Italians are dodging a ban on voter polls by disguising them as horse races and car reviews

Tight race.
Tight race.
Image: AP/Diane Bondaref
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Italians head to the polls on Dec. 4 to vote on a controversial slate of constitutional changes championed by Matteo Renzi. The prime minister has raised the stakes by threatening to resign if the reforms are rejected.

The proposed reforms are bundled together; voters may vote just ”yes” or “no” to the entire package. According to the latest official opinion polls, the “no” camp is leading by anywhere from two and ten points. But those polls date back to Nov. 18, the last day when Italian pollsters were officially allowed to publish them.

Italy has strict laws on sharing poll data. A 2000 law, updated in 2010 (link in Italian), forbids the publication of polls within 15 days prior to a vote, ostensibly to avoid influencing citizens. But in the midst of a tense campaign, a little comic relief has popped into this information vacuum: cleverly worded polls that hint at the referendum, but deny having anything to do with it.

For instance, the home page of YouTrend, a leading online publication devoted to trends and polling, prominently features a so-called conclave vote at the Vatican, seemingly scheduled for Dec. 4—the same day as the referendum. The church is apparently very divided on this “divine judgement”, according to the site, which displays a choice between saints: San Simplicio (or “SI”) and San Norberto (or “NO”). San Norberto is in the lead, with 52 to 54 cardinals apparently voting in that direction. (Spoiler: there is no vote happening at the Vatican this Sunday.)

YouTrend has been consistently reporting on this rumored conclave vote for the past two weeks. Asked in an email whether these numbers actually reflect opinion on the Dec. 4 referendum, YouTrend responded only that “publishing [electoral] polls at this time is forbidden by the law.”

Conservative blog The Right Nation, meanwhile, shows an apparent horse race between a horse called Assemblage Hétéroclite, or ”odd mix” in Italian—which may be a reference to the politically-mixed group opposing the referendum—and Truie Blessée, or ”wounded sow,” an offensive name which perhaps embodies the blog authors’  views on Renzi’s government. Though Truie Blessée‘s performance has improved in the past few days, Assemblage Hétéroclite is still set to beat him by four seconds (completing the course in 52 seconds instead of 48), in the made-up Grand Prix de la Constitution race in Rome—a race designed in such a way that taking longer to run actually leads to victory.

These kinds of nonsensical surveys and polls aren’t new to Italians. They have become commonplace on political blogs in the two weeks prior to voting in previous years (link in Italian). There is no indication as to whether numbers are the leaked results of electoral polls conducted by reputable organizations (polling is still allowed during the days prior to the vote, just not for publication), independently conducted polls, or truly have nothing to do with the vote—as their creators claim.

For Scenari Politici, which calls itself “the ultimate site for electoral polls,” the past few days are all about a vote that Italian drivers will cast on a supposed automotive market law: On one side, the joint venture “New Board,” lead by automaker Renzaut, with the support of Alfanetta e Romeo (Italy’s home minister is Angelino Alfano), favors the law; on the other, “Original Board,” comprising car manufacturers such as Bugrilli (Beppe Grillo is leader of the Five Star Movement), Saablini (perhaps a reference to Matteo Salvini, of the Northern League?) and Civaniti (sounds suspiciously similar to Giuseppe Civati, of the leftist Possibile), oppose it. According to their latest survey, Original Board is favored.