The leader of Italy’s League Party, Matteo Salvini, has won over the hearts and minds of the majority of Italians and now enjoys the trust of a remarkable 56 percent of citizens, according to a poll released this week.
At the one-month mark from the swearing-in of the new administration, a survey released by the Giorno newspaper reveals that the government as a whole has a 51 percent public trust rating, with the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini topping the list at 56 percent.
Headlining Salvini as a “superstar” with the Italians, the report notes that his coalition partner Luigi Di Maio of the 5-Star movement has sunk to a disappointing third place among the ministers, with a trust rating of 49 percent, just behind the finance minister Giovanni Tria.
Prior to the March 4 general elections, Di Maio was the most popular politician in Italy, whereas at that time Salvini was running in the middle of the pack.
Salvini has used his new role as interior minister as a bully pulpit, outshining even prime minister Giuseppe Conte as the voice of the new government, especially on key issues such as immigration.
Disheartened by years of unchecked mass migration, many Italians have found Salvini’s clear language and firm stance on national sovereignty invigorating, as he has stood up to Germany, France, and Brussels with a Trump-inspired message of “Italians first.”
Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of the Democratic Party (PD) often lamented the state of affairs as wave upon wave of mostly African immigrants landed on Italy’s shores, but he justified his failure to take meaningful action by saying his hands were tied by dictates of the European Union (EU).
In the end, Renzi’s sterile hand-wringing over Italy’s immigration crisis won him only disdain from the Italian people.
Salvini, on the other hand, ran his election campaign on a platform of regaining national sovereignty and control over Italy’s borders.
A message that resonated with voters then seems to resonate even more now as Italians see the interior minister putting his promises into action.
As Wolfgang Münchau wrote this week in the Financial Times, Salvini’s growing popularity within Italy is viewed with suspicion, even fear, by the European establishment.
“What makes Mr Salvini’s threat to the EU’s established order so potent is his fearlessness,” Münchau wrote. “He is the first modern Italian politician without an emotional need to be among friends in Davos or Brussels.”
It is just this sort of fearlessness that Italians are finding so refreshing, and so unexpected.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome