Abortion rights between right-wing politics, religion, and morality. A computational analysis of actors and frames in the Italian 2022 election campaign on Twitter
This paper focuses on the debate on abortion during the 2022 Italian elections to shed light on the relationships between religion and politics adopting a communication perspective.
Over the last decade, right-wing leaders have increasingly supported traditional Christian values (DeHanas & Shterin, 2019), becoming political references to reactionary movements striving for illiberal shifts regarding reproductive rights. The Italian context has proven to be an interesting laboratory for studying the relationships between religion and politics (Lavizzari & Prearo, 2019; Ozzano & Giorgi, 2016; Marchetti et al., 2022; Righetti, 2021). The 2022 Italian elections are particularly interesting. They were won by Fratelli d’Italia, a far-right party that has voiced pro-life and traditional-family values for years, and which has more recently signed proposals openly against abortion with religious movements.
Given the strategic role of communication for social movements and political parties, this paper focuses on social media communication. We started from a dataset of over 6.5 million tweets we collected in the month leading to the election (September 25, 2022). This month is also relevant because the debate on abortion is triggered by the intervention of a famous Italian influencer on social media against right-wings parties. We analyzed this data with computational methods. We used about 650,000 retweets to estimate users’ proximity to political parties. We then zeroed in on about 100,000 tweets dealing with abortion rights published by some 40,000 users to study the topics they discussed and the frames they employed to advance specific perspectives, with particular attention to religious and moral arguments. Our analysis was guided by the following questions:
What actors and communities discussed abortion during the elections? What are their relationships with right-wing politics and religious movements?
What were the frames used in the debate? How, and how much, were religious and secular frames used and integrated?
By answering these questions, we aim to give a contribution to the understanding of the relationships between religion, politics, and communication in contemporary society.
DeHanas, Nilsson Daniel, & Marat Shterin, “Religion and the Rise of Populism,” Religion, State & Society 46/3 (2018), 177–185.
Lavizzari, A., & Prearo, M. (2019). The anti-gender movement in Italy: Catholic participation between electoral and protest politics. European societies, 21(3), 422-442.
Marchetti, R., Righetti, N., Pagiotti, S. and Stanziano, A. (2022). Right-Wing Populism and Political Instrumentalization of Religion: The Italian Debate on Salvini’s Use of Religious Symbols on Facebook. Journal of Religion in Europe.
Ozzano, L. and Giorgi, A. (2016). European Culture Wars and the Italian Case. Which Side Are You On? Abingdon: Routledge.
Righetti, N. (2021). The Anti-Gender Debate on Social Media. A Computational Communication Science Analysis of Networks, Activism, and Misinformation. Comunicazione politica, 23(2), 223-250.