May 27, 2019 / 3:33 PM / 8 months ago

Italy's dominant Salvini is small town phenomenon, polling data shows

ROME (Reuters) - Matteo Salvini’s far-right League scored a crushing victory in Italy’s European parliament elections, but a breakdown of polling data showed its dominance is based on relatively small towns and ends at city gates.

Deputy Prime Minister and League party leader Matteo Salvini speaks to the media at the League party headquarters, following the results of the European Parliament elections, in Milan, Italy May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

Despite taking 34% of the vote on Sunday, some 11 points ahead of its nearest rival the pro-European Democratic Party (PD), the League did not come first in any large city.

It was beaten into second place by the PD in all the big municipalities of its northern heartland, including Milan, Turin and Genoa, as well as the capital Rome in the center.

In the large southern cities, most notably Naples and Palermo, it lost out to its coalition partner the 5-Star Movement, which is traditionally strong in the south but saw its nationwide support plummet to just 17%.

The largest cities won by the League were Venice, Verona and Padua in the Veneto region, none of which reaches 300,000 inhabitants.

The election showed Salvini has succeeded in extending the League’s reach all over Italy, no mean feat for a party which called itself the Northern League until he changed its name just before last year’s national election.

Among towns in the poor south where the League came first on Sunday was Riace, a small center in Calabria, in Italy’s toe, whose mayor won international prizes for opening its doors to thousands of refugees and integrating them into the community.

However, the townsfolk were apparently more impressed with Salvini’s hard line on immigration, and he dominated the election with around 30% of the vote.

Riace’s mayor, Domenico Lucano, was arrested last year on accusations of favoring illegal immigration.

The League won an even stronger 45% on the tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, which is often the landing point for boat-migrants who set sail for Europe from Africa.

“The League has won the two towns the Left chose as a symbol,” Salvini said on Monday after his victory.

Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Gavin Jones and Andrew Heavens

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