Updated: May 12
For the first time in Italian history, people over 18 went to the polls to vote for the Senate, but as a first experience it wasn’t so positive for them. The day after the elections, high-school students occupied their school building to protest the new government: the last Italian national elections held on 25th of September 2022 ended with the right-wing coalition achieving the absolute majority in both chambers and Gen Z youth wasn’t euphoric about it. This opposition didn’t move things up a gear, in fact a month later, the leader of the right-wing party Fratelli di Italia, Honourable Giorgia Meloni, accepted the role of Prime Minister, becoming the first woman holding the position.
Foreign newspapers commented on the actual political situation declaring democracy is under threat in Italy, since the power is now held by “the most radical government since Mussolini”. The first statements regarding the new Prime Minister explicitly highlight the roots of the politician: the New York Times wrote “a party descended from the remnants of fascism” regarding Fratelli di Italia, while the BBC reminded readers that Honourable Giorgia Meloni entered politics at a very young age as “a teenage activist in a neo-fascist party’s youth wing in Rome”. Such words do not leave room for interpretation about the perception of Fratelli di Italia and its leader. The politician denied she is a fascist, but her main slogan Dio, patria e famiglia (God, homeland and family) carries echoes of Mussolini as if he had just reincarnated in her. After all, Honourable Giorgia Meloni herself at the age of 19 declared that in her opinion Mussolini was a good politician and she is yet to revisit her statement to confirm her opinion or to repudiate it.
The future of Italy seems to be characterized by a return to the past. Although it is necessary to deeply analyse the results of the political elections and, if it is true that the future belongs to the young people, it is appropriate to consider their perception of politics.
In this article I am referring to Gen Z, up to 26 years old. Research conducted by Ipsos shows the percentages of Gen Z voters in opposition to the general results of the Italian elections. Specifically, the winning political party Fratelli di Italia did not reach that much consent among Gen Z, which favoured the leftist Movimento 5 Stelle and SI/Verdi alliance instead. The gap is even more evident when considering the category of young people who study. Here, right-wing parties achieved less than 20% of votes.
The graphic shows the percentage of student votes in relation to the total votes cast for each political party. Essentially, the right-wing alliance would have lost the elections if only students had voted.
New generations have no doubts about their political vision, consisting in a strong opposition to the actual Italian right. They feel more represented by left-wing values and want politics to be more orientated towards human rights and climate. Honourable Giorgia Meloni and her fellows defined “human traffickers” civil society groups who help people in the Mediterranean sea, while affirming that abortion “unfortunately” is a woman’s free choice. On October 2021, the Parliament became a stadium when the DDL Zan, a legislative proposal to fight discrimination based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, wasn’t approved: the Right literally jumped for joy. Human rights are not a priority for the new Government and we already knew that.
However, even though young people voted for left-wing coalitions such parties are subject to critics as well. The survey conducted by YouTrend shows that among left-wing parties minor parties are preferred over the major ones, while according to the research guided by Cnc Media in collaboration with Sole 24 Ore nine Gen Z youth out of ten appear to lack confidence in politics per se.
Italian politics, especially for the Left, have always faced the so-called “useful vote”, where voters shall back the Party that they believe has the highest chance of winning over other contenders. Here, the vote is guided by a political necessity rather than political ideologies.
The “useful vote” sways in favour of the “least worst” party that does not necessarily represents the real will of the voters. Partito Democratico constitutes the most popular Italian left-wing party; many young people voted for it hoping it would have led to a more solid majority to defeat the right-wing coalition, but such choice was forced. The party has already governed the country for several years and it has lost its credibility to the point that many argue that it explicitly is a left-wing party that does not follow left ideals, but it continues to find favour through the “useful vote”. It is the political party of job insecurity that put workers in the last place by depriving them of any safeguard: see the changes of Article 18 of Workers Statute for the protection of workers in case of unjustified dismissal. Defining it a Leftist party is illogical.
Nowadays, Italy has no political parties representing the left. This is one of the reasons why the Italian right won the elections in 2022: generally, Italians wanted an alternative to the incumbent and, to be honest, the Right run a successful election campaign.
In this political framework, some Leftist Gen Z youth finally opposed the general trend and gave their vote to minor parties that better represented their ideals in order to stop the wheel. Such parties unfortunately did not gain enough votes to sit in the Parliament. This was predictable, but a clear sign that the Italian Left needs to be built again from scratch.
Beyond the official research and results, I wanted to get closer to the matter, so I conducted a survey myself, asking Gen Z youth how they feel about the last elections: who they voted and why.
The first graphic refers to the Chamber while the second one to the Senate: in both cases the most attractive options appeared to be the Leftist coalition and no vote. Specifically, SI/Verdi alliance was the one that convinced Gen Z youth more, but they don’t seem satisfied of their choice. I will quote some comments left by the participants in relation to their vote: “è tutta feccia e ho scelto il meno peggio” (they’re all pieces of trash and I voted the less worst), “che delusione…….” (what a disappointment) and “volevo votare un partito che sarebbe riuscito ad entrare in parlamento” (I voted the party that could enter parliament). Useful vote succeeded again and new generations are aware of that.
Discouragement and disappointment are the most common feelings among young people and students after the last Italian elections: new generations feel the frustration towards the actual political framework with the only certainty to fight against the Italian right and their neo-fascist positions and the recognition that an efficient opposition to it does not exist.
Perhaps the real winner of the 2022 elections among young people is abstentionism, the choice of not voting. The general data referred to abstentionism in the age group 18-34 years is in line with the overall voter base, or even slightly higher, reaching 37% according to Swg’s research. The voter turnout of 2022 is the lowest ever. As for students, this percentage includes those who intentionally did not vote to practice “collective abstentionism” as a form of protest against the Government, the ones who are not interested in politics, the ones who simply did not know who to vote for because they did not feel represented by any political party and the ones who would have voted but could not since they were not in the place of their residence.
The latter case is the condition of the non-resident students who could not afford to go back to their municipality and therefore were unable to exercise their right to vote, even though they wanted to. The Italian Government does not permit non-resident students to vote in the place where they are domiciled, nor does the government take measures to help them afford the trip. Interestingly, Italians who live abroad have the right to vote from their foreign residence.
However, an intriguing fact is that all the participants to my survey voted for some Leftist party or didn’t vote; no Rightist wanted to contribute to my research, even though I explicitly and continuously asked for their opinions.
Certainly, students supportive of the Italian right do exist. Many must be convinced of the positions and proposals advanced by the actual right-wing parties, while many others could define themselves rightist but do not feel represented by such extreme right that there is now in Italy. Maybe they are discouraged as well. In any case, it seems they are afraid to manifest themselves and share their positions with all of us, even if their vision is the legitimized one with Honourable Meloni as Prime Minister of Italy. They must be so shy… or ashamed.
 Before, it was permitted only to people over 25 years old.  To understand the concept of “useful vote”, let’s step back to how the Italian electoral system works. Italians vote for the politicians who will sit in the Chamber and in the Senate through the Rosatellum bis law of 2017. According to this electoral system, parliamentarians are elected based on a mixed system, combining the use of majority and proportional representation. One-third of the seats will be elected by first-past-the-post, while the other two-thirds by party-list proportional representation. A party must receive at least 3% of the vote to win a seat in parliament, or 10% as for a coalition: this is the electoral threshold and it’s here that useful vote enters the discourse. Italians consider a vote given to minor parties a “useless vote”, since they will not overcome such percentage to be admitted in parliament, so they are more encouraged to vote major parties or those belonging to major coalitions that for sure will get more power in parliament.
Written by Benedetta De Rosa Edited by Christine Nanteza
Benedetta is a second-year student in Human rights and Multi-level governance at the University of Padova. She has a humanistic background and she wants to become a human rights advocate in the field of women's rights and gender equality. Follow Benedetta on Linkedin: Benedetta De Rosa and Instagram: benedetta_de_rosa