Right-Wing Italians Swap Salvini’s for Even More Right-Wing Party

The League is down in the polls, but it aren’t the mainstream parties who are benefiting.

Matteo Salvini Marine Le Pen Harald Vilimsky Michał Marusik
Far-right party leaders Matteo Salvini of Italy, Marine Le Pen of France, Harald Vilimsky of Austria and Michał Marusik of Poland give a news conference in Strasbourg, May 11, 2016 (European Parliament/Fred Marvaux)

It’s been a bad few months for Italy’s populist right-wing leader, Matteo Salvini.

First his erstwhile governing partner, the Five Star Movement, and the opposition Democrats outmaneuvered him by teaming up to avoid snap elections which polls predicted Salvini’s League would win.

Now his antics in reaction to the government’s coronavirus policy are falling flat.

Salvini and his party “occupied” parliament (refusing to leave the chamber) to demonstrate against the COVID-19 quarantine. He has tweeted out disinformation about the disease, claiming it was created in a Chinese lab. Few Italians care.

Polls find two in three have little faith in the EU anymore, which many Italians feel has been too slow to come to their aid. (Italy has had one of the worst outbreaks of coronavirus disease in the world.) Yet it hasn’t given the Euroskeptic Salvini, who once argued for giving up the euro, a boost.

Who gains?

More mainstream parties aren’t benefiting from Salvini’s demise.

The ruling Democrats and Five Star Movement have been stable in the polls. So has former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Only the Brothers of Italy are up. They are even more right-wing than Salvini. The Brothers are polling at an average of 15 percent support, up from 7 percent when the League left government. Support for Salvini’s party has fallen from an average of 36 to 27 percent in the same period.

It doesn’t appear to be the case that reactionary Italian voters are rethinking their support for anti-system parties. Rather it appears some are disappointed in Salvini and switching to a party that is even more Euroskeptic, more anti-immigrant and more socially conservative.