During the last decade, and more repeatedly after the political earthquakes experienced worldwide from 2016 onwards, election polls have lost their entire ability to control our electorates’ behaviour, predict crucial political scenarios and inform society as a whole.
National statistics’ agencies and government organisations in charge of opinion polls, appear to be perhaps the most misleading sociological mirrors. We are in an age of ‘liquid politics’ (employing Zygmunt Bauman´s terminology), dynamic, fragmented discourses and social media campaigning (a fair amount of which belongs to false information and manipulative channels).
Denying this reality, as well as denying the death of traditional political parties across Europe — desperately looking now to radicalise their ideals (both sides of the spectrum), in order to be able to face new extremist forces preferred by the hopeless post-recession citizen — is nothing but giving up. There is still hope in many national parliaments for an awakening of democratic forces, especially those who understand that current challenges require centrist conventionalism to die in favour of identity politics and strong discourses on belonging and binarism. They are not giving up, either — with some exceptions, such as the British Conservatives — but playing their last card carefully in the hope of preventing a Europe ruled exclusively by ultra-nationalism and borders folding. Media and polling agencies, however, have given up through the most brutal form of denialism: ignoring public opinion.
In 2016, a big majority of opinion polls in Britain failed to give more than 45 per cent of votes to a Leave campaign that was going to become victorious only weeks later. After Donald Trumps´s success, warning sings were starting to be shown. Unsurprisingly, most of the following predictions continued to catastrophically misunderstand people´s aspirations and beliefs. Just a few weeks ago, the turbulent Spanish political scene was hit by the shocking result of Santiago Abascal’s far-right ‘Vox’ in the Andalusian regional elections; the first autonomous region in the country giving parliament seats to ultra-nationalists.
However, despite Vox’s surprising results, the society which the party inhabits is one deeply opposed to racism, ultra-nationalism and far-right ideology — something that the polls failed to reflect. Similarly, the French electorate seemed so submerged in the continental right-wing wave that too little odds were given to any of Le Pen´s rivals in the 2017 presidential battle. During the 2014 presidential election in Romania, opinion polls rejected the idea of Liberal candidate Iohannis defeating the ruling party, which had won the previous parliamentary elections and controlled nearly the entire country. In less than a month, and for the first time in Romanian politics, Facebook campaigning raised Iohannis´ popularity, especially among the millions of Romanians living abroad — something that ended up becoming a massive movement against the ruling party who made him president in the end, against all predictions and with the Internet´s help.
Today Europe is not made of correctness, cosmopolitanism and optimistic social aspirations. In many countries, the failure of traditional politics to control austerity and not become distant from ordinary citizens, has unleashed despair and radicalisation. This is happening amongst the young, but also the older generations. Unemployment and lack of opportunities are realities in which political discourse on authoritarianism and ruralism has always fit perfectly. Bringing this closer to home, the worrying issue of a second referendum on Brexit is that no one is capable of understanding how society will receive it. These days, news sources highlight the increasing voice of ‘Remain’ or ‘Anti-May deal’ support, suggesting figures as high as 58 per cent. But are we trust these, or admit that the real problems with Brexit have failed to register in opinion polls?
Despite the disastrous way in which Theresa May´s Government has handled Brexit and Britain´s current situation, the probability still remains that any new vote held tomorrow could potentially still ring the winning bell for the side nobody wants.
With the European Parliament election scheduled for May this year, European society needs to understand that the apparent levels of poverty and inequality present and widespread are changing the way people think, talk and vote. We are, to some extent, uninformed and forgotten until the key moment arrives and we suddenly get informed (over-informed or misinformed) brutally quick — a process that by now is fast and way ahead of public opinion, polls and politicians themselves. Technocratic optimism is harming us. Citizens, neighbourhoods and representatives today know absolutely nothing of value about each other except for the main entertainment trends and insignificant stories shared on social networks.
If we are not able to see the hundreds of reasons why in 2019 a young, educated person will be voting for neo-Nazis in Europe without being one of them or sharing much of their ideals, we are not ready for the challenges ahead of us.