With the highly contested European parliamentary elections just a couple of weeks away, opinion polls in Italy have placed Matteo Salvini’s populist Lega party over the 30 percent mark, fueling speculation that the party could very well become the largest within the new European Parliament.
When speaking to the Swedish newspaper Ystads Allehanda, Robert Weber, the head of the opinion research institute Ixe, said that recent polling data suggests that Salvini’s Lega party will comfortably outshine its Italian competitors in May’s European elections.
Weber told the Swedish paper, “There are no opinion institutions here that believe that Lega gets below 30 percent. So they are more than twice as large, although the EU election is different from the national elections. But it is still a strong tailwind for Salvini.”
According to Weber, Mr. Salvini has stepped in to fill the void that was left in Italian politics after the former Prime Minister and current head of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi left office.
Claiming that some Italians had a desire for a strong leader, Weber asserted, “Salvini builds the same voter base that Berlusconi did in the early 2000s.
Weber also added that most Italians are more concerned about domestic political issues such as mass migration, unemployment, and a stagnant Italian economy, than they are about issues concerning the wider European Union.
Lega’s governing coalition partner – the Five Star Movement (MS5) – which garnered 32.7 percent of the vote in Italy’s 2018 national elections – has seen its support rapidly decline since then. While MS5 still consistently polls second to Lega, the left-wing populist party is now typically double-digits behind.
For Weber, the Five Star Movement’s loss of widespread support can be chalked up to its failure to enact real policy changes that it had promised, corruption scandals, and infighting with its governing coalition partner Lega.
In one major debacle which may have contributed to the party’s drastic drop in support, a number of Five Star senators openly defied their party leader Luigi Di Maio along with Salvini, voting against a migration and security decree drafted by Salvini which garnered widespread support.
Lega’s recent poll numbers suggest that the party will rival and could even eclipse those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which – combined with its sister party – the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) – could win a total of 27 seats according to projections made by Europe Elects. On its own, however, the CDU would only win 23 seats.
In France, Salvini’s critical populist ally Marine Le Pen along with her party, the National Rally, is now leading France’s embattled President Emmanuel Macron’s Le Republique en Marche (LREM) in a number of recent polls.
Following the release of new polling data, Le Pen has declared the European elections should act as a referendum on Macron’s presidency, calling for him to step down in the event that he loses.