December 7, 2016    4 minute read

Italy: A Referendum Of Contradictions And Another Failed Government

Promises Everything, Delivers Nothing    December 7, 2016    4 minute read

Italy: A Referendum Of Contradictions And Another Failed Government

When there is nothing else to do and the political campaigns quiet down, politicians should stop for a moment to reflect on their doings, and realise that no lie, no low punch to the opponents, no different communication could have ever changed the country’s mind.

The picture that emerges by looking at the results is that of a country that is united – 59.11% of voters – by no single political party or thought, but to one clear goal, that of wanting change. And this is what is surprising because the referendum explicitly asked people to vote to change the constitution, eliminate some of the costs incurred by politicians, and give up on the current system, a perfect bicameralism and an electoral law that favoured no change at all. And this group of voters said no.

The Personal Association

What went wrong in the campaign of Prime Minister Renzi, who could not convey his message properly, the association between the referendum and his government and party, and especially to himself. And this tied him to the “establishment”, the neverending list of politicians that arise in Italy, stay for a short period of time, and that govern for their interests before those of the people. And whilst the referendum promised to shake up the usual politics, it was never seen as such.

By looking at the data, 83% of Renzi’s party voters followed their leader, meaning they voted “yes” but more for political reasons than anything else. Then there was the endorsement by the industrialists, those seen by the people as lobbying for more power instead of better-paid labour.

Finally, of the people over 54, 51% decided to vote “yes” only after Renzi announced he will increase pensions. These groups, representing the conservatives, were actually swayed towards voting for a radical constitution and political change, whilst the generally lower income or unemployed and the youngest voted “no” to show their dissatisfaction with the current economic and political environment.

A Vote For Or Against Change?

During the past 1000 days in office, Renzi’s government reforms were in fact not able to create real tangible benefits for the “no” group. Nearly 70% of all 18-34-year-olds voted “no”, by far the largest percentage if you look at the vote by age, and 73% of the unemployed and 74% of the south followed suit. This should have come as no surprise, given the 37.1% youth unemployment rate in Italy that has not decreased over the past couple of years and the fact that one in three Italians on the poverty line, a trend especially visible in the southern parts of the country.

This twisted message, that associated the “no” with the need for change, should now be really carefully examined, as this referendum showed that even those traditionally non-active politically and therefore very often excluded, when necessary, are willing to participate (68.5% of people voted in this referendum, more than ever before). This is therefore clearly conveying a strong message to politicians that are going to come, to not let them be forgotten anymore.


In a way, the “no” victory, associated with Renzi’s departure, and with the political and economic turmoil, as described by the news during the campaign, was the shake-up this group needed, without going into the details of the reform itself. And they too were more willing to jump into this unknown than remain with the status quo, something that can be associated with the British Leave vote during the Brexit vote.

Even though one cannot predict what is to come, what one can just hope for is someone that redefines the scope of their political agenda around this very clear group of people that have been long excluded. New reforms on flexible income workers, and competition reforms, as well as real programs to provide the unemployed with new skills for the next generation of digital jobs would be the start of a real inclusive political agenda.

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