Riccardo Turati (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona) – Digging Up Trenches: Populism, Selective Mobility, and the Political Polarization of Italian Municipalities

We study the effect of local exposure to populism on net population movements by citizenship and origin in the context of Italian municipalities. We present two research designs to identify the causal effect of populist attitudes and politics separately. First, we use a combination of collective memory and trigger variables as instruments for the variation in populist vote shares across national elections. Second, we apply a close-election regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of electing a populist mayor on post-election population movements. We establish two converging findings. First, both the exposure to populist attitudes and populist policies — through the close-election of a populist mayor — reduce the attractiveness of municipalities, leading to larger population outflows, particularly for young, women, and highly educated natives, which tend to relocate across Italian municipalities rather than moving abroad. Second, we do not find any effect on the foreign population. Our results evidence a foot-voting mechanism that may generate a vicious circle of populism and political polarization of Italian municipalities.

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