Changing Italian Voting Patterns?
The recently completed 2013 Italian General Election has been avidly discussed in the international media. The contest failed to produce a clear winning coalition in the senate, resulting in a hung parliament. It also saw the eclipse of the centrist, technocratic, austerity-oriented party of Prime Minister Mario Monti, which received only about 10 percent of the vote nationwide, as well as the strong return of Silvio Berlusconi, whose coalition barely missed taking a plurality of votes. Perhaps most striking was the strong third-place showing of the new Five Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo. Grillo’s party is left-populist in orientation, advocating environmentalism, direct democracy, and free access to the internet. It has also been described as mildly Eurosceptical.
The Wikipedia page on the election includes a regional breakdown of the vote for the senate, which I have mapped. I was curious to see how this contest would compare with other Italian elections, which generally follow a very clear regional pattern; central Italy, especially Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, usually votes strongly for the left, while the north, Sicily, and much of the southern peninsula usually favor the right (see the map of the 2008 legislative election below).
The maps of the recent election reveal few surprises. Monti did relatively well in the more prosperous Po Valley in the north, although even here he received only about 15 percent of the vote (Monti actually did the best among Italians living abroad). In contrast, the new Five Star Movement performed poorly among expats, and did not do particularly well in the economic core-zone of Lombardy, but across most of the country it received roughly 20-25 percent of the vote. The center-right (Berlusconi) coalition slipped a bit in the Po Valley, although it performed well in the Veneto region, and it did relatively well across most of the south, particularly in Campania, the region that includes Naples. The Common Good, a left-leaning coalition, not surprisingly, did very well in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna and relatively poorly in the Po Valley. It had its best showing, however, in the far northern autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, a mountainous, relatively lightly populated area that includes a significant German-speaking minority. Unlike most other parts of northern Italy, this region often votes for candidates of the left, although it also gives support to regionalist candidates. Significantly, Trentino-Alto Adige gave almost 14 percent of its votes to “other” parties, by far the highest figure among all Italian regions—with one notable exception. The exception is another northern, autonomous region, Aosta Valley (Valle d’Aosta). Here almost 70 percent of voters opted for none of the top four groups, with roughly half of them favoring two regionalist parties.
Aosta Valley is a culturally distinctive part of Italy, as both French and Italian have official status, while 58 percent of the people speak the local Franco-Provençal dialect called Valdôtain, which is in many respects closer to French than to Italian. Two German dialects are also found in the region. Aosta’s birthrate is extremely low, even by Italian standards, but the region’s population is expanding, as outsiders move in to take jobs in the tourism industry. Such features are likely linked to its strongly regionalist voting patterns.