The POSTGEN Project

Generational gap
and post-ideological politics in Italy

POSTGEN (Generational gap and post-ideological politics in Italy – A generation-aware analysis of ideological destructuring andpolitical change in the Italian case) is a social science research project involving four Italian universities (Luiss Rome, University of Bologna, University of Milan, University of Pavia) selected for funding by the Italian Government under the PRIN (Projects of Relevant National Interest) scheme (project ID: 2020TZJP52). Conditional on final entry into force of the funding decree, the project will start its activity in Summer 2022, with a duration of 36 months.

Background

Recent, disruptive political change in the Western world (Brexit; Trump; challenger parties across Europe; the birth in 2018 Italy of the first “populist” government in Western Europe) has deeply challenged theories of voting behavior and party competition, leading most scholars to broad explanations based on populism and irrational publics.

Recent comparative research (see the ICCP project; see De Sio/Lachat 2020) has shown more specific mechanisms: challenger parties thrive on an ability to mobilize conflict by leveraging issue opportunities across ideological boundaries. This reveals a de-ideologized context, where voters, relying less on traditional ideological alignments, reward innovative post-ideological platforms.

Still, ICCP research only scratched the surface of a possible de-ideologization process, lacking processual focus (and missed the impact of the Covid crisis, potentially leading to further change).

The POSTGEN project

POSTGEN fills this gap by offering – on the Italian case, lying at the forefront of disruptive political change – an in-depth analysis of the mechanisms and dynamics of possible de-ideologization. It adopts a generation-aware perspective (needed for understanding change) with emphasis on younger generations, and with innovative focus on:

  • time: tracing the (memory and) dynamics of the formation of political attitudes (at the individual, generational, and collective level) and their impact on political behavior;
  • meanings associated to different political issues, and the (lack of) overarching ideological organization thereof;
  • non-political actors and influencers, and their increasing influence in an age of crisis of epistemic authorities.

Project structure

Thus, POSTGEN broadly asks: “do generations differ in ideological structuring of their political attitudes?” “How is this exploited by party strategy, leading to political change?”, answering through a mixed, multi-method, longitudinal strategy with three components:

  • Media: the communication landscape that surrounds and influences citizens of different generations; public discussion of political issues by the mass media, social media influencers, users; analyzed through qualitative/quantitative content analyses and algorithm-based methods;
  • Citizens: citizens’ political attitudes (and the structure thereof) captured through representative surveys, in-depth qualitative interviews, innovative in-school events (and survey experiments) focused on secondary school students;
  • Parties: party issue strategies during electoral campaigns, analysed through their social media communication.

Leveraging these tools within a theoretically sound perspective, POSTGEN will: (a) provide indications on future developments of the Italian political system; (b) by analyzing a case at the forefront of contemporary political transformations, offer precious insights about the future of democratic representation in the Western world.