Italy's Swing Voters: Female, Middle-Aged, Let Down by Renzi

(Bloomberg) -- Almost a third of Italians have yet to decide who to vote for in next month’s general election -- more than enough to determine the outcome.

Their profile? Mostly women, middle-aged, without a university degree and disappointed with former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party. Those are the findings of Agenzia Quorum, which did an analysis of so-called swing voters ahead of a pre-election polling blackout that’s set to begin Saturday.

“This is yet another sign that the Democratic Party is on a downward slope, and its voters feel let down by Renzi,” said Giovanni Diamanti, the managing partner of Agenzia Quorum. "But it also suggests that the game is open and the final outcome is far from decided."

With Italians set to vote in little more than two weeks, on March 4, the latest surveys published by the main Italian newspapers also point to a large proportion of undecided voters. A poll done by Demos&Pi and printed in la Repubblica on Friday showed some 45 percent of people still unsure.

While the anti-establishment Five Star movement has risen in polls to become the leading single party, it still trails the center-right coalition led by four-time former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Neither appears set to win a majority of seats, setting the stage for a hung parliament and difficult talks over a grand coalition or national unity government. That makes swing votes potentially key to the outcome.

Italy's Swing Voters: Female, Middle-Aged, Let Down by Renzi

About 30 percent of potential voters remain undecided, according to Agenzia Quorum’s YouTrend poll of 1,000 adults on Feb. 12 and 13. About 64 percent are women, just 11 percent have a degree and the largest share abstained in previous votes. Among those who cast a ballot in the past, former backers of the Democratic Party are the most unsure. About half of those still undecided who voted in the 2014 European elections are from Renzi’s party. The margin of error was 3.1 percent.

An electoral law passed last year gives just over a third of seats in the lower house and in the Senate to first-past-the-post winners, which encourages the formation of coalitions. Five Star has traditionally opposed tying up with another party, while the Democratic Party suffered a blow after a splinter group, Free and Equal, decided to run on its own. That paved the way for a resurgent Berlusconi, who can’t serve as prime minister because of a public office ban following a tax fraud conviction.

A Bloomberg-calculated average of polls through Feb. 11 has the center-right at 37 percent of the vote, almost 10 points higher than the center-left at 28 percent and Five Star at 27 percent. 

Italy's Swing Voters: Female, Middle-Aged, Let Down by Renzi

Trending Toward Berlusconi

As the blackout nears, a projection by YouTrend based on their final poll of polls for news agency Agi shows Berlusconi’s camp taking 290 seats in the 630-member lower house and 141 seats in the 315-member Senate. The Demos&Pi poll, and a separate one by Ipsos published by Corriere della Sera on Friday, also found that none of the parties or coalitions would be able to obtain a parliamentary majority.

Compared to previous projections, centrist parties, including Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, are gaining some seats from the fringes, making a post-vote national unity government or grand coalition more likely.

“The clearest trend in recent weeks is a gain in consensus for Berlusconi,” Diamanti said.

Italy's Swing Voters: Female, Middle-Aged, Let Down by Renzi

Of the 232 first-past-the-post seats in the lower chamber, about a third are too close to call, according to YouTrend. Thirty-five of those are in the South. Winning all of those seats could give Berlusconi a majority.

That highlights the importance of voters who make up their minds at the last minute. About 55 percent of undecided voters are based in the North, and 45 percent in the Center and the South, YouTrend’s poll showed. The survey indicates that if the undecideds turn out to vote, the biggest parties -- the Democratic Party, Forza Italia and Five Star -- would gain the most.

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