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South European Society and Politics
ISSN: 1360-8746 (Print) 1743-9612 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fses20
The Italian Five Star Movement during the Crisis
To cite this article: Filippo Tronconi (2018) The Italian Five Star Movement during the
Crisis: Towards Normalisation?, South European Society and Politics, 23:1, 163-180, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/13608746.2018.1428889
Published online: 21 Feb 2018.
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South European Society and Politics, 2018
VOL. 23, NO. 1, 163180
The Italian Five Star Movement during the Crisis: Towards
The Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) represents the most significant
occurrence in Italian party politics during the economic crisis that
commenced in 2008. Founded in 2005, the party caused a major upset
at the 2013 national elections, with a subsequent major impact on the
Italian party system, which is analysed along four dimensions: amount
of change; number of relevant competitors; alteration of the political
space; and degree of nationalisation. The sudden electoral success, in
turn, presented the party with a number of challenges that forced it
to adapt its organisational nature. Moreover, the anti-establishment
nature of the M5S is questioned by its activities in the legislative arena.
As with other outsider parties, this poses the dilemma of being part of
the establishment while criticising it. The M5S has thus been forced to
redefine its main goals and style of communication in order to adapt
to the new institutional environment without losing the palingenetic
aspiration of its original message.
The Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, Five Star Movement) represents the most important innovation
in Italian politics probably since Berlusconis launch of Forza Italia in 1994. Born as a gathering
of followers of the comedian Beppe Grillosomething in between a fan club and a web
marketing experimentit has rapidly grown up, to the point of becoming the most voted
Italian party in 2013 and largely reshaping the Italian party system. The experience of the
M5S has often been associated with the populist wave that has hit Europe in the past decade
(most recently: Tarchi 2014; Hobolt & Tilley 2016). Beppe Grillos party shares, in fact, a number
of features with other populist forces, starting from its anti-establishment appeal. Beyond
this, the M5S did not just claim to be a new party (in fact, it refused the label of party tout
court), but to be an instrument to achieve a political revolution, where citizens would exercise
their power through an extensive use of the internet as a device of direct democracy. Its use
of the internet for organisational purposes has attracted curiosity among scholars and
observers, and equal shares of enthusiasm and scepticism. A few years after M5Ss birth, a
difficult process of institutionalisation started, and some of the initial promises have been
more or less been explicitly abandoned. Nonetheless, the M5S has kept many original
organisational traits, that are worth close examination.
This article will review the main turning points of the short (but intense) lifespan of the
M5S (section 1). It will then assess the impact the M5S has had on the Italian party system
2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Party change; Beppe Grillo;
Casaleggio; populism; Italian
Five Star Movement
CONTACT Filippo Tronconi [email protected]
164 F. TRONCONI
(section 2), along a number of dimensions. The article will then turn to the evolution of the
organisational structure of this party in its early stages, before 2013 (section 3) and its
adaptation to a new institutional environment after the electoral breakthrough (section 4).
Finally (section 5), the article will discuss the organisational characteristics of the M5S in
2017. Several models will be introduced as possible interpretations of the structure of this
party, an analysis which will conclude that none of them offers a satisfactory characterisation
of the M5S.
From the blog to electoral success
The history of the M5S and its founder Beppe Grillo is by now well known, having received
much attention from scholars in recent years (e.g., Bordignon & Ceccarini 2013; Corbetta &
Gualmini 2013; Biorcio & Natale 2013; Tronconi 2015a; Ceccarini & Bordignon 2016). For this
reason, it will be sufficient here to draw attention to the main turning points that have
affected the party since the opening of the blog beppegrillo.it in January 2005. The 20052009
period can be considered as an incubation phase of the movement, which began following
a first meeting between Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio after a theatre performance.
Casaleggio was described by the press as one of the leading Italian web marketing experts
at the time. He was ahead of his time in understanding the potential of the web for politics,
imagining scenarios of democratic and social palingenesis related to the spread of the
internet.1 Since 2005, Casaleggio Associati (the company he founded) has been responsible
for managing Grillos blog, and it was probably Casaleggio who suggested the use of the
social platform meetup.com to launch a network of friends of Beppe Grillo. These were
intended to be advocates of the ideas that the comedian was spreading in his theatre shows,
particularly on environmental issues and the delegitimisation of the (political, economic
and media) establishment. It was a winning intuition. Beginning in July 2005, the first
meetups started and within a few months dozens of local groups got together using the
social network. By 2013 they numbered more than a thousand (Lanzone & Tronconi 2015).
From its very first steps, therefore, the movement created by Grillo and Casaleggio
followed a double organisational path: online and offline. From the theatre, where Grillo
continued to hold his performances and where he had built a devoted audience over the
years, the communication moved to the blog and from here, through meetup.com, back to
the territory with the emergence of local circles. The organisational baptism for many local
groups was then represented by the V-days (V is for vaffanculo, Italian for fuck off, generally
addressed to Italian politicians). These were rallies taking place in many Italian squares in
2007 (when Beppe Grillo was present in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Piazza Maggiore
in Bologna) and again in 2008 and 2013. The official aim was collecting signatures for citizens
initiative laws on issues that were relevant to Grillo and his followers; however, the V-days
were also driven by identity-building goalsto give visibility to the rising movement, launch
its rallying cries and show the total consonance between the leader and his people. The
initiatives were relaunched by the blog beppegrillo.it and social media, but paradoxically the
traditional media, newspapers and television, were primarily responsible for amplifying their
resonance, following a common pattern of interaction between the leaders of populist
movements and the media networks. The former were in search of easy visibility through
controversial initiatives and an eccentric and provocative language, and the latter wanted
to give prominence to new characters, spectacular events and scandals that would arouse
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 165
public attention and indignation (Mazzoleni 2008). The success of the V-days induced Grillo
and Casaleggio to take the decisive step of participating in elections. At the beginning, this
was no more than some civic lists in the municipal elections of 2008: the Friends of Beppe
Grillo lists appeared in dozens of municipalities and got modest but encouraging results
that led for the first time to the election of some representatives in municipal councils. In
October 2009, the M5S was officially launched and its symbol and manifesto were publicly
The years 20092013 were a period of organisational consolidation as well as expansion
of a network of activists, involving thousands of people across the country. The first electoral
successes were also being registered in these years: in 2010, the M5S participated in the
regional elections, achieving significant results in Piedmont and especially in Emilia-Romagna
(seven per cent of the votes and two candidates elected in the regional council). With the
2012 local elections, even the most sceptical of critics had to recognise that the movement
had gained national political relevance, thanks to nine per cent of the votes obtained on
average in the 100 municipalities where its own lists were presented (Pinto & Vignati 2012),
and above all thanks to the victory in the city of Parma, where for the first time the mayorship
in a large city was won. In October of that same year the Sicilian regional elections, where
it ranked the first party, confirmed the M5Ss competitiveness.
In the meantime, at the national level the picture had changed. In November 2011, the
Berlusconi-led government resigned and a new technical government led by Mario Monti,
an economics professor and former European Commissioner, took office (Giannetti 2013).
All the major mainstream parties (the Democratic Party, Berlusconis People of Freedom and
the Union of the Centre) supported Monti in parliament, while there was evident approval
from the European institutions in Brussels. For an anti-establishment party such as the M5S,
the situation could not have been more favourable: the government was the irrefutable
demonstration that the differences between all the major political forces were just formal,
and that all parties were aligned and subordinate to the directives of the European institutions
and to the disastrous economic recipes that the latter had imposed on the member states.
The M5S results in the national elections of February 2013 (more than 25 per cent of the
votes in the Chamber of Deputies, 109 deputies and 54 senators elected) constituted the
most successful election debut for a political party not just in the history of the Italian
Republic but in post-war Europe. For the M5S this completed a glorious founding period at
the same time as opening a new and exciting, but also uncertain, phase. Soon after the
elections, differences emerged within the parliamentary groups, leading to numerous
conflicts and expulsions (21 deputies and 19 senators as of May 2017, about a quarter of the
initial parliamentary intake) and to the need for the two founders to impose strict discipline.
In April 2016 the death of Gianroberto Casaleggio, who had long been ill, was perhaps the
most difficult challenge for what was still a very young organisation. Beside Grillo, the role
of shadow leader of the organisational structure now passed to the son of Casaleggio, Davide,
who took charge of Casaleggio Associati, and therefore of the blog and IT infrastructures. It
was a sort of transfer based on inheritance right, which surprisingly contradicted the principle
of pure organisational horizontality on which the party had always claimed to be founded.
166 F. TRONCONI
The impact of the M5S on the party system
The impact of the M5S on the Italian party system change can hardly be overestimated. The
mere fact that in 2013 the M5S, participating in its first ever national election, became the
most voted party is indicative of its sudden and significant effect on the equilibria of Italian
politics. The qualitative and quantitative nature of party system change caused by the M5S
can be traced along four distinct, but related, indicators and how they change after the 2013
The first indicator is the total amount of change, as signalled by the level of volatility, that
is an aggregate measure of change in the electorates party preference between two
consecutive elections (Pedersen 1979; see also Regalia 2018). This can also be considered
as a rough measure of the strength of linkage between parties and their voters, as strong
party attachments should lead to low levels of volatility; on the contrary, high volatility is
an indicator of the presence of a remarkable share of voters who are available to change
their choice from one election to the next (Bartolini & Mair 1990). The emergence and
electoral success of a new party brings, by definition, an increase in volatility, and signals a
declining loyalty of voters to existing parties. What is surprising in the 2013 Italian elections
is the amount of volatility. With a value of 36.7, these elections are among the most volatile
of the entire post-war Europe.2 The average volatility of Italian elections was 13.5 in the
19462013 period, and values above 20 can be found only in 24 out of 336 elections held
in Western Europe in the 19452015 period (Chiaramonte & Emanuele 2017, p. 379) A slightly
higher value was reached in the 1994 Italian elections, after the earthquake of Tangentopoli,
the disappearance of the Italian Communist Party and the Christian Democrats, the birth of
Forza Italia and the introduction of a new mixed-member electoral system (Table 1), replacing
one based on proportional representation.
Electoral volatility is certainly an indicator of the availability of voters to change their
party preference from one election to the next, but it is not necessarily an indicator of party
system change. If many voters switch their preferences between established parties they
are likely to produce an alternation in government, that is a change within the system, but
not a change of the system. A better indicator to catch this phenomenon is the specific
component of volatility induced by flow of voters towards new parties. Such a component
has been labelled volatility by regeneration (Chiaramonte & Emanuele 2017). Table 1 also
provides this information, and it confirms the extraordinary nature of the 2013 elections,
displaying the highest value of all 19452015 Western European elections. It is barely
necessary to underline that such high value is almost entirely due to the result of the M5S.3
The second indicator is the number of relevant competitors (parties or party alliances)
(Sartori 1976). The extraordinary level of change in voting behaviour in 2013 was translated
into a new format of the party system. After 20 years of failed attempts of third forces to
break the dominance of the two main coalitions, in 2013 four political actors (whether
individual parties or coalitions of parties) obtained seats. More interestingly, three of them,
the centre-left led by the Democratic Party, the centre-right led by the People of Freedom
and the Movimento 5 Stelle, had almost equal electoral strengths. Indeed, the sum of seats
of the two main coalitions dropped from 99.8 per cent of 2006 to 74.6 per cent of 2013 (the
index of bipolarism is reported in Table 1, columns 3 and 4), notwithstanding the generous
bonus awarded by the 2005 electoral system to the most voted coalition. In terms of votes
this trend is even more evident (from 99.1 to 58.3). This resulted in a clear change in the
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 167
Table 1. Indicators of party system change, 19942013.
Notes: All values refer to the Chamber of Deputies. For details on the index of volatility and the index of volatility by regeneration, see Chiaramonte & Emanuele (2017); for details on the index of vote
nationalisation (sPSNS), see Bochsler (2010) and Emanuele (2015b).
Source: Authors elaboration on Emanuele (2015a; 2015b) and Interior Minister official electoral data (www.elezionistorico.interno.it).
Total volatility Volatility by regeneration Index of bipolarism (votes) Index of bipolarism (seats)
Index of vote nationalisation (Standardised party system
1994 39.3 15.9 91.9 80.5 0.76
1996 12.3 6.4 89.8 85.4 0.81
2001 20.4 3.5 97.6 89.2 0.85
2006 8.2 0.0 99.8 99.1 0.87
2008 11.3 1.0 93.8 84.4 0.84
2013 36.7 18.7 74.6 58.3 0.87
168 F. TRONCONI
structure of competition, from bipolar to tripolar, that was confirmed in the following local
and regional elections (Tronconi 2015b). The transformation of the format of political
competition had consequences for the formation of government. Specifically, the refusal of
the M5S to take part in any coalition agreement, notwithstanding the initial attempt of the
Democratic Party in that direction, forced the Democrats and Berlusconis People of Freedom
jointly to support a sort of grand coalition government, thus replicating the joint support
for the technocratic Monti government of the previous legislative term.
The third indicator concerns the political space of party competition which can change
if the saliency of existing dimensions of competition changes or if new dimensions emerge.
An alteration of the political space is not necessarily linked to the level of volatility or the
number of parties, even though it has been shown empirically that a correlation exists
between the emergence of new parties and a redefinition of the political space through the
emergence of new salient issues cross-cutting existing political alignments (Hug 2001). In
the Italian case, the M5S has had a decisive influence in the politicising of the European issue
(Giannetti, Pedrazzani & Pinto 2017). The 2013 elections took place in the midst of European
financial crisis, and the scope of authority of the European Union was at the centre of political
discourse, following the implementation of a number of austerity policies under the Monti
government. While the mainstream parties (Democratic Party, People of Freedom, and
Montis new-born party, Scelta Civica) could not target for criticism the austerity policies
they had supported until then, the M5S was in a position to advance an anti-austerity and
anti-Euro political discourse, that until then had been supported only by the Lega Nord and
the radical left (Conti & De Giorgi 2011). Since then, the M5S has made the issue of limiting
the power of European technocrats a crucial dimension of its anti-elitist approach, and has
openly questioned Italys participation in the Euro, promoting (but failing to achieve) a
referendum on it.
The fourth indicator concerns changes in the geography of voting behaviour in the
direction either of more nationalisation or less nationalisation of politics, and analysing the
heterogeneity of the distribution of votes of each party across the country (Caramani 2004).
At the aggregate level, the territorial distribution of votes of each party can be interpreted
as the degree of nationalisation of the party system (see Table 1, last column). If all the main
parties have an evenly distributed vote across the country, the index increases; if large parties
emerge with a strong territorial concentration of the vote the index decreases. Italy has a
long tradition of territorial differentiation of political behaviour, dating back to the pre-fascist
period and surviving through the whole republican period, even after the breakdown of the
party system at the beginning of the 1990s (Diamanti 2009). More than just differences in
voting behaviour, such territorial specificities were characterised as subcultures, defined as
areas with distinct political and cultural identities, specific socioeconomic contexts and rich
networks of associations with clear political reference points. Table 2 shows the disaggregated
values since the mid-1990s. The fluctuations in the degree of nationalisation are strongly
influenced by the electoral results of the Lega Nord, given its territorial rootedness, but also
by the traditional presence of leftist strongholds in the central regions, as demonstrated by
the low level of nationalisation of the Democrats and predecessors. Forza Italia and the
People of Freedom have comparatively higher values. Interestingly, the M5S displays the
highest score, which is even more surprising for a new-born party. With 25.6 per cent of
the vote nationally, the M5S gets less than 20 per cent only in one region (Lombardy, 19.6
per cent), if one excludes the Alpine regions of Valle dAosta and Trentino-Alto Adige. Of the
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 169
11 regions where the M5S was the most voted party, four are located in the North (Piedmont,
Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Liguria), one in the Red belt (Marche), three in the Centre (Lazio,
Abruzzo, Molise) and three in the south (Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia). The M5S goes beyond any
territorial interpretation of the votestarting with the location of its headquarters in the
blogsphere.4 It really is a party without territory.
The M5S in its early incarnation: grassroots organisation and leadership
The original M5S statute was useful, at least as a declaration of intent, to understand what
this organisation was not, or did not want to be (a party), rather than to understand what it
actually was. Article 4 stated that the 5 Star Movement is not a political party nor is it intended
to become one in the future and gave to the totality of the users of the internet the role of
government and leadership which is normally attributed to a few. It was also stated that the
movements symbol is registered on behalf of Beppe Grillo, the sole owner of the rights to
use it (art. 3).5
The claim that it was not a party, just as it was preparing to field its own activists
as candidates in local and national political institutions, appeared to be more a useful slogan
in an anti-politics period than a faithful representation of reality.
The M5S emerged from the call to arms of its leader Beppe Grillo, answered on the ground
by citizens who, at least initially, organised themselves through the meetup.com platform.
These two poles of the organisation, the blog and the groups of activists mobilised on the
ground, corresponded to the two organisational sides that, in more traditional contexts, are
identified with the party in central office and the party on the ground (Katz & Mair 1993; 2002).
No party in public office existed so far, except in the few municipalities where initially the
M5S secured the first electoral breakthroughs. The party in central office had eccentric features
compared to traditional political organisations. Essentially Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto
Casaleggio were the recognised leaders. Under their guidance, some unspecified staff
worked as blog managers and developed the database of subscribers and lists authorised
to use the party symbol during electoral competitions. In the opinion of all local activists
interviewed between 2012 and 2013 (Passarelli, Tronconi & Tuorto 2013; Lanzone & Tronconi
2015), the independence of local organisations from the centre was total. On the occasion
of municipal elections it was at this level that decisions were taken regarding the choice of
the mayoral candidate and the candidates for the city council. The same was true for the
Table 2. Nationalisation of vote for the main Italian parties, 19942013.
Source: Authors elaboration on Emanuele (2015a, 2015b) and Interior Minister official electoral data (www.elezionistorico.
Average percentage of votes
Standardised party system nationalisation
Lega Nord 6.6 0.426
Forza Italia (19942006) 23.7 0.888
Alleanza Nazionale (19942006) 13.4 0.824
Popolo della Libert (20082013) 29.4 0.897
Unione di Centro 4.6 0.836
PDS/DS (19942006) 19.3 0.809
PPI/La Margherita (19942001) 10.8 0.898
Ulivo/PD (20062013) 29.9 0.895
Scelta Civica (2013) 8.3 0.874
Movimento 5 Stelle (2013) 25.6 0.912
170 F. TRONCONI
electoral manifestoes, which usually prioritised environmental issues, urban regeneration,
administrative transparency and ethical issues in politics. These decisions were taken by the
activists assembly, which was the only recognised decision-making body at a local level.
The intervention of the party in central office on local groups domestic issues was virtually
absentin fact, in some cases activists complained about the lack of assistance on specific
issues, even when requestedexcept in extraordinary cases. However, intervention from
the party in central office on local groups was immediate when someone began to gain media
visibility, and even more so if they tried to exploit such visibility to question the authority
of the two party leaders and claim greater internal democracy. In such cases, a blunt post
on the blog was sufficient to expel the dissenters with no appeal.
Thus, the original party was characterised by the existence of two distinct levels with
well-defined tasks, and few connections between the two. The party in central office was
responsible for managing the image and political direction at a national level, as well as
granting the use of the logo to the lists in local elections, while the party on the ground was
left to make organisational arrangements and decisions at the local levels, including the
adaptation of the manifesto to the needs of individual municipalities.
To which organisational model does a party with such characteristics match? The
stratarchical party proposed by Kenneth Carty (2004) seems to be a valid reference point.
Carty suggests that parties respond to the difficulty of mobilising their constituency, the
party on the ground, by adopting a more flexible organisational structure than the hierarchical
one typical of mass parties. The stratarchical party brings into politics an organisational
model known in business as a franchise system. This makes the reciprocal autonomy between
the national headquarters and local branches its own qualifying point. Typically, the division
of labour assigns to the centre tasks such as brand management, marketing strategy, support
in finance and training for peripheral personnel, whereas the peripheral units have the task
of spreading the product on the ground, adapting it to local variations (Carty 2004, p. 10),
organising election campaigns or identifying the most relevant points for each local area in
the manifestos general lines. As long as this division of labour is respected, intrusion into
each others spheres of autonomy is minimal. The ownership of the partys symbol attributed
to Beppe Grillo in the non-statute and the existence of a centrally written electoral
programme, along with the total organisational autonomy of local units, seems to reflect
well the characteristics of this model.
After 2013: new challenges and centralisation of power
The unprecedented electoral success of February 2013 allowed the M5S to bring into
parliament 163 representatives (109 deputies and 54 senators). To these, 17 Members of the
European Parliament (MEPs) were added the following year. Even at local and regional levels,
the influence of the M5S increased: in 2017, the party could count on 100 regional councillors
(from all regions except Calabria and Sardinia) and 32 mayors, including Federico Pizzarotti
elected in Parma in 2012, Filippo Nogarin (Livorno in 2014), Chiara Appendino (Turin in 2016)
and Virginia Raggi (Rome in 2016). Municipal councillors, by 2017, numbered over a thousand.
Thus, alongside the party in central office and the party on the ground, there was at this point
a substantial party in public office (Table 3).
The partys entry into representative institutions at all levels of government inevitably
changed its internal balance and introduced three new challenges. First, the rapid recruitment
of a political class that was numerically impressive posed the risk of attracting careerists not
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 171
Table 3. The organisational evolution of the Movimento 5 Stelle.
Source: Party in public office: Ministero dellInterno, Anagrafe degli Amministratori Locali e Regionali (http://amministratori.interno.it/index.html); Camera (www.camera.it); Senato (www.senato.it);
European Parliament (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/full-list.html). Party on the ground: Lanzone & Tronconi (2015); www.beppegrillo.it.
Notes: Data on the number of meetups have been collected until 2013 through the official meetup website (www.meetup.com). After that date a change in the configuration of the site made it
impossible to track the number of groups affiliated to Beppe Grillo. The number of registered members is made available on occasion of some (not all) of the online votes on the blog beppegrillo.
it. The data refer to the last available figures of each year.
December 2005 December 2009 December 2012 December 2013 December 2014 December 2016
Notable events of the year January 2005: Birth of
the blog beppegrillo.it
July 2005: Launch of
October 2009: Official
launch of the party
December 2012: First
online consultation (on
February 2013: First
May 2014: First
April 2016: Rousseau
June 2016: M5S wins in
Party in central office Grillo / G. Casaleggio Grillo / G. Casaleggio Grillo / G. Casaleggio Grillo / G. Casaleggio Grillo / G. Casaleggio
Grillo / D. Casaleggio
Party in public office 15 Municipal councillors 213 Municipal
councillors; 4 mayors
(including Parma); 19
councillors; 6 mayors;
councillors; MPs: 106
deputies, 50 senators
councillors; 9 mayors
(including Livorno); 55
MPs: 99 deputies, 39
senators; 17 MEPs
councillors; 33 mayors
(including Rome and
Turin); 100 Regional
councillors; MPs: 91
deputies, 35 senators;
17 MEPs (15 from Jan.
Party on the ground 35 meetups 178 meetups 560 meetups; 31,612
registered members (6
1217 meetups; 48,292
(19 Jun. 2013)
members (12 Jun.
members (26 Oct.
172 F. TRONCONI
interested in the partys values, and thus diminishing its internal cohesion, all the more so
in a party that refused, as a matter of principle, to adhere to structured ideologies. Unless
the party is ruled by a charismatic leader, this phase typically sees the rise of more or less
organised factions, with groups of members trying to assert their respective ideological
visions and priorities, or even just reflecting different competing personalities.6 Second, for
anti-establishment parties, entering representative institutions and government is always
a particularly delicate moment, because there is a risk of normalising their image, assimilating
it to the logic and behaviour of the elite they contest and from which they claim to be
different. This is also true in media relations (Mazzoleni 2008). In the insurgent phase, prior
to electoral success, anti-establishment parties enjoy considerable attention from the media,
which help to publicise their unconventional mottos, the colourfulif not offensive
language and the innovative and controversial themes introduced in their debates.
Conversely, when they enter representative assemblies or the government, the media begin
to emphasise the gap between the fierce critiques that anti-establishment parties used in
relation to the party system when they were outsiders, and the meagreness of their political
action once inside the institutions. The media, furthermore, are particularly keen on any
scandal affecting the political staff of such parties, precisely because these parties have made
their success on the back of standing as bastions of honesty in a putatively corrupt political
system. Third, the presence of a nationally important political class (parliamentarians, but
also mayors of large cities) poses an objective challenge to the partys extra-parliamentary
leadership for the political relevance and the media visibility it obtains (Katz & Mair 2002).
The M5S responded to these three challenges through a series of organisational
innovations and communication strategies, both within and beyond the party, which will
now be articulated in turn. With this aim in mind, the following sub-sections will refer to
secondary literature and press reports, but also documents made available from the party
itself (the statute, the code of conduct), an analysis of the blog beppegrillo.it and the Rousseau
online platform, as well as data on the partys elected representatives available from the
websites of the Ministry of the Interior, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
Recruitment of political personnel
The main goal of the party in central office was to limit the freedom of action of the elected
candidates and thus the formation of factions. The first moves in this direction were the
primary elections (or parlamentarie) of December 2012, an online vote to identify candidates
for upcoming political elections and their location on the closed lists of the Italian electoral
system. This procedure (also used for the European Parliament in 2014) was mainly aimed
at defending the party from possible infiltrations and careerists. Participation was restricted
to those who had enrolled in the blog by 30 September 2012. Moreover, the pool of possible
candidates for the upcoming general elections was limited to non-elected candidates of
previous local elections (Mosca, Vaccari & Valeriani 2015, pp. 135136). This prevented the
M5S from being overwhelmed with membership applications and candidacy requests solely
for securing a seat in parliament. At the same time, it increased the likelihood that the profile
of the candidates, and therefore of the future elected representatives, was close to that of
the earlier activists, who had agreed to be included in the electoral lists in the partys first
(albeit hesitant) electoral venture. This profile was orientated more to the left of its own
constituency and to some extent related to local political experiences (Farinelli & Massetti
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 173
A second requirement for candidates in the M5Ss primaries was signing up to the Code
Written by Grillo and Casaleggio, this document, replicated in subsequent years
for the European Parliament and Romes municipal council, would legitimise the numerous
expulsions of dissident parliamentarians. While some points seemed largely symbolic (e.g.,
Members of Parliament will have to refuse the title of honourable and opt instead for
citizen) others were aimed at reducing the media exposure of future parliamentarians
(Avoid participation in TV talk shows) and still others were designed to locate control of
parliamentary activities in the hands of the party in central office: the rotation of the
parliamentary group leadership positions and the establishment of a communications staff
in each of the two chambers, which had the task of liaising with the M5S national website
and the blog of Beppe Grillo and was defined by Grillo himself (and before by Grillo and
Casaleggio) in terms of organisation, tools and choice of members. This key position
guaranteed the connection between the party in central office and the party in public office
and it is, by statute, directly dependent on the party leader.
The relationship between party in central office and party in public office was marked, over
the years, by many contrasts, all resolved in favour of the former. By mid-2017, the expelled
parliamentarians, by means of a post on the blog, numbered 40 (21 deputies, 19 per cent of
the parliamentary group, and 19 senators, 35 per cent of the group), a clear indicator that
internal pluralism is hardly tolerated. More complicated are relations with mayors, especially
those of big cities. Here the M5Ss credibility as a future governing power is at stake. Moreover,
the municipal electoral system ensures mayors a direct form of legitimacy from the voters
that Members of Parliament do not enjoy. In this light, the political fortunes of the mayor of
Parma Federico Pizzarotti are very telling. In 2012 he surprisingly won the municipal elections,
thus becoming the first Five Star mayor of a big city. During 2016 and notwithstanding
generally positive assessments of the work he was doing, he was removed from the
Movement after lengthy public disputes with Grillo and other influential MPs. In June 2017
Pizzarotti was re-elected as an independent (34.8 per cent of the vote in the first ballot, 57.9
per cent in the runoff), while the official candidate of the M5S was only able to obtain 3.2
per cent of the vote. The Movement could disown its mayor, but this came at the cost of
virtually disappearing from the city political landscape.
Even at the European level, the nature of the relationship between parliamentarians and
the party leadership was made clear by Grillo when, in January 2017, he announced via the
blog a sudden and surprising change of direction: the abandonment of the Eurosceptic
parliamentary group Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy to join the most Euroenthusiastic parliamentary group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The
Liberals refused to accept the M5S, but some M5S MEPs complained that they had never
been consulted about the decision and hence two of them abandoned the parliamentary
Style of communication and repertoire of action
New political parties entry into representative institutions and government is always a critical
moment (Pedersen 1982), all the more so for populist or anti-establishment parties, because
of the risk of normalisation. Populist parties are by their very nature more suitable to
represent the anger of citizens disappointed by politics than to taking on the many
responsibilities inherent in representative and government processes (Mair 2009). The party
174 F. TRONCONI
has to adapt to new codes of conduct and communication styles, but it must do so without
losing its original spirit, that of the mockery of the establishment and protest against the
casta (class). This explains the need, in the new institutional environment, to persist with
over-the-top language and behaviour more typical of protest movements than elected
representatives, which often appears to be aimed at attracting the attention of the media
rather than that of representatives of other parties. For example, in September 2013 some
M5S MPs occupied the roof of the Montecitorio Palace (the location of the Chamber of
Deputies) as a protest against the constitutional reform proposal advanced by the Democratic
Party. This copied a form of mobilisation sometimes adopted by workers at risk of losing
their jobs or non-tenured researchers in universities who wanted to raise public awareness
about their working conditions. In December of the same year, some M5S deputies occupied
the government benches in the Chamber of Deputies in protest against an international
agreement that provided for the construction of a gas pipeline from Albania through the
Adriatic Sea to the Puglian coast (Mosca 2015, p. 167).
The history of the Italian Republic does not, of course, lack for clamorous protests and
rowdy parliamentary sessions. What is different from the past, however, is the frequency and
systematic nature of such unconventional repertoires in traditional institutional settings.
Bordignon & Ceccarini (2015, p. 468), counted some 30 such episodes by M5S deputies in
the first two years of the 2013 legislative term, based on an analysis of the digital archives
of the newspapers la Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. They were not occasional episodes,
but a precise strategy to avoid the risk of M5S assimilation into the party system and to keep
the medias attention focused on the partys unbending opposition to other parties and the
party system as a whole.
Leadership and activists online participation
The third challenge was the possibility that influential personalities would emerge within
the party in public office, making themselves alternatives to the leadership of the founders
Grillo and Casaleggio. This risk was heightened following the premature death of Gianroberto
Casaleggio in April 2016. In November 2014, a directorate of five parliamentarians was
announced on the blog and confirmed on the same day by the vote of the members. This
was the first explicit break with the principle of complete horizontality in the organisation
of the partyobviously excluding the position of the two founders. More structurally, the
aim was that of creating a core leadership group that went beyond the two founders and
included the most influential MPs. However, it is clear that this enlargement did not result
from a bottomup but rather a topdown process of co-optation. The five members of the
directorate were chosen by Grillo and Casaleggio on the basis of trust, and the decision could
obviously be revoked at any time. And so it happened.
Less than two years later, in September 2016, Grillo himself (Gianroberto Casaleggio had
passed away a few months earlier) announced, at a public event in Palermo, that the
directorate was dissolved, while issuing new rules of procedure which redefined the
organisational map of the party. The new regulations established the figure of the political
leader (capo politico) of the party, who was obviously Beppe Grillo (although his name did
not appear in the regulation), the members assembly, the organs of the board of arbitrators
and the appeal committee, with the power to decide on disciplinary measures, albeit always
subject to the possible overturn by Grillo. The management of all online voting operations,
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 175
as well as all other matters concerning registrations and possible expulsions, was referred
to the website manager, the web marketing company Casaleggio Associati, now headed
by Gianrobertos son, Davide. This company continued to be the heart of the organisational
apparatus. In short, the new regulations formalised the role already outlined at the origin
of the movement: the political leader centralised to himself supreme power, or at least the
power to appeal to members. Casaleggio Associati had the task of implementing the
decisions thus taken.
A few months before the adoption of the new regulations, in April 2016, the online
participation platform called Rousseau was launched. This was another crucial step in defining
the organisational map of the M5S, this time by defining the role and prerogatives of the
party on the ground, and its linkage with the party in public office. The platform allowed the
Movements members to vote on nominations and topics submitted to the activists,8 but
also to interact directly with elected representatives at regional, national and European
levels. In special sections it was possible to comment on the bills proposed to representative
assemblies and to present for the attention of the elected members issues to be brought to
parliament. In the intentions of its creators, this allowed a direct and continuous interaction
between the militants and their spokespersons in the decision-making arenas. The concrete
effects were, however, modest, both for the way in which Rousseau was designed9 and
because a proper discussion on technical issues requires specific knowledge that normally
only belongs to the insiders or those who can count on the support of dedicated staff. The
result was that the Rousseau platform mostly offered a showcase for the legislative initiatives
of the M5S MPs, followed by a disorderly list of low-quality and largely ignored comments.
In any case, parliamentary bills, and particularly those coming from the opposition, have a
largely symbolic function because they are rarely scheduled for discussion. The result was
that the activists contribution to the parliamentary activity through the online platform was
close to zero. As a consequence, this experiment in participatory democracy is largely a
symbolic achievement despite M5Ss claim of an unprecedented attempt to engage the
people in the life of public institutions.10
Movement party, personal party, business firm party: an elusive
As discussed above, on the eve of the 2013 elections the M5S could be described, with a
margin of approximation, as a stratarchical party. What kind of party is it today at the end
of a legislative term that witnessed its entry into parliament, the assumption of government
responsibility in some major Italian cities and some significant internal organisational
Some authors (Ceccarini & Bordignon 2016, p. 156) have described the M5S as a movement
party. In the definition of the proponent of this label (Kitschelt 2006, p. 280), movement
parties are coalitions of political activists who emanate from social movements and try to
apply the organisational and strategic practices of social movements in the arena of party
competition. He also notes that movement parties may be led by a charismatic leader with
a patrimonial staff and personal following over which s/he exercises unconditional control.
At the other extreme, movement parties may attempt to realise grassroots democratic,
participatory coordination among activists. The M5S combines these two elements: on the
one hand the vertical control of the organisation by Grillo and Casaleggio and the repression
176 F. TRONCONI
of internal dissidence; on the other, the attempt, however symbolic and with however little
success, activists being given a decision-making role through the Rousseau online platform.
Moreover, as we have seen, parliamentary activity is combined with a repertoire of action
typical of protest movements. However, the M5S has never been a movement as such, if by
this term we mean dense informal networks of collective actors involved in conflictual
relations with clearly identified opponents, who share a distinct collective identity, using
mainly protests as their modus operandi (Della Porta & Diani 2006, pp. 2021). From the
very beginning, the movement created by Grillo and Casaleggio had in its two leaders not
only an idealistic but also an organisational reference point; it had precise rules of inclusion
and exclusion of militants, a political manifesto and a statute. It was, in other words, a formal
organisation, where protest was at best one of its modi operandi, but not the main one.
Finally, shortly after its birth it established a fundamental goal of entering institutions by
recruiting candidates and participating in elections at all levels with its own symbol,
something that specifically identifies political parties and distinguishes them from social
The label of personal party has also sometimes been associated with the M5S, especially
by detractors, due to the ownership of the electoral symbol attributed to Grillo and the
frequent recourse by the latter to the expulsion weapon against internal dissidents. The label
personal party was proposed by Calise (2000) and then defined by McDonnell (2013, p. 222)
based on four criteria: (1) the partys expected lifespan is seen (not only by commentators,
but also by party representatives and members) as dependent on the political lifespan of
its founder-leader; (2) organisation at local level is neither constantly manifest nor permanent;
(3) there is an extremely strong concentration of formal and/or informal power in the hands
of the founder-leader; (4) the partys image and campaign strategies (in both first- and
second-order elections) are centred on the founder-leader. The M5S, however, does not fully
meet these criteria, not only because the founder-leaders are two (Grillo and Casaleggio),
but also because their role within the organisation does not reflect that of other emblematic
cases of this kind of party. Only the third criterion can be surely identified in the M5S
organisation. It is questionable if the survival of the M5S is perceived as inextricably linked
to that of its leader. An organisation at the local level has existed from the start, though with
some peculiar features. Electoral campaigns, especially at a subnational level, are often
organised independently of Grillo and without his assiduous participation.
When the emphasis is instead placed on the role of Casaleggio Associati, the M5S is
described as a business firm party. According to Hopkin & Paolucci (1999) this model, which
has its main reference in Forza Italia, is characterised by the continuous confusion and overlap
between the organisation of the party and that of the business firm of which the party is a
direct emanation (in the case of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconis Fininvest). If, therefore, the
personal party is the direct emanation of the leader, the business firm party is the direct
emanation of the enterprise and its ramifications. Even in this case, however, the representation
captures only some aspects of the organisational reality of the M5S. Casaleggio Associati,
which is not comparable to Fininvest in size and influence on the Italian economic and
political system, is nonetheless certainly a nerve centre of the organisation of the M5S. But
the party cannot be reduced to the corporate organisation. On the ground there is a network
of activists who are not a direct emanation of the company. They are rather groups that
emerge bottomup and enjoy substantial autonomy from the centre, provided they do not
go beyond the boundaries of local politics. In addition, if the organisation of the party
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 177
depends heavily on Casaleggio Associati, which controls some vital functions, the company
also depends on the activists who provide the recruitment pool for political personnel and
who above all constitute the source of legitimacy for a party that aims to revolutionise politics
by putting it into the hands of ordinary citizens.
The party conceived by Grillo and Casaleggio between 2005 and 2009 was and remains an
original political project. It has shaken Italian politics to a surprising degree, imposing its
agenda and rallying cries on issues such as political professionalism and recruitment, funding
and transparency. It has changed the rules of political communication through an innovative
use of the internet. It has built an organisation from scratch, made of thousands of activists
throughout the country, and convinced millions of voters to choose its symbol on the ballot
paper at national, regional and local elections. It has shaped a new party system format and
forced the mainstream parties to cooperate with each other in the national government,
given the M5Ss refusal to participate in coalition bargaining. It rules in cities such as Turin
At the same time, these remarkable successes have transformed the M5S itself. The party
has by now lost some of its original characteristics and aspirations of radical renovation of
the political process. From an organisational point of view, none of the labels associated
with it can fully capture it. Nor can the indulgent self-description be accepted of a totally
horizontal movement guided by the collective intelligence of the internet and inspired by
the principles of direct democracy. Both in its genetic phase and the difficult period of
institutionalisation, the M5S has sought to balance competing demands between: the
autonomy of local groups on the one hand and national leadership control over political
choices and strategies on the other; the participation of activists through the internet on
the one hand and a (not even particularly well-disguised) manipulation of that participation
on the other; open recruitment channels on the one hand and an unquestionable and
undisputed leadership on the other. However contradictory they may seem to be, these
features have allowed the M5S to survive and expand its presence and electoral support
across the 20132018 legislative term, at the same time as maintaining a reasonable degree
of internal coherence. This result cannot be taken for granted, and was achieved at the cost
of normalising (to some extent at least) the party, giving up the utopian promises of radical
renewal of political participation and representation.
The unprecedented electoral success of the M5S and its persistence must be explained
as the result of concurrent factors. An environmental and anti-globalist appeal, together
with Grillos communication skills, were important to attract the initial attention and
expectations of a (mainly leftist) sector of the Italian electorate. They were interested in
politics, informed and willing to participate, but kept at a distance by delegitimised,
unattractive mainstream parties. This potential pool of voters had to be mobilised and kept
together in a coherent political project. Here is where the innovative organisational aspects
of the M5S have come into play in a decisive manner, for the M5S skilfully mixes old and new
features: a charismatic authoritarian leadership and the bottomup mobilisation of activists;
original tools of political marketing (the blog, social networks) and a widespread territorial
presence (the local assemblies, Grillos rallies in the Piazza). All this enabled the creation of
a sense of community and enthusiastic participation that old parties could only hope for.
178 F. TRONCONI
At the same time, discipline was baldly enforced, in order to avoid the risks of factionalism.
At a later stage, the expansion of the M5Ss electorate was then fostered by its ability to
monopolise the theme of protest against the establishment at a time when political elites
reached their lowest level of popularity, in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis
that left too many social groups impoverished and scared.
The consolidation of the M5S as a leading actor of Italian politics is not inevitable, and
will involve a careful adaptation to the parliamentary and, possibly, governmental institutional
settings. This will probably require a further evolution in the partys internal organisation,
including a redefinition of Grillos leadership. It will also require a consolidation of its electoral
appeal to voters on a defined and coherent set of issues, beyond that of anti-establishment
protest. Until now, the partys leadership has been able to meet such challenges, in spite of
the scepticism of many observers, and voters have been very tolerant of the shortcomings
and contradictions of the political project. There is no guarantee, though, that this tolerance
or the favourable conditions that have facilitated its rise will last forever.
1. The two videos in which Casaleggio Associati explain their vision of the internet and how the
internet will influence future society have unmistakable titles: Prometeus: The Media Revolution
and Gaia, the future of politics. Both dating back to the beginning of the twenty-first century,
they are still readily available on Youtube.
2. Only the Spanish elections of 1980, with the first success of the socialists, the Greek elections
of 2012, in the midst of the financial crisis, and the Italian elections of 1994 have higher values:
data from Emanuele (2015a).
3. The other new parties in 2013 elections were Mario Montis Scelta Civica (8.3 per cent of the
votes) and Fare per fermare il declino (1.1 per cent).
4. According to the statute of the Movement, the headquarters are located in the website www.
movimento5stelle.it, and previously in the blog www.beppegrillo.it.
5. The non-statute has undergone several changes over time since the original version of 2009. In
particular, at the beginning of 2016, the home was moved from the blog beppegrillo.it to the
website www.movmento5stelle.it, where the blog is now hosted, and the reference to Beppe
Grillo as proprietor and owner of the movements electoral symbol disappeared.
6. For the distinction between careerists and believers within political parties and the role of the
charismatic leader in the institutionalisation of parties, see Panebianco (1988).
7. Codice Di Comportamento Eletti MoVimento 5 Stelle in Parlamento, available at http://www.
8. It is worth pointing out that activists cannot propose any matter to vote on. The prerogative
of deciding what to vote on and when belongs exclusively to Grillo.
9. For example, the platform allows exchanges between representatives and activists, but not
among the activists themselves, so interaction is only vertical, unlike what happens in systems
based on liquid feedback, designed to allow the deepening of themes through different stages
of discussion among users.
10. On direct and participatory democracy as peculiar traits of the Movements political culture,
see also Pasquino (2018).
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
SOUTH EUROPEAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS 179
Notes on contributor
Filippo Tronconi is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Bologna, Department of
Social and Political Sciences. His research interests cover the territorial aspects of political competition,
party politics, political elites and legislative behaviour. He has recently edited Beppe Grillos Five Star
Movement: Organisation, Communication and Ideology (Ashgate, 2015).
Filippo Tronconi http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4529-5968
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You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.
We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.
You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.
Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.
You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.
The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.
Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.
You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.Read more
Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.Read more
Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.Read more
Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.Read more
By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.Read more