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“No” vote ahead in referendum, but Italians open to ditch two-chamber system

by Roberto D’Alimonte

24 Exclusive content for IT24

The “no” camp in Italy’s constitutional referendum is seen ahead, according to a poll by Cise-Sole24 Ore-ItalyEurope24 carried out between October 27 and November 7.

Clarifying the timing window of the poll is necessary because public opinion is changing so fast that responses can change even in a short period of time. Let alone before December 4.

But the trend seems clear. Polls may be imperfect measurement tools, but too many predict the victory of the “no” vote to dismiss them entirely.

In our poll, 34% of those polled said “no” to the reform, 29% said “yes” and 37% were uncertain or did not respond.

However, voters don’t dislike the constitutional reform. They especially like some proposals: 57% agree that most laws need to be approved only by the Chamber of Deputies, while 83% approve that the government asks the lower house to vote some bills by a specific deadline.

A majority of the people polled also agree on the composition of the Senate and the clause of supremacy.

The only controversial issue where the majority is split is the transfer of powers from the regions to the State. People even approve of the electoral reform, the much-criticized Italicum, with 80% saying they agree “enough or a lot” that the electoral system should allow voters to directly elect the prime minister, like in mayoral elections. And this is exactly what happens with the Italicum.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is right when he insists on explaining the content of his reform, especially given 60% of respondents said they barely know it. The problem is that this effort contrasts with the negative attitude of many voters toward the prime minister and his government: 63% have a negative or a very negative opinion of the government’s action as a whole. The bad news for Renzi is that such an opinion can influence the vote.

Therefore, the positive opinion on some aspects of the reform does neither translate in an overall positive assessment of the reform, nor in a “yes” vote in the referendum.

The sense is clear: saying “no” to the reform is a vote against the prime minister, despite consensus on some parts of the reform. The trend has clearly emerged in recent months, with the prime minister seen as responsible.

Renzi has certainly done his part, but the personalization of the referendum would have happened anyway. Renzi has only moved before his rivals did. In many parts of the electorate, especially in southern Italy, there is so much disaffection against government leaders that the opposition naturally makes the vote as a personal decision against the prime minister, betting that a “no” victory would automatically lead to his resignation.

Such data, in line with previous polls, clearly show the political nature of this referendum. The “yes” vote is mostly shared by members of the two ruling parties, the Democratic Party (PD) and the New Center Right (NCD), with 76% and 73% respectively saying they want to say “yes.”

These numbers may not be exceptional but are indeed high. The problem is the other voters. Renzi is struggling to send his message across the varied electorate of the opposition. As indicated in the charts, some in the Five Star Movement and Forza Italia are willing to vote “yes,” in contrast with the official position of their parties, although their share is relatively small.

Also relatively small is the share of young voters favorable to the reform. The “no” vote is ahead among those aged below 64, with the lead reaching around 20 points among the under-45.

The “yes” vote is largely ahead among those aged 65 or more, who usually vote more. But for a young prime minister, who has made a pride of the generational change, the scarce appeal on younger voters is a serious problem.

The other problem is voting in southern Italy. Here the hostility against the prime minister and his government is stronger than anywhere else. Economic stagnation and unemployment, especially among the youth, are some of the main reasons for this. The electoral mood in southern Italy will unlikely change in the few weeks remaining before the referendum. But will they really go to vote? The turnout in this type of polls is usually overestimated.

If all those who said they will vote on December 4 really did so, a “yes” victory would be very difficult. The turnout in the latest referendum, on the nuclear issue, in 2011, was of around 57%. And this was felt as an important issue. In 2006, 54% of voters participated in the constitutional referendum under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. With such percentage, the “yes” camp would have a chance to win.

If the turnout was particularly high, the “no” vote would likely prevail. In such a scenario, the next day Italy would find itself divided like it was after World War II, when it held a referendum for the monarchy or the Republic, but with an opposite outcome, and unrelated to the question of the referendum.