On the morning of May 27th, with the almost definitive results of the European election in Italy, the Wu Ming Foundation published a thread of tweets with their first thoughts on the election results. They then decided to republish them, in article form, on their blog Giap!.
At the time of writing, the mainstream media in Italy were claiming these results (in brackets the general election result) for the main parties:
Lega 34,3% electing 29 ENF MEP (17,4%)
PD 22,7% electing 19 S&D MEP (18,7%)
M5S 17,1% electing 14 EFDD MEP (32,7%)
Forza Italia 8,8% electing 7 EPP MEP (14%)
Fratelli d’Italia 6,5% electing 6 ECR MEP (4,35%)
Others 10,7% (12,85%)
Responding to these results, the media framed the debate in the following terms:
- an unbeatable and unrivaled Salvini had won the elections, and now 1 Italian out of 3 supported him, his politics, his style
- Salvini is the de-facto head of the government
- the 5-Star Movement had such a disappointing result that it might lose its grip on the government, despite being the biggest party in Parliament
- Italy is inevitably headed for a right-wing semi-dictatorial government
- the neoliberal PD has recovered the votes it lost and is not only alive and kicking, it’s the only possible opposition to Salvini (but would have done better if it weren’t for the extreme-left voters who supported smaller parties instead of helping PD contain the right-wing menace)
- There is no alternative to any of this.
What was missing from the mainstream narrative was the the parties results were shown as a percentage of the valid votes, and not of the total votes. What was missing was the number of invalid and blank votes and the astonishing percentage of abstaining voters: 44% of people with the right to vote did not exercise that right.
Wu Ming took this statistic as the basis for their commentary. What follows is our translation of their post.
An example to show how an abstention rate of 44% can twist the “picture” and mess up the reasoning on voting percentages, instead of the total potential voters.
At the 2018 General elections, the PD obtained 6.161.896 votes, at yesterday’s European elections, 6.045.723.
There is no “recovery”, these are 116.000 votes less compared to last year. Neither the hyperactivism of Carlo Calenda (note: Calenda is one of the PD’s frontmen, close to Matteo Renzi, a hard neoliberal and a former member of the previous Government) nor the rhetoric of the “mother of all battles” managed to achieve any significant change, except going beyond a “psychological threshold” that has no correspondence with reality.
For those arguing that these elections and the General Election are completely different, here’s the PD’s total votes at the 2014 European elections: 11.203.231.
In five years, the PD has lost more than 5 millions votes. Nevertheless, in the grip of the blinding effect of the distorted percentages, the narration is the one of the “recovery” and the “change of pace”.
If one really wants to reflect in percentage term, and reason by taking the real 100% into consideration, we can see that Lega has 19%, PD has 12%, M5S has 9,5%. They are all minorities.
Removing the abstention rate makes us “blind and deaf” to what really happens in society. In Italy, more than 20 millions voters don’t consider the current political offering acceptable, when they’re not despairing and/or nauseating.
Among the abstainees, there is a supply of political energy that, and when it returns it will disrupt this false framework that charges our daily political gossip. It will show that the balance and relationships of power between the parties are all part of a self-referential world.
Let’s now form a concrete example of how removing the abstention rate created a dazzling effect and got those who believed it crushed.
At the previous European elections, Matteo Renzi’s PD obtained 40.81% of 57.22%, that is to say 23.3% of potential voters. But everybody talked about the figure as if were “40% of the Italians”. Renzi convinced himself that he had that kind of consensus in the country, because every single yes-man and yes-woman he surrounded himself with kept repeating the same thing. His policies then tried to challenge everyone and everything and he tried to stretch all political processes, blabbing about “using the flamethrower”. He made himself so unpopular in the country that he could no longer hold public speeches, and had to cancel a number of political meetings, sometimes by sneaking out of the back door and so on. It was the so-called #RenziScappa (RenziRuns) season.
Some tried to highlight that those protests were a symptom of something else and that they needed to be addressed. The answer they always got was “These are meaningless episodes, Renzi has 40% of the people with him and he will rule for 20 years”. Meanwhile discontent was steadily growing and millions of people decided to vote against him at the 2016 Constitutional Referendum.
That referendum saw the participation of 5 millions voters who hadn’t participated in the previous European Election, and Renzi lost by six millions votes.
This dazzling effect works in the opposite direction too: the abstention rate is the root cause of the M5S collapse, because they got five millions votes less than in last year’s General Election. It had in the past intercepted part of the abstention rate as well as the votes of the grassroots and social movements, but it also showed its own inconsistency, disappointing voters beyond expectations and pushing them away, probably once again into abstention.
All of this is to say:
- Every reasoning on the political consensus that doesn’t consider the “disruptive-unforeseeable variable” that is now represented by the frozen energies of the abstention rate (and in the vote/no-vote flow) is meaningless.
- The demos in squares, the protests, the public and collective disagreement events are often more real then the percentage-of-a-percentage hallucinations. For this reason it is important to track #Salviniscappa. In the month of May alone there have been 21 significant episodes.
- Repeating the cliché “if you don’t vote you choose not to count” makes no sense, for two reasons:
a. If someone does not vote it doesn’t mean they are passive. Millions of people don’t vote but are active in social struggles, in labor-related disputes, in volunteering services. They are active citizens, and more active than the ones who aren’t active and only cross a paper from time to time, lecturing the others in the meantime.
b. At any moment they could decide to go back and vote and disrupt the whole framework.
Salvini has an actual 19%, which means 9 million votes. In Italy there are 60 million people, and 51 million eligible voters. Salvini doesn’t have “the Italians” behind him. Even if he’s gaining votes and has the consensus of one voter out of five, he’s still a minority leader. But if we let ourselves be blinded by that 34% (once again, a percentage of a percentage), it’s easy to misunderstand and forget that.
A note: looking too much at the celebrating Salvini, we risk failing to understand what is happening in Europe, where, after deducting individual outbursts such as Le Pen’s and Orban’s, the feared “black wave” failed to happen. Instead, the major surprise has been the increase in votes (mainly from younger generations) for the more belligerent political forces that want to deal mainly with environmental and grassroots struggles. Now at the European Parliament the Greens possess 12 seats more than the far right, 70 versus 58.
#Salviniscappa can be a good seismometer over the coming months. The frame of the “34%” will vanish, while the social conflict will not. @Figuredisfondo has almost finished the new map, which is still in beta version.
Looking for alternatives only through the voting process is senseless: it is like wishing to build a house starting from the roof. Or better, from the roof of the chimney.
In order to build social alternatives, we must look to the struggles, and, as one said, “know how to handle the symptoms”.