Italy sweats during summer election campaign – POLITICO

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TUSCANY – Spending the entire month of August on the coast is practically an Italian birthright.

But after the surprise collapse of Mario Draghi’s government in July, Italy is holding autumn elections for the first time in more than 100 years, leaving politicians with little time to tan.

Instead, the Italian summer is dominated by the intense heat of an election campaign, as politicians make frantic attempts to connect with voters who are either at the beach or wish to be.

There is a lot at stake for Italy, which faces a shaky economic outlook amid market concerns about where the country will go without former central bank veteran Draghi at the helm.

Along with pedal boats and table tennis, beachgoers on the Versilian Riviera in Tuscany last week were scouring the newspapers for the latest twists on the political soap opera.

« I have the impression that we are talking about politics this summer, » said Carlo Tatini, a real estate agent and member of the Brothers of Italy party, currently the most popular in the polls.

But election strategists face a tricky dilemma.

As they desperately seek to get their messages across and find swing voters wherever they are, not everyone will appreciate a candidate suddenly appearing to block their sun. Worse perhaps, television images of political leaders having fun on the beach could alienate those unfortunate voters who are still stuck in the sweltering heat of the city.

On the beach at Marina di Pietrasanta, a middle-class resort town, lifeguards were busy raking the sand between the 20 rows of sunbeds. Massimo Votta, a father of four who owns a construction company in Florence and a world-class view on surfing, said: « It’s harder for politicians to reach people when they’re [the] seaside. You have a different routine, you don’t watch the news. At home, people have more time to watch television.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brotherhood of Italy who is set to become the country’s first female prime minister, cannot afford to make mistakes. That’s part of why she decided to steer clear of sun loungers when she toured the coast during a campaign stop in Versilia last week. The Tuscan coast is best known for being home to footballers’ favorite resort, Forte dei Marmi.

Trick dogs and pearls

But Meloni, the opposition leader, avoided the beach, preferring to take part in a question-and-answer session on stage in the garden of a 19e century villa. She drew a crowd of around 700, including many well-to-do women, accessorized with Prada bags, beads and sometimes a small dog.

While Tuscany has long been a bastion of the left, there are signs that the right is gaining ground now. Right-wing parties won 40% of regional elections in 2020, compared to 48% for left-wing parties.

Giorgia Meloni decided to stay away from the deck chairs when she toured the coast during a campaign stop in Versilia last week | Fondazione Versiliana

Many in attendance appeared to be confirmed Meloni supporters. Patrizia, a housewife from Livorno in her 60s with a hazel tan, said Meloni had her vote: « I’ve always been a fan of her, I’ve followed her progress since she was young. I share His point of view.

Domenico Arruzzolo, a podcaster from Lucca, said he wanted to see her in action before giving her his vote. “She did well to stay out of Draghi’s government in opposition. I came here to see what she says and make up my mind,” he added.

In a scorching summer, the heat reaching up to 40 degrees in recent weeks does not make the election campaign any more pleasant for voters or politicians. When Meloni’s lunge started at 7 p.m., it was still 33 degrees. Dressed in beach-appropriate white linen and Capri sandals, she still looked edgy, tugging at her clothes. In the crowd, hand fans were the indispensable accessory.

But the heat did little to sap Meloni’s energy as she rambled through some of her favorite subjects, blasting globalization and what she sees as Italy’s overly deferential attitude. towards Europe. Her opponents on the left have « created a culture where if you think differently, you’re treated like an outcast, » she said.

« When they call us monsters, they call the 25% of Italians who support us monsters and that I will not allow, » she said to cheers.

This time, the right bloc appears better positioned than the left, thanks to a long-standing alliance. The center left is in disarray after a rapprochement between the Democrats and a small centrist party, Azione, collapsed this weekend, less than a week after its formation.

Foreign governments and investors fear a far-right administration could undermine Italy’s international commitments, but for Meloni and his supporters, those fears are « surreal ». She dismissed the warnings of her detractors: « They say we are going to bring down the 10 plagues of Egypt on Italy, that Italy will fall into a void. »

Halfway through the event, a police officer providing security collapsed, apparently from the heat. At the right time, Meloni responded by leading a round of applause for the police.

Meloni, 45, is now in pole position to lead the next government. With 24% in the polls, a short campaign serves him well, minimizing the risk of accidents. In an election campaign, there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, especially on the beach.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing League party and an ally-rival of Meloni, suffered a disastrous beach club tour in August 2019. After weeks of taking selfies, making cocktails and DJing on the sand as his poll numbers rose, he then blundered in his attempt to force an election and ended up in opposition, so his beach persona is always associated with a political flop.

But, perhaps anxious to make up for lost ground, he seems more willing to brave the sand to bring his message back to the people. Last weekend, Salvini posed in his trunks on a boat in Lampedusa after making another tour of the region to highlight illegal migration, his key political issue. Even that short boat trip left Salvini red-faced, after it emerged the same ship had been used by a previous owner to rescue migrants from the sea.

social media summer

Lorenzo Pregliasco of polling agency You Trend said the campaign will of necessity focus online during August, ahead of a hectic few weeks before the September 25 vote. « Parties are likely to improve their engagement on social media because it’s difficult to hold in-person events and few people watch TV, » he said. « Another consequence is that they will focus their efforts on the last month, so the campaign will be very short and focused. »

In addition to the heat and the holidays, many voters are weary of events on the national and global stage l Fondazione Versiliana

Due to the cost of living crisis, more and more voters, often retired and low-income people, cannot afford vacations. Some of them are probably former 5-star supporters who might now be willing to vote for the Brothers from Italy, or they might not vote at all.

The challenge for Meloni is mobilizing low-income or pension voters who are unhappy and may not be able to afford a vacation, Pregliasco said. The Brethren in Italy have struggled to win enough of those voters in previous local elections, but now appear to have a chance in the national ballot.

In addition to the heat and the holidays, many voters are weary of events on the national and global stage. « A lot of people are tired after two years of the pandemic, tired of everything, » said Alberto Pierotti, a retired air force officer who lives in the Versilia region. « In summer, they are less eager to listen. »

For her part, Meloni seems ready to take up the challenge. ‘Because I’m a woman, right wing, I came into politics young and I’m small – my whole career I’ve been underestimated,’ she told the crowd in the garden at the edge of the sea. « It’s an advantage. »


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