At the 2013 general election none of the three main alliances – the centre-right led by Silvio Berlusconi, the centre-left led by Pier Luigi Bersani and the Five Star Movement (M5S) led by Beppe Grillo – won an outright majority in Parliament. After a failed attempt to form a government by Bersani, then-secretary of the Democratic Party (PD), and Giorgio Napolitano's re-election as President, Enrico Letta, Bersani's deputy, received the task of forming a grand coalition government. The Letta Cabinet consisted of the PD, Berlusconi's The People of Freedom (PdL), Civic Choice (SC), the Union of the Centre (UdC) and others.
On 16 November 2013, Berlusconi launched a new party, Forza Italia (FI), named after the defunct Forza Italia party (1994–2009). Additionally, Berlusconi announced that FI would be opposed to Letta's government, causing the split from the PdL/FI of a large group of deputies and senators led by Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano, who launched the alternative New Centre-Right (NCD) party and remained loyal to the government.
Following the election of Matteo Renzi as Secretary of the PD in December 2013, there were persistent tensions culminating in Letta's resignation as Prime Minister in February 2014. Subsequently, Renzi formed a government based on the same coalition (including the NCD), but in a new fashion. The new Prime Minister had a strong mandate from his party and was reinforced by the PD's strong showing in the 2014 European Parliament election and the election of Sergio Mattarella, a fellow Democrat, as President in 2015. While in power, Renzi implemented several reforms, including a new electoral law (which would later be declared partially unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court), a relaxation of labour and employment laws (known as Jobs Act) with the intention of boosting economic growth, a thorough reform of the public administration, the simplification of the civil trial, the recognition of same-sex unions (not marriages) and the abolition of several minor taxes.
As a result of the Libyan civil war, a major problem faced by Renzi was the high level of illegal immigration to Italy. During his tenure, there was an increase in the number of immigrants rescued at sea being brought to southern Italian ports, prompting criticism from the M5S, FI and Lega Nord (LN), and causing a loss of popularity for Renzi. However, well into 2016 opinion polls registered the PD's strength, as well as the growth of the M5S, the LN and Brothers of Italy (FdI), FI's decline, SC's virtual disappearance and the replacement of Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) with the Italian Left (SI).
In December 2016, a constitutional reform proposed by Renzi's government and duly approved by Parliament was rejected in a constitutional referendum (59% to 41%). Under the reform, the Senate would have been composed of 100 members: 95 regional representatives and five presidential appointees. Following defeat, Renzi stepped down as Prime Minister and was replaced by his Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni, another Democrat.
In early 2017, in opposition to Renzi's policies, some left-wing Democrats led by Bersani, Massimo D'Alema and Roberto Speranza launched, along with SI splinters, the Democratic and Progressive Movement (MDP). Contextually, the NCD was transformed into Popular Alternative (AP). In April Renzi was re-elected secretary of the PD and thus the party's candidate for Prime Minister, defeating Minister of Justice Andrea Orlando and Governor of Apulia Michele Emiliano.
In May 2017, Matteo Salvini was re-elected federal secretary of the LN and launched his own bid. Under Salvini, the party had emphasised Euroscepticism, opposition to immigration and other populist policies. In fact, Salvini's aim had been to re-launch the LN as a "national" or, even, "Italian nationalist" party, withering any notion of northern separatism. This focus became particularly evident in December when LN presented its new electoral logo, without the word "Nord".
In September 2017, Luigi Di Maio was selected as candidate for Prime Minister and "political head" of the M5S, replacing Grillo. However, even in the following months, the populist comedian was accused by critics of continuing to play his role as de facto leader of the party, while an increasingly important, albeit unofficial, role was assumed by Davide Casaleggio, son of Gianroberto, a web strategist who founded the M5S along with Grillo in 2009 and died in 2016. In January 2018, Grillo separated his own blog from the movement; his blog was used in the previous years as an online newspaper of the M5S and the main propaganda tool. This event was seen by many as the proof that Grillo was slowly leaving politics.
The autumn registered some major developments to the left of the political spectrum: in November Forza Europa, the Italian Radicals and individual liberals launched a joint list named More Europe (+E), led by the long-time Radical leader Emma Bonino; in December the MDP, SI and Possible launched a joint list named Free and Equal (LeU) under the leadership of Pietro Grasso, President of the Senate and former anti-mafia prosecutor; the Italian Socialist Party, the Federation of the Greens, Civic Area and Progressive Area formed a list named Together (I) in support of the PD; the Communist Refoundation Party, the Italian Communist Party, social centres, minor parties, local committees, associations and groups launched a far-left joint list named Power to the People (PaP), under the leadership of Viola Carofalo.
In late December, the centrist post-NCD Popular Alternative (AP), which had been a key coalition partner for the PD, divided itself among those who wanted to return into the centre-right's fold and those who supported Renzi's coalition. Two groups of AP splinters (one led by Maurizio Lupi and the other by Enrico Costa), formed along with Direction Italy, Civic Choice, Act!, Popular Construction and the Movement for the Autonomies, a joint list within the centre-right, named Us with Italy (NcI). The list was later enlarged to the Union of the Centre, the Union of Democrats for Europe and minor parties. The remaining members of AP, Italy of Values, the Centrists for Europe, Solidary Democracy and minor groups joined forces in the pro-PD Popular Civic List (CP), led by Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin.
On 28 December 2017, President Sergio Mattarella dissolved Parliament and a new general election was called for 4 March 2018.
On 21 February 2018, Marco Minniti, the Italian Minister of the Interior, warned "There is a concrete risk of the mafias conditioning electors' free vote". Predominately the Sicilian Mafia have been recently active in Italian election meddling, the Camorra and 'Ndrangheta organisations have also taken an interest.
In late February, Berlusconi indicated the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, as his candidate for the premiership if the centre-right won the general election and if Forza Italia received at least the plurality of the votes inside the coalition, condition that did not occur, resulting in a victory of the party led by Matteo Salvini, the League.