There are tons of questions about the emergence and the surprising persistence and political success in the Italian political arena of the Movimento 5 Stelle (translated as the Five Star Movement, M5S for short). How did this political movement overcome the collective action problem, and how did it succeed in getting stronger and stronger until it became one of the top political forces in Italy?
Beppe Grillo, a famous actor in Italy, personally proclaimed morality as a pillar of the M5S.
To understand the success of the M5S, I do think one has to go back about ten years to 2009, the time when Beppe Grillo and Roberto Casaleggio launched the movement as its two founders. After a series of political scandals, mainly corruption among major political opponents in Italy, and following nearly twenty years of Silvio Berlusconi being in power, voter turnout steadily went down from about 86% in the 1994 elections to 72% in the 2013 elections. Many voters were disenchanted with the traditional political parties in Italy The M5S proposed a new political platform, able to meet an unmatched political demand, based on direct democracy through discussions on a website platform among its members. The position was of the party remained non-ideological, not taking a position along the left-right dimension.
More importantly, the M5S gained much of its consensus among its supporters for tight partisan discipline – at odds with the general political trend. Candidates are selected through website elections in which all its members take part, and they are tightly monitored once in office. On top of that, Beppe Grillo, a famous actor in Italy, personally proclaimed morality as a pillar of the M5S.
Most of these scandals had nothing to do with corruption, but rather with mistakes coming from inexperience – the party members are indeed newcomers. It seems to me that today, Italian voters value morality over competence.
And here I come to the important question. Despite all the requirements and tight procedures, some of the party's hired members have been involved in scandals – including Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Rome. So why do Italian voters support M5S if it actually failed to credibly differentiate itself from the rest of the political groups in Italy?
There are two things that, in my opinion, can explain this. First of all, none of these scandals involved the M5S as a whole, but rather revolved around isolated persons – and that makes a big difference in voters’ eyes. And in all such cases, the M5S always proved to discipline its members by expelling those deviating from the rules. This procedure has apparently granted credibility to the M5S. Second, most of these scandals had nothing to do with corruption, but rather with mistakes coming from inexperience – the party members are indeed newcomers. It seems to me that today, Italian voters value morality over competence. But obviously we will learn more about this once and if the M5S gets to the frontline with its own government in the looming elections.