According to the latest polls from two weeks ago (there is now a poll ‘blackout’ until after the election), ‘M5S’ would secure over fifteen per cent of the national vote, putting it into third place, behind Bersani’s centre-left and Berlusconi’s centre right coalitions, but ahead of former PM Monti’s group. Some internal polling suggests M5S might do even better. Grillo’s movement translates to the ‘Five Star Movement’ in English. The five ‘stars’ represent its main themes: public water, transportation, development, internet connection and availability, and the environment. Running on a simple manifesto based on these themes, he has enjoyed a rise in popularity perhaps unrivalled in post-War Western Europe: one year ago, he was polling at around five per cent. This is despite the party doing the precise reverse of what a political campaign strategist would advise: none of its members had been interviewed in the Italian media until last weekend, and its most famous member, Grillo himself, refuses to stand. What accounts for his meteoric rise? Last week, we released a new report based on a survey of almost 2,000 Facebook fans of Grillo and the M5S. The answer is a fascinating and powerful mix of anti-establishment rhetoric, new technology and old fashioned rallies and local action. If Grillo does as well as polls suggest, perhaps even so well to become kingmaker, then the whole of Europe should take note. I suspect there are plenty of other European countries where another Grillo might explode onto the scene and cause a similar political tremor: including the UK.
Grillo is a truly anti-establishment politician, in the way Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party could never be. In 2007, he held a series of wildly popular rallies, which he called ‘f*ck you day’, aimed at the entire Italian political establishment. He calls Silvio Berlusconi a ‘psycho-dwarf’. On many measures, his supporters are unremarkable. They tend to be male (around two-thirds) and over 30 (again, around two-thirds). Although they are slightly better educated than the average Italian, they are more likely to be unemployed. They are worried about jobs and the economy, but on the whole see immigration as a good thing. But Grillo’s core narrative – that Italian politics is corrupt, elitist, and closed – is striking a powerful chord.
M5S supporters are angry about the state of democracy in Italy and Europe: 83 per cent stated that they were ‘not at all satisfied’ with Italian democracy and only eight per cent said they trusted Mario Monti’s technocratic government. His supporters display rock-bottom levels of trust in political and commercial institutions: only three per cent trust political parties, two per cent trust parliament, two per cent trust banks and financial institutions and six per cent trust big companies – lower, on every measure, than the Italian general public. The same is true of the Italian media, which Grillo regularly rails against. Only eleven per cent trust the press (against 34 per cent of Italians overall) and less than four per cent trust TV (against 40 per cent of Italians). In stark contrast to this, 76 per cent of Grillo Facebook fans trust the internet.
But Grillo’s real skill has been to channel this frustration into a political movement capable of affecting the political system he criticises. To do that, Grillo has a radical way of organising his party, and uses new technology to make it happen. The conditions for joining the M5S were (and still are) based on a simple ‘Non-Statute’, a document produced in December 2009 and published on Grillo’s website, which contains seven articles setting out some of the main rules of the movement and basic information. Anyone can join if they agree with these articles. (Of course, there are some problems with this franchise model – the label ‘Movimento Cinque Stelle’ remains the property of Grillo alone and only he can decide – on a case-by-case basis – who may use it for political (or any other) purposes).
Full Article: Beppe Grillo’s Five Star revolution | openDemocracy.