CASTELFRANCO VENETO, Italy—Eleonora Pettenuzzo, an 18-year-old high school student in this town of 33,000 about an hour’s drive outside Venice, doesn’t pay much attention to politics. Political headlines in Italy, she said, are “always about some scandals or corruption” and include “no messages to young people.”
When I asked Pettenuzzo who she planned to vote for in the March 4 national elections—her first—she said she is leaning towards the nine-year-old Five-Star Movement. “The other parties … have already ruled during the last decades. The results of their government weren’t so good, so much so that they have led to a deep crisis,” she told me. The Five-Star Movement, by contrast, is a populist party founded as an internet-driven, anti-establishment movement by comedian Beppe Grillo. Even if it has its own share of scandals, Pettenuzzo said, it “tries to be transparent and [its] ideas are explained clear in its online site, which is easily accessible and understandable from everyone.”
As Italy’s campaign kicks into high gear, young voters like Pettenuzzo are increasingly turning away from traditional centrist parties and toward populist parties like the Five-Star Movement and the right-wing, anti-immigration Lega (or “League,” formerly known as the Northern League). Fed up with what they see as a political establishment that ignores their problems, including high unemployment and waning opportunity, young people are helping shift the Italian political landscape in ways that could reshape the country’s future.