Final Opinion Polls Before the Italian Elections Show Parties Are Out of Step With Voters on Russia Sanctions

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By John McGregor, a translator and political violence researcher

Italian laws prohibit the sharing of opinion polls in the weeks immediately prior to an election. The final opinion polls show that working voters continue to abandon the center-left Partito democratico (Pd) and the Right wing coalition is on track to form government. They also show that Italian political parties are disconnected from the electorate on the issue of power and gas, and the intimately connected question of sanctions on Russia.

The 7 September edition of Porta a porta published polling data that show the Pd dropping to 19.5% of voters. This same poll reported that Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) had increased its vote share to 24.3%, while the 5 Star Movement increased its vote to 13.5%. Salvini’s Lega sat at 13%.

This situation is reflected in other opinion polls. The 9 September edition of Tg La7 released the details of an SWG poll that put FdI at 27% of the vote, the Pd at 20.4%, the Lega at 12.1%, and the 5 Star at 12%. The results produced by SWG and published by Tg La7 10 days earlier, on 29 August, had FdI at 24.8%, Pd at 22.3%, the Lega at 12.5%, and 5 Star at 11.6%.

The Renzi-Calenda list, a recent electoral pact between Matteo Renzi’s candidates and those of Carlo Calenda, supports another Draghi government and will naturally drag some votes away from the Pd. The largest shifts across the board are, however, from other parties towards FdI. First and foremost, the data show that Meloni continues to win voters from her coalition partners the Lega and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. An opinion poll undertaken by Cluster17 for Il Fatto Quotidiano and published on 8 September gave FdI the lead with a vote of 24.4%, followed by the Pd (20.8%), 5 Star (14.1%), and the Lega (11.3%). More importantly, the poll reported that FdI stands to win 44% of Lega voters from 2018 and 38% of Forza Italia voters.

5 Star has obviously been the big loser since the last election, when it won 32.7% of the vote. Only 46% of people who voted for 5 Star in 2018 intend to vote for them again, and 17% of former 5 Star voters indicated that they intend to vote for Meloni’s FdI in the coming election. Voters on the Right and anti-establishment voters obviously intend to punish their former parties for supporting EU-backed pro-austerity technocratic governments, but this is far from the only motivation for the flight toward the right.

When the polls are sliced by work and income, the complete collapse of the working vote for the center-Left is evident. Less than 10% of blue-collar workers intend to vote for the Pd, while 28% intend to vote for FdI and 21% for the Lega.

The Pd only really shows strength amongst a few subsets of the Italian voter base. From an employment point of view, the Cluster17 opinion poll showed that 34% of knowledge workers and the managerial class intend to vote for the Pd, giving it the largest voter share amongst this group.

In financial terms, this is reflected in the Pd’s polling at 35% in the highest income band, those who earn more than EUR 5,000 a month. In stark contrast, it only managed to poll at 11% with prospective voters earning EUR 1,000-1,500 a month.

Leading into the election, CISE found that the highest priority valence issues for Italian voters are guaranteeing citizens and businesses have sustainable power and gas prices, combatting unemployment, combatting violence against women and femicide, reducing poverty, sustaining economic growth, combatting inflation, and reducing taxes on income.

As prices for power and gas skyrocket alongside the rest of the West, Italians clearly want a solution on this issue going into the election, but there is little fodder amongst the political spectrum to satisfy this hunger.

The direct connection between sanctions against Russia and the power and gas crisis is evident to Italian voters, as are solutions, even if it isn’t so clear to politicians. CISE reported that 43% of respondents were in favor of suspending economic sanctions against Russia, while 57% were in favor of maintaining them.

Termometro Politico conducted a survey between 30 August and 2 September asking: “In the face of a sudden rise in the price of gas and of inflation, do you think that sanctions should be removed from Russia?” In more nuanced responses, 24.2% of respondents opposed removing sanctions, arguing instead that they should be stronger; 19.8% wanted to keep sanctions as they are. 23.1% of those surveyed thought sanctions were understandable in February but should be removed now, while 28% said sanctions should never have been imposed in the first place (4.9% didn’t know or didn’t want to respond).

Where do these voters turn? Among the largest parties, none has taken a position against sanctions on Russia. The 5 Star had an internal conflict over the question of sending arms to Ukraine but now opposes sending further weapons. Despite this, the party’s leader Giuseppe Conte said on television this week that he was proud of the fact that the Ukrainian people were defending and taking territory in part using weapons sent by Italy. On 5 September, he confirmed that the 5 Star are in favor of maintaining sanctions.

Salvini, as the leader of the Lega, has questioned the sanctions and highlighted the cost to Italy. On 3 September he posted on Twitter to say that sanctions aren’t working because Russia is making money while the sanctioning countries are on their knees. He argued that the strategy needed to be rethought to save Italian jobs and businesses.

Nonetheless, Salvini wants to have his cake and eat it; even as he talks about the cost of sanctions to Italian business and employees, he has been keen to remind people that the Lega has consistently voted in favor of all Italian measures on Ukraine. He has insisted that the election won’t change Italy’s foreign policy position while also “just asking” whether the sanctions are hurting the people they are designed to hurt.

While playing this double game, Salvini has sought to ensure that voters don’t hold him responsible for the fall-out. Discussing the price rises on the campaign circuit, he claimed that “Europe is jointly responsible for these increases with its ideological green policies, with its sanctions on Russia, and it has to be Europe that protects families and businesses.”

Meloni has consistently sought to reassure the international community that FdI isn’t a threat to the international order and has continued to express her support for sanctions on Russia. During a 6 September TV appearance, Meloni disagreed with Salvini that sanctions aren’t working.

In this, she is at odds with her voter base. According to a Sky TG24 opinion poll published on 4 September, 43% of Italian voters thought it was right to impose sanctions on Russia compared to 37% who thought it was wrong, and 20% who didn’t know. Within the Right-wing coalition, this jumps to 45% against sanctions, 39% in favor, and 16% undecided. Amongst the three coalition partners, FdI recorded the highest percentage of those who thought it was wrong to impose sanctions on Russia (55%).

Only minor parties and alliances that are below the threshold to enter parliament according to opinion polls, like the recently formed Italia Sovrana e Popolare (ISP), have explicitly opposed sanctions on Russia (and have campaigned for leaving NATO and the EU).

In February, Enrico Letta of the Pd advocated for harsh, Europe-wide sanctions on Russia, and has continued to support this position. The 2022 campaign platform for the Pd treats sanctions and their resulting economic cost as unavoidable. It claims that Italy has faced five crises in recent years, including “Putin’s war and its consequences for the economy and energy”. A key focus of the entire platform is unity with Europe and the importance of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, the Italian aspect of the Next Generation EU recovery fund, which the Pd claims is an essential part of the solution to Italy’s problems.

For Italians preparing to vote in the upcoming election, none of the major parties is offering a solution to the energy crisis that involves removing sanctions from Russia. The Pd has almost no blue-collar workers to support its pro-EU, pro-Draghi, pro-sanctions policies even if it wins support among the wealthy. The large number of voters who are in favor of removing sanctions are left with little choice on the issue. By associating the question of sanctions with the EU, the Right-wing coalition can still sway voters through its vaguely anti-establishment and anti-EU platform, even if this has now left a majority of FdI voters in opposition to their own party’s position on sanctions.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Thank you very much for this post. I heard about the Swedish elections but not the one for the Italians. As it turns out, the right are doing very well in them too. So if I read it right, it seems to be only the right that are listening to what the average voter is saying while those on the left have bolted their position to the EU stance on the Ukraine, no matter what the cost to the people themselves. And even though the sanctions have proven themselves to be a fiasco that are costing the Italians dearly, too many of the parties refuse to change course or even to go for neutrality. I hope that you follow up this post with another that analyses the actual results of the Italian elections on *checks notes* the 25th of this month.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      Rev Kev: John McGregor has indeed done a good job with this post and showing some of the confusion in the positions of the Italian political parties. He’s also kinder that I am about some of the parties and their leaders, in that I’d refer to Renzi and Calenda and their list as bottom feeders.

      It is safe to say that half the Italian population is opposed to sanctions. As to committing Italian troops, the numbers truly plunge. There is no support for Italians being sent to Ukraine as cannon fodder.

      How does opposition to sanctions play out? Weirdly. And colonially.
      –Several commentators, including that no-goodnik, Alessandro Orsini, have pointed out that the U.S. and NATO have interests that don’t align with Italy’s interests. I believe that he recently referred to Italy as a satellite. Others have used words like colony and satrapy.
      –Obeisance with regard to sanctions is a price to pay to minimize U.S. interference. Giorgia Meloni, who has attended CPAC conventions in the USA, is on a tour to show her establishment credentials.
      –Matteo Salvini has also attended CPAC conventions.
      –So you have a nasty mix of CPAC, Atlanticism, U.S. arrogance, and NATO’s mission creep into imperium.
      –On the left, another anti-sanctions party, not mentioned by Mr. McGregor, is Unione Populare, led by former mayor Naples, De Magistris. In a daring bit of interference, Mélanchon has turned up in Italy to endorse Unione Populare. Unione Populare is new, may not get over the 3 percent threshold, and my just get my vote. In my Undisclosed Region, UP has put together a pretty good list.

      *Checks notes* on 26 September? Please. I have a feeling some heads are going to be lopped off. Letta in the PD doesn’t look long for this world.

      And another factor making the whole election a big swirl is the cut in number of parliamentarians, roughly a third of each house of parliament: There are many careers that look to be at the last gasp.

    2. fjallstrom

      In the Swedish elections (as it currently stands, there are some votes left to count), the far right has gained from the conservative parties and the right-leaning liberal party. The parties that has governed – the green party and the social democrats – has gained from the left-leaning liberal party, and the left party. In total this has flipped one seat (of 349) from the four parties on the left to the four parties on the right, giving the four parties on the right a majority of one seat. Unless the last votes flips that back.

      While electricty prices was a huge topic, and gasoline prices a large topic, natural gas wasn’t (Sweden didn’t use much anyway). The four parties on the right wants to build more nuclear reactors in response to the electricity prices. Since that takes years, if not decades, you can all see how serious a solution it is to ruinous electricity prices this winter.

      When it comes to Ukraine and Nato, all the parties on the right – including the far right party – are gung-ho for weapons shipments, joining Nato, increasing the defense budget, etc. It is on the left there are some diversity of opinion between the parties.

      1. IsabelPS

        In Portugal, the only party that stands indefectibly by Russia is the Communist Party. Even its partners in the previous coalition on the left have the opposite position, so it stands totally isolated (and it had lost half of the seats in the last elections, anyway) and the question of sanctions is not much raised, as far as I can tell. People are terribly worried with inflation and the price of energy, foodstuffs, agricultural inputs, etc, but it had started towards the beginning of the year so, as far as I can tell, the present situation only made matters worse in people’s minds. Also, I was just checking the numbers to see if my perception was correct (and it was): probably the Portuguese position “by default” to stand by Ukraine has something to do with the fact that Ukrainians make up the biggest group of European immigrants (with the recent exception of brits post Brexit).

  2. Silent Bob

    What role do the draconian vaccine passports and other insane EU COVID policies play in everyday Italians favoring the right? I have to imagine Ukraine sanctions and energy suicide is icing on the “the Left has completely abandoned their principles and our interests” cake as far as regulars Italians are concerned.

    1. Bugs

      Have you ever used a vaccine passport? It’s really not a big deal. Nobody in Italy, last time I was there (for 2 weeks, exactly a year ago) made anything of it. We were trying to control a pandemic. Worked pretty well compared to some other places outside China.

      1. Michael Ismoe

        Yeah, thank God that those vaccines stopped the spread of Covid. (Holy Fauci! We’re still having this argument?)

  3. disc_writes

    I wonder why we are still asked to vote. All the powers of nation states are now yielded by international acronyms, mainly EU and NATO. Whenever a EU country elects a government that is not welcome in Brussels or Washington, the government is removed with some excuse and a compliant one is put in its place.

    Italian elections are basically a referendum on being ruled by foreign powers, but one where you can only choose “Yes”.

    Why do people even bother?

  4. Michael Ismoe

    I want to see the mortality table of any Italian politician who says they want to roll back the sanctions.

  5. Lex

    Thank you.

    When people are polled on Russian sanctions, I wonder how the actual question(s) are written. There’s some difference between “should Russia face sanctions for the conflict in Ukraine?” and “should we deindustrialize ourselves and face catastrophic energy bills to ‘punish’ Russia for the conflict in Ukraine?” I’m not sure “do you support the sanctions against Russia?” is a particularly good way to ask the question for serious data, especially given how most polling requires formatted answers. Pollsters get conducted if you give them a nuanced answer to one of their “simple” questions.

  6. Valerie from Australia

    I also think that many Europeans think like I do – Is this truth or is this propaganda? I, honestly, don’t know what to make of Putin. On one hand, Putin is a KGB agent – on the other hand, George Bush 1 was head of the CIA. Russia invaded Georgia and the Ukraine – so a reasonable case can be made for Putin trying to do a Hitler and remake the USSR – but on the other hand, I can appreciate that Russia doesn’t want to be surrounded by countries that are NATO aligned and could pose a threat to Russia in terms of armaments.

    It is totally hypocritical of the U.S. to expect otherwise.

    I think back on the American propaganda against Mossadegh and it really makes me wonder if the Western media and state department are telling the real truth about Putin. I am lost – and frustrated because I struggle to find the truth.

    I imagine, Europeans, who have so much to lose, are struggling to find the truth as well. The Left has really screwed themselves and the people they are supposed to represent. They are easily bought and easily influenced. The Conservatives, while Fascist leaning – seem solid. I fear a world led by ultra conservatives – and I fear this world for my black and brown friends.

    1. Yves Smith

      Putin was a KGB external officer in East Germany. That meant he had a business card and met with people, including Eugene Luttwak, who dined with him regularly. That was in the mid 1980s. He could not have been a spy after that. It’s unlikely he was before. He was probably an analyst.

    2. tindrum

      Dear Valerie from Australia,
      I assume that you really are from Australia, in which case you should know that the US also overthrew the Australian PM Gough Whitlam. The US will remove anyone in a position of political influence who stands against their economic and geo-politics regardless of where in the world they happen to be.

      John Pilger describes the affair…

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