I needed a couple of days to reflect on the results of the Italian elections. What does this vote mean? And is it true that the good communicators (Berlusconi and Grillo) won and the weak ones (Bersani and Monti) lost? One the face of it, it would seem that way. But as usual things are slightly more complicated (if only because the big ‘loser’ actually still came on top, as the biggest party in the country). And this complexity appears in all its beauty when you look at the difference between the results in Italy and those of Italians living in the rest of the world. Here is a little comparative graph (If you cannot read it properly or you feel slightly sea sick looking at this graph, don’t worry, it’s my cutting and pasting, sorry!).
(Results in percentages for the Chamber of Deputies)
What does it show? That the losers in Italy are actually the winners outside, with Monti’s party nearly reaching 20%. They almost look like two different people. And maybe they are. But has communications something to do with it? If the PD and Monti were such terrible communicators, how come they are the first two parties among voters abroad? And why has Grillo not received more votes outside Italy as some of his key complaints – outlined via his blog which is so accessible to all – could definitely be shared by everyone?
Here are my possible explanations that might also help understand better the result as a whole.
1) For good and for bad (but more recently mainly for bad!) Italians abroad have not and will not suffer directly the consequences of their own vote. They have not experienced the crisis in Italy in all its negative ramifications and will not really be affected (anyhow not more than any European citizen) by the political and economical implications of these elections.
2) Italians living in other countries have been subjected to a variety of information coming out of different media in different languages: they have seen that the crisis is everywhere, that we are all in this together, that other countries are making sacrifices too; they have read different analyses, heard different solutions.
3) There is no doubt that the Partito Democratico has conducted a terrible campaign, was too sure of winning, and very bad in communicating with the electorate, hence losing gradually most of the lead it had in the polls. Throughout it had no clear message: Grillo kept on saying ‘Basta’, Berlusconi repeated ‘Less taxes’ and what did Bersani say? ‘A fair Italy’, ok, in what way exactly? And then? ‘Smacchiamo il giaguaro!’ which literally means ‘let’s remove the dots or stains from the jaguar’. Right. What the hell does it mean? Having said all that, voters outside had probably made their minds up some time ago as to whom they wanted to elect and especially who they did NOT want to elect and the disastrous campaign has not shifted the opinion.
4) For the reason just mentioned, and because most of them have not been watching Italian television as much as people in Italy, voters abroad have not followed the Berlusconi performance of the last couple of months, his great comeback; they read about it perhaps, but were not really influenced by it. Plus, the long Berlusconi years have hit Italy’s reputation so badly – especially in Europe – , that it would have been really difficult for his party to do well among expatriates.
In sum, and this can probably also explain why Grillo’s movement did not do so well abroad, you could say that the vote of Italians outside Italy was a more rational one, done with the head, while Italians in Italy voted with their heart, more emotionally. Grillo has been able to channel the anger, the disappointment and the frustration of Italians (all very strong emotions) into votes for his movement; this could not quite have the same success outside Italy.
The rational, realcommunication (no huge empathy, no exaggerations, low key) won with ‘rational’ voters. The emotional, idealistic (or should I say unrealistic) communication won with the ‘emotional’ voters. The question is: will it ever be possible in Italy to have a good mix of the two? The sooner a party or parties understand that this is the only way to get enough votes to actually be able to govern the better, I say.