The Making of a Queenmaker: Will E.U. Parliamentary Elections Hand Italy’s PM Meloni the Power to Steer Europe?

On balance, the data bears out expectations of a strong showing for the Brothers of Italy
June 06, 2024 at 12:00 pm UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has managed an impressive balancing act between endearing herself to far-right voters at home while simultaneously cultivating a more moderate image in Brussels. This has put her in the position of kingmaker — or queenmaker as the case may be — as Europeans vote this week for members of the European Parliament, who have to give the nod to the next E.U. Commission President.

  • Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party is expected to win big at the same time the right is expected to pick up seats across Europe, making her a key player. Accordingly, both France’s Marine Le Pen and Europe’s top bureaucrat Ursula Von der Leyen — who will need the new parliament’s assent after the elections to stay on as Commission president — have been courting Meloni in the leadup to the vote.

  • We see Meloni’s low approval rating amongst Italy’s general population, as well as the possibility that her base will not turn out to vote this weekend in large enough numbers, as possible spoilers.

  • But on balance, our data bears out expectations of a strong showing for the Brothers of Italy.

Everything has been coming up Meloni. After a big win in Italy’s September 2022 elections put her in the premiership, Italy’s incumbent Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has managed to artfully thread the needle between satisfying her far-right base domestically by wading into the country’s culture wars and mollifying E.U. elites with her pragmatism on Ukraine and E.U. relations. This has allowed her to become a palatable representative of the far right on the E.U. stage, while also being courted by the more center-right E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in recent months (much to the chagrin of the centrist’s more traditional allies).

If, as expected, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FdI) clinches around 20 European Parliament seats, Von der Leyen will be hoping to gain their support for her embattled candidacy as the dust settles from elections where the far right is set to make gains across Europe. One other would-be-queen is also keen to cozy up to Meloni: France’s Marine Le Pen has made overtures about creating a joint right-wing parliamentary group. So Meloni has options.

While lackluster approval of Meloni’s performance as prime minister among the average Italian and lower-than-expected turnout among FdI supporters remain risks for the FdI’s ascent on the European stage, our data suggest both will ultimately be insufficient to dethrone the unlikely queenmaker and her party.

European Parliament elections are not about Europe

Voters across Europe tend to treat E.U. parliamentary elections as a plebiscite on what is happening in their home countries, rather than as an input into supra-national policymaking. In Italy, the election is being depicted as a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote on Meloni herself, with Meloni being put forward as the top candidate on the FdI’s candidate list. That strategy makes sense for her party’s stalwarts, among whom Meloni’s net approval rating is hovering around +80 points. Among the general public, however, Meloni is faring more poorly.

Italy: leader approval

Net approval of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni among adults
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Net favorability is the share of respondents who approve of Meloni's job performance minus the share who disapprove
Source: Morning Consult Political Intelligence. Green line represents a 7-day simple moving average of daily surveys. Gold line represents a 30-day simple moving average of daily surveys.

Italy: Party identification among adults

Shares of Italian adults supporting each party who approve or disapprove of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni
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Source: Morning Consult Political Intelligence. Data points represent a 30-day simple moving average of daily surveys ending on June 5, 2024

And while the largest share of Italian adults say the Brothers of Italy party holds views closest to their own, even more say that no party does so. Among that disillusioned group, Meloni’s approval rating is lower than among the general population, at roughly -32 points in recent weeks.

Italy: Party identification among adults

Shares of Italian adults who say each political party is closest to their own views
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Source: Morning Consult Political Intelligence. Shares reflect a rollup of daily surveys conducted May 4-June 3, 2024.

Oh Brothers where art thou?

All of this means that turnout of Meloni’s base this weekend will be key to the E.U. parliamentary outcome. Brothers of Italy supporters skew male, older, and are more likely to say they are informed about current events than the general Italian population. These are also all groups which turned out to vote in larger numbers in the last E.U. parliamentary elections. All else equal, this bodes well for Meloni.

Brothers of Italy supporters are more likely to be young, male, and informed about current events

Demographic profile of Italian adults who said they most closely identify with the Brothers of Italy party by gender, age and attention to current events
Bars represent shares among Brothers of Italy supporters. Black dots represent shares among the general population.
Source: Morning Consult Political Intelligence.

Attitudes towards the European Union itself may play a key role. Before winning Italy’s top job, Meloni herself said E.U. institutions were “rotten to their core,” and campaigned on a nationalist, nativist platform. And so Brothers of Italy adherents are, almost by definition, likely to be more euroskeptic than the average Italian. Research from past European Parliament elections shows that euroskeptics turn out to vote in lower numbers. Centering the E.U. campaign around Meloni’s own cult of personality is thus a savvy tactic to overcome her base’s potential reticence to turn out in force on election day.

Taking it back to Brussels

On balance, we think the tactic will be successful given how favorably party supporters feel about Meloni, and agree with predictions that the Brothers of Italy will gain a sizable number of seats in the European parliament. This will hand Giorgia Meloni a big lever to take with her to Brussels come July.

How she is able to wield it will depend in large part on the results of the elections continent-wide. Besides influencing the politicking over top jobs that will take place after elections, the shifting balance in Brussels could create new policy space. If the right does well across Europe, Meloni will almost certainly become even more vocal on migration, and will feel it less necessary to toe the European line on climate change.

A headshot photograph of Sonnet Frisbie
Sonnet Frisbie
Deputy Head of Political Intelligence

Sonnet Frisbie is the deputy head of political intelligence and leads Morning Consult’s geopolitical risk offering for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Sonnet spent over a decade at the U.S. State Department specializing in issues at the intersection of economics, commerce and political risk in Iraq, Central Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. She holds an MPP from the University of Chicago.

Follow her on Twitter @sonnetfrisbie. Interested in connecting with Sonnet to discuss her analysis or for a media engagement or speaking opportunity? Email [email protected].

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