The electoral arena: CasaPound’s strategies and results

As noted earlier, CPI’s engagement in the electoral arena marked an important strategic change for the group, even though it did not represent an absolute novelty. Candidates linked to CPI had in fact supported centre-right local lists since 2008, and CPI’s leader Gianluca Iannone ran as an independent candidate with Fiamma Tricolore in 2006. By 2013, CPI could already count on at least seven representatives at the local level, elected as independents within broader right-wing coalitions (Tassinari 2011). When the decision to run at the 2013 general elections was made official (during CPI’s national festival ‘Direzione — Rivoluzione’ of November 2012), the leadership did not discuss the actual choice to run but rather debated whether to run alone or in coalition with others. It simply informed activists that CPI will run for the general elections.

In describing what motivated this decision, Iannone referred to the participation of Italy’s centre-right and centre-left parties in the parliamentary majority supporting the technocratic government led by Mario Monti (2011—2013). In a context in which mainstream parties prioritized their role as governing, lather than representative agencies (Froio and Little 2015), CasaPound intended to play the role of the outsider. Thus, in 2013, CPI decided to present their own list of candidates for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Its vice-president Simone Di Stefano, moreover, ran as a candidate for governor of Lazio and mayor of Rome.

Counting on very limited resources, CPI planned its first electoral campaigns with the stated goal of driving media attention towards itself and its issues. The first campaign activity was in fact a legally authorized street demonstration (24 November 2012), with the participation of a few thousand supporters. The clamour surrounding the parade granted the group a place in a number of television programmes and debates, which CPI leaders used primarily to complain about the exclusion of their candidates from official broadcasts (CPI 2018a). At the same time, CPI organized a series of sensational events and agitprop operations aimed at increasing the group’s visibility, most notably promoting smoke- bomb raids in high schools to protest against education reforms (Huffington Post Italia 2012). Furthermore, the group tried to get coverage by exploiting the visibility of its competitors, provoking political adversaries to trigger a reaction. CPI’s vice-president Di Stefano released an official declaration urging his group’s members and sympathizers to participate in the primary elections of Italy’s Democratic Party: ‘Our candidate is Bersani [secretary of the Democratic Party from 2009 to 2013], because we like the idea that the Democratic Party remains ancient, obtuse, and with a paradoxical view of politics’ (ADN Kronos 2012). The accrued recognizability of CPI, and its centrality in the 2013 electoral campaign was further confirmed a few days before the vote, when the former leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) Beppe Grillo reported that he had no problem if ‘a guy from CasaPound’ wanted to enter his movement (La Stampa 2013). Media coverage was, however, the only real success in CPI’s first national election campaign. The list obtained 0.14 per cent of the vote in the lower Chamber, 0.13 per cent in the Senate and did not reach 1 per cent even in the regional and mayoral elections. While the leadership itself acknowledged that the performance was ‘below expectations’ (Fanpage 2013), CPI confirmed the choice of running with independent lists at the national and local level in the following years.

In the same period, at the European level, the group managed to open a channel of communication with the radical right political party Lega Nord (CPI

2014). During the 2014 European Parliament elections, CPI actively engaged in the campaign of Mario Borghezio. This paved the way to several joint initiatives between CPI and the Lega Nord throughout the year and culminated in two joint demonstrations against the Monti government (and subsequently against that of Enrico Letta) in October 2014 and February 2015. Once again, CPI was successful in gaining media visibility. But, while Mario Borghezio was elected to the European Parliament, CPI failed to consolidate the alliance with the Lega Nord, mainly due to the unwillingness of its leadership (Roberto Maroni first and subsequently Matteo Salvini) to abandon the centre-right coalition headed by Silvio Berlusconi.

Between 2014 and 2017, CasaPound also promoted independent lists at local elections, fielding its own candidates for the positions of mayors and regional governors. As in the national-level electoral campaigns, CPI successfully seized the attention of local media with its showcase actions, including vigilante patrols against insecurity, media stunts to criticize local administrators, and virulent campaigns against Roma people, migrants and refugees. Furthermore, the group benefited from the general dissatisfaction of Italian electorates towards mainstream parties and administrations, which produced a drastic drop in overall electoral participation, especially at the local level. In spring 2016, the CPI list obtained about 7 per cent in local elections for the municipality of Bolzano, a sizable north-eastern province towards the border with Austria, also electing one of its members to the municipal council. In June the following year, the CPI candidate was elected to the local council of the Tuscan city of Lucca, securing 8 per cent of the total preferences. Similarly, CPI candidates were elected in the central Italian town of Todi (5 per cent of the votes) and in the Calabrian province of Lamezia Terme (7 per cent). The most resounding electoral performance for CPI, however, was in November 2017, when its candidate won a seat on the municipal council of the Roman suburb of Ostia, obtaining 9 per cent of the vote.

Buoyed by rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Italy, as well as by years of economic strain and public dissatisfaction with mainstream parties, C'.PI hoped for a similar breakthrough in national elections in 2018. Indeed, the resounding local results further contributed to portraying CPI as a ‘successful’ political actor, with some national and international pundits expecting its breakthrough to the Italian parliament (Reuters 2017; The Guardian 2018). In this respect, CPI is certainly rooted at the local level, as confirmed by the opening of over one hundred local chapters across Italy in less than 15 years (see Chapter 4). However, CPI scores well in local elections which are usually characterized by low electoral turnout. CPI’s resounding 9 per cent in Ostia (November 2017), for instance, must be contextualized in a local election where only one out of three voters participated, representing a turnout of only 36 per cent. This means that the turnout in Ostia dropped by about 20 percentage points compared to the previous local consultations in Rome — and over 40 per cent compared to the previous national elections. Importantly, it also means that the CasaPound candidate obtained in total fewer than 6,000 votes, which hardly justifies the disproportionate attention that the group received in the aftennath of the Ostia elections from national and international media.

In launching the 2018 electoral campaign, the group’s candidate for prime minister, Simone Di Stefano, stated that he was certain that CPI would obtain the 3 per cent necessary to win a seat in the lower chamber. The results would soon prove him wrong. In fact, CPI had to set up a very muscular electoral campaign, to compete in a political system turning increasingly anti-immigrant and saturated by the many different components of Italy’s far right, including Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’ltalia. Similarly, CPI’s antiestablishment narrative on socio-economic issues was obfuscated by the powerful populist propaganda of the Five Star Movement. Even when it mobilized on the heritage of Fascism, CPI was generally unsuccessful in distinguishing its campaign from the nostalgic cartel established by the extreme-right Forza Nit ova and Fiamma Tricolore.

CPI’s electoral ambitions were thus frustrated by the results. At the 2018 national elections, the group obtained only 0.9 per cent, or 312,000 preferences, for the lower chamber, whereas the candidate for governor of Lazio won 1.9 per cent or 60,000 votes. Nonetheless, the group consolidated its preponderance over the other actors of the extreme right. At the 2013 national elections,

CPI obtained half the preferences of Forza Nuova, and about the same as Fiamma Tricolore. In 2018, it won almost three times more votes than the Forza Nuova-Fiamma Tricolore cartel. Moreover, compared to 2013, CPI enjoyed a sixfold increase in electoral support, from less than 50,000 votes to over 300,000. The leadership confirmed this in a Facebook post published immediately after the election, on 5 March:

Thanks to the almost 300,000 Italians who chose CasaPound. They were 48,000 in 2013, today they are six times as many; we started from 0.13 per cent, we are at almost 1 per cent now. [...] We are still weak in the South, and we must work to redress this. But the elections also confirmed a fact that we consider a victory for ourselves. Italians have demonstrated that they do not care about anti-fascism, and that they look for someone that can address their distress, as we have repeated throughout the election campaign.

(CPI 2018a)

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