Italy, the 3rd of May 2020: Italian Institute of Research Demos published the monthly update of its research for the Italian newspaper Repubblica. Lega Nord remains the first party but it has lost 2.2 percentage points in a month. The government forces in agreement (at least formally) with the Prime Minister Conte has earned 2.5 points in total (Democratic Party: + 0.8%, M5S + 1.7%), while the most quarrelsome component of the majority, Italia Viva, has lost more than one point, falling to 2.2 %.
Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni respectively has lost 9 and 12 percentage points in the personal trust rate. Luca Zaia, a member of Lega Nord like Salvini but at the same time also the President of the Veneto region — one of the Italian region most damaged by the Coronavirus — and therefore ‘in government’, earns three more points and exceeds the 50%.
United States, the 26th of April 2020: a CNN article referred to a Fox News poll that says that Joe Biden is eight points ahead of the polls against Donald Trump in the state of Michigan and that he is also far ahead in Pennsylvania and Florida. The three states were decisive for Trump’s success four years ago.
Biden has been criticized by some Democrats for his inability to affect the media agenda, which is completely fulfilled by Trump and his releases on the Coronavirus. The President of the United States is nine times more present on media than his (almost certain) opponent in the race to the White House.
Two stories, two different nations, a single big topic of discussion on a global scale and a possible key to understanding what it is happening.
1. Who rule has an advantage.
The ‘rally around the flag’ effect, [i.e. the tendency of public opinion to compact around the majorities in the hope that the crisis will pass and in the least painful possible way] is a dynamic that — however provisional — is still very powerful. That’s the only way we can explain this fact: the Italians think that the Italian government is managing the Covid-19 emergency better than China and Germany. Clearly, it is still too early to say whether it really is, but some data (first of all the deaths’ one) seem to indicate the contrary.
2. Those who rule by minimizing the reality of facts have a lesser advantage.
The rally around the flag effect seems directly proportional to taking charge of the problem. If citizens are afraid, minimizing is not the solution. Paradoxically, the so-called ‘draconian measures’ such as the restriction of individual spaces of freedom on behalf of social distancing appear to be less unpopular than the lack of awareness of the seriousness of the situation.
3. During a crisis, the political belonging of those who rule does not appear to be a determining factor.
In Italy Conte, the premier of a coalition theoretically more left-wing than right-wing, has the 64% of the personal consensus. At the same time Zaia grows in the trust rate although his party of reference (Lega Nord) and its national leader Salvini are falling. The consent of those who govern (locally or nationally) therefore depends on the ability to take responsibility and to know how to make decisions. This seems to be determining even for controversial or revised decisions, much more than belonging to a specific political area.
4. Politicians who gain visibility by criticizing those who govern at the peak of a crisis get no advantage.
In Italy there are three leaders in great difficulty in terms of personal consent and /or their main party’s consensus: Salvini, Meloni and Renzi. What do they have in common? All of them are present on media for their critical notes regarding the Conte government, although with different tone of voices and positions (furthermore Renzi is a representative of the majority).
On the contrary, Joe Biden is even favored by Trump’s media presence because his critical positions (rather inevitable when you are at the opposition) emerge little. Not all visibility is therefore good in politics and the ‘as long as we talk about’ thesis — repeatedly denied by current affairs and history — finds its definitive refutation in this circumstance. There could even be an inverse proportion: “Biden’s proving that the less media he receives, the better it is for his electoral prospects.” Harry Enten writes on the CNN website.
In conclusion: what should the opposition do at the moment?
I will try to sum up what would seem to emerge from the data. The consequences are rather paradoxical:
- Speak as little as possible and you especially avoid the classic media spotlight (TV and newspapers) as much as possible;
- If you can’t be silent, avoid attacking (and mentioning) those who govern but rather fight over the opportunity to take individual measures, and then register them if they work;
- You should wait for the rally around the flag effect to subside. This will probably happen in conjunction with the reduction of the health emergency and the rise of the economic crisis before returning to classic political opposition models.