Do Incompetent Politicians Breed Populist Voters? Evidence from Italian Municipalities


Poor performance by the established political class can drive voters towards anti-establishment outsiders. Is the ineffectiveness of incumbent politicians an important driver of the recent rise of populist parties? We provide an empirical test exploiting a sharp discontinuity in the wage of local politicians as a function of population in Italian municipalities. We find that the more skilled local politicians and more effective local government in municipalities above the threshold cause a significant drop in voter support for the populist Five-Star Movement in regional and national elections. Support for incumbent governing parties increases instead.