The polls for today’s Italian General Election have been clear for quite some time. Mario Monti, the EU’s pet technocrat, was going to get a welcome kicking in a popular rejection of unaccountable, top-down government from Brussels. Silvio Berlusconi, clambering from the grave like a permatanned Dracula, was going to be roundly beaten in both Houses of Parliament by the Leftist “Common Good” coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani.
Well, it seems the pollsters shouldn’t have been so certain. Early voter samples by TV station RAI in the key battleground of Lombardy suggest that while Bersani is leading in the Lower House, Berlusconi may be on track to be the biggest political player in the Senate – meaning he will have the power to gridlock the Left’s plans. Cue all sorts of impacts on the stability of the Euro and its so-called recovery…
If RAI’s numbers are correct, and Berlusconi really is going to hold the Left to an effective draw of one house each, what has happened to make the polls so far off?
The UK General Election in 1992 holds some of the answers. The polls predicted a big win for Kinnock and the Labour Party, but on the day the Tories won out (not, arguably, to the long-term benefit of the centre right in Britain, but that’s for another day).
The explanation was simple: people lied to the pollsters.
It turned out that the human element still persists in polling – plenty of voters either wanted the Tories to win or feared the consequences of a Labour victory (or both), but were too embarrassed to tell a stranger from a polling company “I’m voting Conservative.”
The same may have happened in Italy – quite plausibly, given the very public pillorying Berlusconi came in for after his disastrous handling of Italy’s sovereign debt. Bizarrely, that would mean that the Italian equivalent of John Major in 1992 might be Silvio Berlusconi today – not a comparison anyone ever expected to be drawn.
It seems that supporting Silvio, perhaps the world’s most consistently brash political extrovert, has become a very private matter. If his supporters have gone to the ballot box to put him back in the limelight, I doubt he’ll care about how proud or public they might be.
The media are now engaged in a frantic exercise in tail-chasing over what the result of the midterms really means.
It’s certain that the Democrats took quite a drubbing – particularly in the massive swing in the House of Representatives and the strong swing to the Republicans in many gubernatorial races, though less so in the Senate.
It was also a good night for the Tea Party both electorally and reputationally.
Electorally, the real posterboys of the movement – Rand Paul and Marco Rubio (whom I drew attention to back in September) romped home. The movement’s detractors claim these two don’t count, because they were fighting for seats with Republican incumbents, but that misses the point. Yes, they beat the Democrats but more crucially they beat the Republican establishment. These were victories for the Tea Party over the whole political establishment – that is why they matter so much.
Reputationally, the candidates that the media and the Tea Party’s critics wanted to be the face of the movement – people like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell – lost. There are some burned TPM fingers as a result, but that is a lesson learned: don’t pick weirdos. The ability of voters to be selective and sensible whilst still backing the Tea Party has been demonstrated.
The most important result of all, though, is that last night represents a crushing defeat – particularly on the fiscal front – for neoconservatism.
The British stereotype that neocons are all about foreign policy is mistaken; that was tacked on to a previously isolationist philosophy after 9/11. In reality, the neocons’ most distinguishing ideological feature was a rejection of fiscal conservatism (opposition to deficits and support for balanced books, low tax and low spending) in favour of big spending, big debt and hang the consequences. That is why they and Obama are viewed as much of a muchness by most Tea Party activists and why the Tea Party began rolling in the Bush years, well before Obama’s election.
The Tea Party is an earthquake, and it is the neocons’ house that has come crashing down. The people have rejected big spending, government debt and deficit finance wholesale in favour of low taxes, spending cuts and an end to deficits.
The Republican establishment took a long time to realise this. Those who stuck to their deficit-financed guns have been swept away, and those who adapted are scrabbling to join the new consensus. Neoconservatism is dead – long live the Tea Party.