An analysis of the most frequently used words in front-page headlines of Italian newspapers for 2017 reveals that Europe’s migrant crisis is still front and center in citizens’ minds as national elections approach.
A comprehensive study of Italy’s headlines by L’Osservatorio di Pavia research institute shows that not only is “migrant” the most frequently recurring word in article titles of 2017, but that six out of ten of the most repeated words relate directly to the immigration question.
While “migrant” was by far the most frequently used word in headlines, with nearly twice the number of appearances (2,455) as the second-most common word, “refugee” (1,322), almost all the words in the top-ten list related to immigration in some way.
In order of frequency of use, the words are “migrant,” “refugee,” “Italy,” “NGO,” “immigrant,” “ius soli” (regarding giving citizenship to migrants’ children born in Italy), “welcome,” “Libya,” “European Union,” and “Italian.”
Between 2015 and 2017, something similar happened in television coverage as well, with news programs spending 40 percent of their coverage on migrant flows in 2017, up from 28 percent in 2015. Coverage of crime and security has also increased significantly (from 25 to 34 percent) during the same period, while stories of “welcoming” migrants have fallen from 28 percent of news time to just 11 percent.
A survey last autumn found that the level of fear of immigrants among the Italian population was the highest in more than ten years, as 46 percent of citizens say they agree with the statement that “immigrants are a danger for public order and the safety of persons.” The report found that the growing fear of immigrants was fueled, at least in part, by studies published on the correlation between a rising immigrant population and increased crime in the country.
A 2016 front-page report in Il Giornale titled “More Immigrants = More Crime,” for instance, analyzed the correlation between the number of immigrants entering the country and the rise in the crime rate as revealed by a study conducted by the Confcommercio group on the statistical connection between crime and immigration.
Highly publicized migrant crimes, like the recent brutal slaying and dismemberment of an 18-year-old Italian girl, allegedly by three Nigerian migrants, have also contributed to a growing sentiment of fear in relation to the immigrant population.
Concern over a rising migrant population is reflected in political affiliation as well, the study found, with 75 percent of those identifying with the Northern League Party saying that immigrants are a danger, and only 18 percent of the progressive Partito Democratico (PD) agreeing with this statement. More than half (53 percent) of the supporters of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) considers migrants to be a threat to public order and personal safety.
Italians’ relationship with the migrant question has evolved rapidly in the last several years as more than 600,000 mostly African migrants have entered the country. Despite their common desire to travel further north in Europe, the majority of these immigrants have stayed in Italy for the simple reason that they have not been granted asylum, and the Italian borders with France, Switzerland, and Austria are effectively blocked to them.
In just three years, the percentage of Italians favorable to granting Italian citizenship to the children of migrants born on Italian soil (ius soli) has fallen from 80 percent in 2014 to just 52 percent in late 2017.
Italians will go to the polls for national elections on Sunday. The most-recent polls predict a victory for the center-right coalition, whose leaders call for sealed borders and deportation of migrants to whom asylum has been denied.