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Italy’s Referendum: The Poorest and The Youngest Voted Against The Senate Reform

The referendum that took place in Italy on Sunday was on a constitutional reform of the Senate. Voters had to decide whether they wanted to approve a reform that would have reduced the role of the higher chamber in approving legislation and streamlined the legislative process. More than 59% of the electorate voted against the reform that had been approved by Parliament, though by a smaller than required majority. The No vote was much larger than expected. Many citizens didn’t like the reform, as it left unchanged the bulk of the Constitution, but many also used the referendum to criticize the Renzi government, both his domestic and European policies.

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The political spectrum was clearly divided. Opposition parties such as the Northern League and the Five Star Movement campaigned in favor of the No vote, as did Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. The center-left Democratic Party of prime minister Matteo Renzi was bitterly divided. The Cattaneo Institute of Bologna published on Monday a research report following the referendum, arguing that the No vote attracted the poorest, the youngest and those who live in mixed areas, where immigrants are more numerous. The Cattaneo Institute analysis is based on data in the Bologna area, where the Yes vote won over 52,2% of the electorate. Among the No voters, more than 51% have an income lower than 18,000 euros per year, while 47% have an income of between 18,000 and 25,000 euros and 40% above 25,000 euros per year. Interesting information also comes from the age of the voters. According to the research report, more than 51% of the No voters in the Bologna area are younger than 45, while only 44% are older than 50. Finally, the Cattaneo Institute also found out that No voters are more likely to live in areas with large foreign communities: more than 51% of No voters in the Bologna area live in neighborhoods where immigrants represent at least 14% of the population. The referendum was instrumental for many citizens to protest against the government’s policies. Of course, many voted genuinely against the reform because unconvinced or worried about the way the Constitution was going to be changed, as former prime minister Mario Monti did. However, it seems clear that the No vote goes hand in hand with increasing political, social and economic dissatisfaction, reflected in the growing popularity of anti-establishment parties, such as the Northern League and the Five Star Movement. Moreover, despite assurances to the contrary, clearly there is also a dose of euroscepticism in the No vote. After all, Mr Renzi ran an anti-EU campaign as a way for him to distance himself from EU policies and attract the eurosceptic electorate. According to a recent Eurobarometer poll, just 33% of Italians think that Italy’s membership of the EU is a “good thing”, compared to a 53% EU average. Moreover, 38% of Italians say that Italy has “on balance” benefited from being a member of the EU. This compares to 60% of EU citizens on average.

(Pictured above is Beppe Grillo, 68, leader of the Five Star Movement)

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