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Young Italians Talk About How They Voted in the Referendum and Why

Italy's nationalist and populist parties campaigned against constitutional reform in last weekend's referendum. Eighty percent of young Italians voted against the reform plans, too.

by Stefano Santangelo
07 December 2016, 12:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy

A few minutes after midnight on the 5th of December, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced that he'd lost the constitutional referendum held in Italy on Sunday. Renzi was suggesting a series of constitutional reforms, that would diminish the power of the Senate and speed-up the legislative process. He also announced that, to honour the promise he made before the referendum, he would be stepping down as Prime Minister. All the political parties and groups that had aligned against Renzi on the "no" vote were ecstatic – from ANPI [the anti-fascist National Association of the Italian Partisans] to CasaPound's neofascists, and from the anti-establishment populists of the Five Stars Movement to the former Prime Minister Mario Monti.

In the wake of the referendum, it has become clear that 80 percent of the 18-34 demographic voted "no". That data clashes a bit with the popular narrative that after the Brexit vote and the Trump win, the result of the Italian referendum is the most recent victory of "eurosceptic populists and nationalist parties" generally backed by an older demographic. As always, the reality is a bit more complex. We asked young Italians in Milan what they voted for and why, and what they expect from the future.

VIRGINIA (19) AND CLAUDIA (22)

VICE: What did you vote?
Virginia: I voted "no".
Claudia: Me too.

Why?
Virginia: I want things to change but I want them to change in the right direction. This isn't the right direction.
Claudia: Changing the Constitution shouldn't be a priority. Italians don't have faith in politicians, we feel they're fucking with us. Giving them more power wouldn't give the country more stability, because stability is not a matter of power. It's a matter of trustworthiness. Eliminating corruption should be a priority.

So you won! Are you happy?
Claudia: It's clear that a portion of the people, who voted "no" are right wing. It was a big mistake of Renzi to tie his political future to the referendum, saying he'd quit if the "no" vote won. Still, I'm happy he did quit. But those who voted "no" aren't united at all, so it's unclear what will happen now.

SILVIA (28)

VICE: You look very happy – did you vote "no"?
Silvia: I did! I voted "no" because I felt that the reforms didn't represent me.

Do you think this outcome will be good for young people in Italy?
I'm happy Renzi quit. I'm a supporter of the Five Star Movement and I think that political party represents young people best. I've moved to Spain though – so you can guess how much faith I have in my homeland. I'm only here for the month.

People say that voting "no" means giving the country over to the (far) right. What do you think?
I hope the Five Star Movement wins against the right-wing forces [like Lega Nord, a xenophobic nationalist party whose leader Matteo Salvini was on the front-line for the "no" vote campaign]. We've had a right-wing government, so I hope people will give the Five Star Movement a chance. At the very least, it is a younger movement. I'm not saying it's better but it's something fresh.

EDOARDO (21)

VICE: What did you vote?
Edoardo: I voted "yes", hoping something would change. We live in a democracy, so I have to accept that it didn't go my way.

Were you sure about your vote?
I am sure the bicameral system we have was bad, because we need a faster legislative process. That's why I voted "yes", but I can also relate to many reasons behind voting "no". I wasn't entirely sure what to vote until the very last moment, which is probably why I'm not devastated by the outcome.

So now that Renzi quit, are we facing an apocalypse?
I think we're facing five more years of absolutely nothing happening – stagnation. We'll have a provisional government, and then the elections. I expect the Five Star Movement to win because people don't trust traditional parties anymore.

FEDERICO (25)

VICE: Hi, what did you vote?
Federico: I voted "yes", because I agreed with the proposal of centralisation of power. It's difficult to unify a country like Italy, where everyone likes to think for themselves. I'd like the government to have a broad pragmatic power.

How did you feel about the campaign?
Both campaigns were trying to divide people, constantly looking for a mistake in the opponent's arguments to show they themselves were actually right. I have my own views on this issue and I might not be completely right, but whatever.

So now what?
I'm not sure – I didn't expect so many people to vote on this issue. But whether we'll have new elections soon or a provisional government for a while, I'm sure everyone will just mostly look out for their own interests.

ALESSANDRA (23) AND MICHELA (20)

VICE: Hey, what did you vote?
Alessandra: We both voted "no". I thought the reform plan was far from perfect, and it worried me not to know what would happen once the changes took place.

What exactly do you mean?
Alessandra: For example, we couldn't know how senators would have been elected after the reforms. I do think we need constitutional reform but this was the wrong way of doing it.

And what do you think, Michela?
Michela: I agree with Alessandra. They told us what they wanted to change in the Constitution but not how things would change exactly. Voting "yes" without knowing wasn't an option. I hope we'll get a provisional government to work on the electoral law before we are called to the polls again. But you probably shouldn't ask me what's going to happen next.

ALESSANDRO (25)

VICE: What did you vote?
Alessandro: I voted "yes" to reform. I read and listened to both sides, and I agree with many arguments in favour of constitutional reform.

Like what?
There would be an end to immunity for MPs, and the whole political system in Italy would just cost a lot less.

What do you think will happen now that your side lost?
I don't really know. I'll wait and see.

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