Without Roots

Research Seminars

How Olive Grove Extermination Strengthened the Far Right in Italy

In the paper presented in this SWEEEP Seminar, the authors combine quantitative and qualitative approaches to causal explanation to examine how the sudden economic disruption of traditional forms of agriculture can lead to increased support for restricting the rights of marginalized groups. The focus lies on the 2014 outbreak of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa in the Southern Italian region of Puglia, one of Europe’s leading olive oil-producing regions, which exterminated centuries-old olive groves. By exploiting geographic variation in the spread of the disease and georeferenced municipal-level data, they use a difference-in-differences design to quantify the economic disruption associated with the spread of Xylella fastidiosa and its electoral consequences. The disease generated an average loss of 1 per cent of yearly post-tax income per capita in infected municipalities. This economic disruption had important political consequences: far-right parties gained an excess vote share of 3.7 percentage points in affected areas due to increased turnout and an electoral loss of far-left parties. The vote shares of the regional incumbent, a large left-wing coalition responsible for managing the disaster and administering damage relief, remained unaffected. The authors develop a new case selection procedure which allows them to select cases for in-depth case analysis accounting for potential outcomes. They use this procedure to select municipalities where to conduct qualitative fieldwork and investigate how local political entrepreneurs and civic networks contributed to conveying local economic grievances into support for exclusionary policy platforms.