Sergio Mattarella has the task of identifying those willing to back a new government for Italy. If no agreement is found in the next months, though, new elections may soon be called.
About the author
Gianluca Comin is CEO and Founder of Comin & Partners. For 12 years, Mr. Gianluca Comin was Director of External Relations at Enel, the largest energy company in Italy and one of the largest ones in Europe. Mr. Comin previously worked as Media Relations Manager for Telecom Italia, a telecommunications company with more than 100 million customers, and as Director of External Relations for Montedison. In 1997 and 1998, he was Spokesperson and Head of the Press Office for the Public Works Minister during Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s first administration. He teaches Communications Strategy at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome, and he is a Member of the Board of Directors of La Biennale di Venezia. Mr. Comin is also a former President of the Italian Federation for Public Relations (Ferpi) and the author of “2030: The Perfect Storm” (Rizzoli, 2012) and “The company beyond crisis” (Marsilio, 2016).