- Motivations of new movement polling at 13.5% in election campaign revealed
- 76% trust the internet, while only 4% trust TV, 8% the Government and 2% the banks
- 82% dissatisfied with democracy, and 66% expect economic crisis to worsen

The first survey of its kind of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), an anti-establishment political movement founded by the comedic blogger, reveals astonishing levels of distrust in politics, business and the media among its online supporters.

M5S supporters display rock-bottom levels of trust in political and commercial institutions: only 8% of respondents trust the government, 3% trust political parties, 2% trust parliament, 2% trust banks and financial institutions and 6% trust big companies – lower, on every measure, than the Italian general public.

The same is true of the Italian media, which Grillo regularly rails against in speeches and on his popular blog. Only 11% trust the press (against 34% of Italians overall) and less than 4% trust TV (against 40% of Italians). In stark contrast to this, 76% of Grillo Facebook fans trust the internet.

The movement, which in the first half of 2012 went from under 5% to 20% in the polls in Italy – an unparalleled rise for a new movement in Western Europe – is a key player in the Italian elections, but little is known about the reasons for their meteoric rise.

The group originated online and continues to organise that way. Uniquely, it combines online and offline organisation seamlessly – its remarkable success shows the effectiveness of using the internet to speak directly to millions of people, especially those that are disenchanted with existing political structures.

The report finds overwhelmingly high levels of dissatisfaction with democracy and party politics in Italy among online supporters. When asked, 82% were dissatisfied with democracy (against 4% satisfied), whilst the most common reason given for supporting Grillo was 'disillusionment with the main parties' (with 4 in 10 saying as much).

Supporters also tend to be more pessimistic than the Italian population, with 31% believing their lives would be worse in 12 months’ time (versus 19% of Italians); 66% expecting the economic situation in Italy to get worse (versus 43% of Italians); and 49 per cent expecting their household’s financial situation to get worse (versus 24% of Italians).

Other findings of the research include:

- Those surveyed are more likely to be male and to be older.
- They are more likely to be well-qualified, with 54% reporting they had a high school diploma (compared to the Italian average of 41%), but are also more likely to be unemployed – 19% compared to the Italian average of 7.9%.
- On average, they self-identify as left-wing: when asked to place themselves on a spectrum ranging from 1-10, with 1 being furthest left and 10 furthest right, the average score for respondents was 3.88.
- When asked to name their top two concerns, supporters chose the economic situation (62%) and unemployment (61%). A distant third was taxation at 41%. 
- They are broadly positive about immigration: more likely than the Italian public in general to view immigration as an opportunity (56% versus 28%).

Jamie Bartlett, author of the report and Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos said:

“Beppe Grillo and his movement have come from nowhere to second place in the polls in the space of three years. The combination of his charismatic anti-establishment rhetoric, and the power of new social media to reach out to audiences beyond the confines of more traditional media has proved a lethal cocktail, and leaves him a force to be reckoned with in the run-up to this year’s election.

“The political sea-change heralded by the rise of online organising is not limited to Italy, however. At Demos we have been researching the growth of online political movements for the past two years. Many of the concerns of Grillo’s supporters are shared by people across Europe and are reflected in declining trust in political institutions, falling political party membership and ever-lower voter turnout. The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos will keep investigating these trends as they develop.”



The results cited above are based on a survey of 1,865 sympathisers of Beppe Grillo and the M5S. The results do not necessarily reflect the views of the official parties or groups mentioned in this paper but rather their sympathisers and broad supporter base. All references to ‘supporters’ of populist groups refer to our sample of social media supporters.

The comparison data for Italian public opinion is drawn from the autumn 2011 Eurobarometer survey and the 2008 European Values Study.

The report, New Political Actors in Europe: Beppe Grillo and the Movimento 5 Stelle, by Jamie Bartlett, Duncan McDonnell, Caterina Froio and Mark Littler is published by Demos on 14 February 2013.

This report is the seventh in a series of specific briefings about the online support of populist parties in 12 European countries, based on our survey of 13,000 Facebook fans of these groups. Find out more about the project here:


The authors are available for comment and interview.

This research was supported by the Open Society Foundations.


Ralph Scott

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