Italy's populist government is said to be 'cannibalizing' itself as voters start to take sides

Lega Nord far right party leader Matteo Salvini address supporters during campaign rally on Piazza Duomo in Milan on February 24, 2018 a week ahead of the Italy's general election. Italy stepped up security for mass demonstrations by far-right and anti-fascist groups across the country on February 24, 2018 as tensions rise ahead of next week's general election
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
Lega Nord far right party leader Matteo Salvini address supporters during campaign rally on Piazza Duomo in Milan on February 24, 2018 a week ahead of the Italy's general election. Italy stepped up security for mass demonstrations by far-right and anti-fascist groups across the country on February 24, 2018 as tensions rise ahead of next week's general election
Italy's governing coalition might be united in the face of external challenges when it comes to its 2019 budget, but voter polls show changing fortunes for the Lega party and the Five Star Movement (M5S).
In fact, the right-wing Lega is now seen as "robbing" votes from its coalition partner. In the latest opinion polls in Italy published by Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on Saturday, Lega was seen with 34.7 percent of the vote, a large increase from the 17.4 percent share the party won at the general election in March. Its governing partner M5S has failed to capitalize on its prominent position, however, sliding 4 percentage points to 28.7 percent.
In the springtime election, the left-wing anti-establishment M5S party gained the biggest share of the vote for any single party but Lega gained the most votes within an alliance of right-leaning parties (including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party). As neither M5S or the right gained enough of the vote to govern alone, M5S and Lega formed a coalition government, one that has been noted for its euroskeptic and populist rhetoric ever since.
With its often controversial and outspoken leader, Matteo Salvini, who is both deputy prime minister and interior minister, Lega has emerged as arguably the more dominant party in the coalition. M5S, on the other hand, is led by Neapolitan Luigi Di Maio who is also minister for economic development.
Now, it appears that the Lega party — despite its pro-Northern, secessionist reputation and roots — is winning voters from across Italy and many of these are coming from M5S' traditional heartland. The poll in the Corriere della Sera newspaper showed that M5S has seen its share of the vote fall across all regions, especially in the north.

A 'southerner' party

Responding to the poll, Citi analysts Tina Fordham and Mauro Baragiola said that some voters that had previously supported M5S now appeared to be wary of the movement's perceived "southerness."
"In particular, Il Corriere della Sera is suggesting that the two governing parties have started to 'cannibalize' themselves with Lega attracting 16 percent of new votes from former M5S electors — especially in the north," Fordham and Baragiola said in a note Monday.
"Our view was that (in March 2018 elections) people living in the north who were seeking an alternative to traditional parties and didn't like Silvio Berlusconi might have voted for M5S. However, following the decline in popularity of Berlusconi, the same electors in the north might now be more worried about being run by a 'southerner' party which is focusing on subsidies (potentially resulting in higher taxes in the north)," they said.
Italian media have reported tensions in the coalition. While both parties share anti-establishment and euroskeptic characteristics, their policy priorities differ. For instance, a flagship policy of M5S is the introduction of a guaranteed basic income for the poor while for Lega, lower taxes is a key pledge with the party advocating a "flat tax" of 15 percent. Both parties appear united in fighting the shared enemy that is the European Union which has rejected the coalition's expansionary budget for 2019.
Yet Fordham and Baragiola said they think that the combination of (reported) growing tensions within the government and the most recent voting intentions "might soon have big implications for the future of the current government" and parliament.
"Despite voting intentions currently giving the two parties a substantial 63 percent of votes — the government relies on a very slim majority in the Upper House. Hence, the two parties need to: i) find a (challenging) equilibrium on the government program; and ii) secure support from all their MPs (members of parliament) to get the laws approved."