Euroscepticism and populism in Italy among party elites and the public

Nicolò Conti, Unitelma Sapienza

Danilo Di Mauro, University of Catania

Vincenzo Memoli, University of Catania

Euroscepticism and populism are two key phenomena of contemporary European politics that can often be observed in tandem. During the last two decades, they appear to have progressed jointly within national politi-cal spaces and party systems (Harmsen, 2010). Both phenomena were nour-ished by the emergence of new political entrepreneurs (mainly parties, but also social movements and interest groups) that challenged ‘mainstream’ parties by eroding their electoral support (De Vries & Hobolt, 2012; Meijers, 2017) and by influencing the national policy agenda (among others see Schu-macher & Van Kersbergen, 2016; Di Mauro & Verzichelli, 2020; Biard, 2019; Pirro & Taggart, 2018).

Scholars agree on the point that Euroscepticism and populism remain two distinct subjects at both the theoretical and empiri-cal levels (Rooduijn, 2019). Despite this conclusion, recent research shows an increasing connection between the two (Kneuer, 2019). Especially under the effects of the Great Recession and the so-called refugee reception crisis (Ambrosini et al., 2019), populists started to carry the flag of anti-EU establishment, while Eurosceptic radical left and radical right parties converged on anti-elitism and an emphasis on people’s centrality (Polk et al., 2017; Basile & Mazzoleni, 2020). Despite the relevance of the topic, from an empirical point of view the relationship between Euroscepti-cism and populism remains under-investigated in the literature, especially at the elite level. Do Euroscepticism and populism meet within the national political elite and the public? Are these two stances influential on the voting choices of citizens?

We aim to address these questions and provide empirical evidence by analysing the Italian case in depth. This is a key example of how both Euroscepticism and populism can enjoy unprecedented success, resulting in their chief political entrepreneurs win-ning the national elections of 2018 and forming the first (although short-lived) Eurosceptic-populist government in Italy (Conti et al. 2020a).The article is structured as follows. In the next section, we review recent patterns of convergence between Euroscepticism and populism in Italy. We then present our framework for analysis and introduce the question of why the electoral success of anti-establishment parties may lead to erroneous conclusions about the relationship between Euroscepticism and populism. In the subsequent sections we present our data based both on an ad hoc elite survey and a broader public survey and intro-duce our findings. Some conclusive remarks discuss the main results of our work.


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University of Florence

University of Florence

The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy