Political scholars in Italy have described the recent electoral success of the far right-wing coalition as a mindset shift in Italian politics. Giorgia Meloni currently champions this far-right coalition. Her party succeeded in the recently held Italian general election on 25 September. This victory symbolizes a change in the Italian political party landscape. These Italian political observers have argued that Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia found electoral success because they decided to abandon their post-fascist history. The move to accommodate more supporters on a more moderate platform led to the coalition gaining more support from a broader range of Italians. This electoral coalition encouraged all its partners to follow the same route to achieve success. Therefore, Fratelli d’Italia’s coalition partner, the Lega, adopted a similar approach. This political group is led and championed by Matteo Salvini. Political scholars argue that extreme parties often benefit from adopting moderate political stances that appeal to more citizens. The decision to cleanse themselves of their historical political affiliations helped the party become recognized as no longer on the far right of the party spectrum.
Labelling a political party as far-right can be dangerous for political success because it becomes difficult to win political debates in Italy. The electorate relates more with parties commonly perceived to have a ‘centre-right coalition’. In recent years, Italian politics has seen more extremist right-wing parties entering the competition. Parties such as Forza Nuova have yet to be elected to the Italian parliament. However, they still influence Italian politics. Scholars often debate why moderate Fratelli d’Italia and the Lega have become so popular with the electorate when other far-right parties are unappreciated. The answer is often believed to be that this leading coalition is the direct representative of new mainstream conservative parties. It is thought that this party followed the tradition of liberal-western democracy to gain the popular vote.
Far-Right Parties in Italy
- Lega Nord (Northern League): Established in the 1980s, this far-right political party has long fought for more autonomy for Northern Italy and propagated xenophobic and anti-European Union stances. It has been involved in multiple governing partnerships within Italy, as well as various alliances with other right-wing European organisations.
- Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy): This far-right party was founded in 2012 and is known for its anti-immigrant and nationalist views. It has been part of several governing coalitions in Italy and has close ties to other far-right parties in Europe.
- Forza Nuova (New Force): This far-right party was founded in 1997 and advocates for the preservation of traditional Italian values and the exclusion of immigrants from Italian society. It has been involved in violent clashes with anti-fascist activists and has been accused of promoting hate speech.
To prove that the Italian electorate has graduated onto a new party ideology, it is critical to analyze the party manifestos and public speeches of the winning party representatives. A shift in party ideology within the leading coalition is seen through the leaders of both parties not radically rejecting democracy. This type of political action was familiar in a fascist-authoritarian tradition. The shift is seen as these leaders promoting a form of ‘ethnocracy’ resulting from a sovereigntist ideology. Leaders are often seen as mirrors of the electorate. They are believed to be the people’s interpretation of a leader. A radical reinterpretation of democracy by the Fratelli d’Italia and the Lega with vital authoritarian and illiberal elements would not have commonly found electoral success in Italy. Political scholars view it as a deviation from centre-right conservatism. Centre-right conservatism has always been popular in post-war European democracies.
Political leaders adopting new rhetoric to achieve political success is a common theme. These strategic changes to policy often occur during mainstream publications and public debates. During these events, the leaders will attempt to disassociate themselves from the more radical opinions of their electorate. This political move helps prevent voters from feeling excluded by the aspiring political candidate. Political actors, therefore, spend a significant amount of time understanding whether the attitudes of their voters align with the programmatic shift in the rhetoric used by their candidates. Voters of both the Lega and Fratelli d’Italia are therefore believed to have antiliberal and authoritarian attitudes. This feature helped them gain support from the centre-right and other democratic voters.
Representative online panels have helped political analysts to conclude the election results. These surveys were used to assess respondents’ political attitudes regarding their potential voting intentions. The results showed that non-voters are also less authoritarian-illiberal. The Fratelli d’Italia and the Lega party leaders successfully entered office because they could charm and mobilize their core electorate. The election in 2022 split the votes with similar results to the 2018 election.
A new value attachment has filtered through the electorate and encouraged them to hire the new Meloni government. This political party managed to capture moderate centre voters and those who prefer recognized far-right parties. Meloni and Salvini employed public mainstreaming strategies that significantly attracted a broader constituency of centre-right voters in Italy. Without this addition, their electoral bases would only consist of voters who agree with firmly illiberal and authoritarian leaders. Introducing diverse worldviews helps voters choose them as leaders because it promotes a significant belief in conspiracies.
The conclusion of these results points to the fact that it is still too premature to argue there has been a shift in the Italian political party landscape. The events that led to the election of the far-right party into leadership came through clever strategy as opposed to a change in political mindset amongst the electorate. The democratic vows of party leaders were used in conjunction with a vigorous and consistent defence of the radical right. This data shows that leaders who use more radical rhetoric will fail to succeed, similar to the Fratelli d’Italia and the Lega party coalition.