Archive for Italy

A Modest Proposal

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , on July 11, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

I started to suspect some time ago that in Italy there could be a problem with gypsies, or, to employ a more politically correct term, Roma people.
Not much of a news, you say? OK, right, sometimes I’m sort of slow in catching up with the current news.

However, I did a small research, and yes, I’m positive: we have a problem. Only, it’s a bit worse than I expected. The good news is that there is a solution. A rather simple one, in fact. And quite obvious. It somehow emerges naturally if only one cares to give a closer look at the issue, and it could be both effective and not too difficult to implement.

Bear with me, you won’t be disappointed. I hope. Most likely you would be surprised.

It all started last week when I come upon a mention in an article on Repubblica of a recent survey put in place by the European commission about discrimination and inequality in Europe. Repubblica reported that Italy resulted the EU country with the highest dislike for Roma. Of course, the few random percentages mentioned in the newspaper couldn’t possibly give a comprehensible view of the situation. I was intrigued however by the fact that France was mentioned as much more tolerant than Italy. I live in France, and I know that Roma are much more numerous here than in my country of origin. I resolved I would check the numbers some other time.

Well, I have found some time now, so I retrieved the original report and I looked for Rom population estimates in Wikipedia,  with the aim to check for correlations.

The survey, for the part of interest, involved two questions, put to population samples across EU countries:

1) How comfortable would you feel in having a Rom as a neighbour? (Scale from 1 tot 10, highest more comfortable.)

2) Do you have any Roma friend ?

I thus plotted the survey results against the percentage of Roma over the entire population of the different countries, and here are the results (including error bars for estimate uncertainties):

So, there is hardly any overall correlation between the number of Roma in a given country and how they are perceived. there. In Italy the Roma are only a tiny fraction of the total inhabitants (less than 0.2%), as in most of Europe, but all countries with similar low Rom densities are much more tolerant than Italy, and their score show a rather large spread. The western Europe countries with a relatively high Rom density are amongst the more tolerant, while east Europe countries, with the higher number of Roma, are slightly below average but show, interestingly enough, a positive trend (higher Rom density = high tolerance). Therefore, the claim that in Italy there is a reaction to the too high number of Roma starts to look a bit fishy. What’s so special about Italy, then? Somebody particularly malignant  could be tempted to answer that Italy is the only EU country with a prime minister with a dominant position in the mass media and a very strong interest first in creating dissatisfaction with the previous government and then in distracting the public from more important issues (for which he has no clue about possible solutions). However we should dismiss here such hypothesis  as unscientific, on the ground that it’s impossible to either prove it or disprove it in this context.

It’s however interesting to look at the plot below, dealing with the answers to the second question. of the survey It is not surprising that only four percent among Italians admit to have a Rom friend, since it’s so hard to find one at all. On the other hand, almost half of Bulgarians have friends among Roma. It looks like xenophobic reaction are damped by increased presence of minorities, thus more opportunities to meet and understand them.

Eventually, I find the last plot the more intriguing. I compare here the reaction to Rom neighbours among the countries supposedly closest to Italy for culture, social structure and standard of living. I include UK and Germany, the other larger western states, for comparison. It is very tempting to admit a trend towards higher acceptance in case of a stronger presence of Rom minorities.

The conclusion is blatantly obvious: Italians are not comfortable with Roma, because there are not enough Roma in Italy. An increase in their number would give Italians more chances to know them better and therefore be reassured.

So, if the present government really want to reduce social alarm caused by Roma people, it should first of all try to attract more of them. It may not solve completely the problem, since Italy looks like such an anomaly, but this simple study show that it can only improve it.

Unfortunately I suspect that, as is often the case for simple, logical solutions based on a scientifically sound analysis, the political power would gladly ignore such a suggestion. Pity for them us.

April 25

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , on April 25, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

After a consultation with our musical experts, we have chosen our soundtrack for today. Sorry for the Macarena fans. Enjoy.

Dance to the New Music

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 22, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

ANSA reported that Marco Tedde (Forza Italia), mayor of the city of Alghero in Sardinia, had forbidden the town band to play the well known song “Bella Ciao”, the anthem of the Italian partisans, during the celebrations of next April 25th, anniversary of the liberation of Italy from Nazi occupation. He took this decision, he explained, in order not to foster conflict.

We now expect him to issue a list of recommended songs, maybe slightly less suitable for the occasion but also less controversial. Such list could for instance include “Jingle Bells”, “Mickey Mouse March” and “La Macarena”.

He was right !

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , on April 17, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

Intermittently, during the last days, I found myself wondering how was ever possible that such a large fraction of the Italian population ended up voting for the Joker and his allies. And every time, the reason behind this had escaped me. But, as often happens, the solution was right there, in plain view.

So, I finally grasped it today, while I was reading my own blog (a quite stupid activity indeed, that in general I carefully avoid).

Bossi was rigth! The ballots were really treacherous and confusing. Millions of Italians have been cheated!

No one in his right mind could ever vote for him, actually. It’s much more reasonable to assume that many poor, uninformed, well-meaning voters had been confused by all these mixed-up symbols…

So, since my attachment to democratic values is not less than the one of Lega Nord followers and Bossi himself, I’m now trying to remember where I’ve stored my old gun. And, since my shooting skills are a bit rusted, I think I’ll begin my defense of democratic values precisely with the Lega Nord leader. A slowly moving target is what I need for a good start.

I’ll keep smaller, faster targets for later.

Yes, We Could.

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , on April 11, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

With less than two days left to go, this is my last post on statistical analysis and predictions on the Italian elections. In the previous posts I had a look at the possible outcome of the race for the Senate, based on available polls data. I will try today to have a reflection on two issues:

1) Is it conceivable that, contrary to all published polls, PD would eventually end up with more votes that PdL, thus securing the majority in the lower chamber?

2) In such a case, what would be the result, in term of seats, at the Senate?

After the polls blackout (15 days before the election date), results from putative reserved polls can be found on the net, in various flavors and disguises (horse races being a rather popular choice, but not the only one). Since I have no way to check how real and reliable these are, I would ignore them and base myself on available data alone, plus some elementary statistics. Only in the end I will add some more “political” consideration.

Starting with question one, the obvious starting point is a comparison with the 2006 elections, in which the polls predictions disagreed strongly with the final result. I show in the plot below the results of the pre-election polls and of the exit polls in 2006 , compared with the 2008 polls. I report as well the final results of 2006, and a hypothetical break-even point for 2008 (PD equals PdL).

In 2006, all polls gave a substantial margin to the Center-left coalition (average in the last month before the blackout 4.8 %), except from 3 polls from 2 institutes, all commissioned by Berlusconi. Such margin was essentially the same even in the exit polls, but was dramatically contradicted by the final results.

At a first look, a PD close victory in 2008 would be an even bigger surprise than the “almost draw” of 2006. The absolute discrepancy of the final data from the last month polls average (7.7 %) would be higher than the one of 2006 (4.9 %), and even more so in relative terms (since PdL and PD percentages are lower than what Center-left and Center-right obtained in the last elections). However, for several reasons, a PD victory cannot be completely ruled out. First, the data looks more “dynamic” in 2008. Besides that, the spread of the data in 2006 is noticeably less than the one of 2008 (especially if the 3 “anomalous polls” are not considered) – possibly due to the “disturbing” factor of the smaller parties now present in the race. If we consider only the last month before polls blackout in 2006, the final Center-Left and Center-Right results were -3 and +3.8 standard deviations away from the averages, respectively. This compares to the +/- 3.8 standard deviations needed to reach the break-even point in 2008. From a purely statistical point of view the two events would be essentially equivalent (i.e., equally unlikely).

The cause of the 2006 discrepancy had been thoroughly discussed. A systematic bias in the polls looks more likely than a drift of electoral preferences in the last two weeks (as confirmed also by the exit polls result). The bias could then arise from non-representative sampling by the polling institutes, reticent answers by part of the interviewed population, or a biased voting distribution in the undecided who finally participated to the elections. The repetition of such a discrepancy in 2008 (and its magnitude and direction) depends on all the above as yet undecided issues. To add another variable, I ignore if the polling institutes had since 2006 put in place corrective strategies, and which ones.

The only possible conclusion is therefore that, if a similar phenomenon happens again, there would be ample space for a PD victory at the lower chamber (but also, potentially, for a large defeat).

In order to try and answer to question two – Senate outcome if PD overtakes PdL – I have done a simple exercise. I have taken the March 2008 polls average and used my model (derived by the one from Sandro Brusco/noiseFromAmeriKa) to study the dependence of PdL and PD seats in the Senate as a function of the PdL-PD distance (keeping the PD+PdL sum constant). I have then repeated the simulation two more times, first adding, then subtracting 1% to both SA and UDC.

In the following plot I show the results, together with the simulations done using the actual March polls (scattered dots). It is interesting to note that the two +/- 1% bands (thinner lines) describe well the variability of the polls.

At a first glance, the conclusion is that a small advantage of PD over PdL would in general not be enough to obtain the majority in the Senate, or even to obtain just more seats than PdL. PD would need a lead of 5% or more to be likely to get the majority. Which looks like a long shot indeed.

However, the simulation I did follows a strict uniform national swing hypothesis. A re-distribution of the votes between regions different from 2006 (as by the way showed in the few published regional polls) could dramatically alter the results, in a way that is difficult to predict. The number of seats are indeed more sensitive to the distribution of votes among the regions than to their global number. I was surprised to find, for instance, that by shifting around less than 100000 votes, it was easy to “give” the senate majority to PD (158 seats) with only a 1% lead with respect to PdL. Thus, even for the Senate, a small possibility for a PD majority do exist.

I have so far talked about statistical possibilities. One must add a “political” dimension in order to make an educated guess on the outcome. For instance, most commentators (and a few polls) maintain that most of the undecided who will finally vote will favor PD rather than PdL (opposite from 2006). Also, the 2008 polls show a Center-left to Center-right ratio more unbalanced towards the latter than ever before. Since in paste elections the movements between the two block were minimal, this could imply a poll bias in favor of PdL.

For these reasons I would expect a reduced PdL-PD gap in the end. If I had to bet, I would place my money on a PdL victory with a 2-4% margin at the lower chamber, and an essential draw in Senate seats. But nothing is excluded, and Veltroni does well to keep up the pressure.

Yes we can sounds too optimistic to me, since the bar is indeed set very high. But I would’t object to a Yes we could.

Gun(boat) Democracy

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , on April 7, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

Yesterday Umberto Bossi, leader of the Lega Nord party, declared in Verbania that the ballots being prepared for the coming Italian elections are “unclear” and “prone to generate errors”. He then stated:

“Se necessario, per fermare i romani che hanno stampato queste schede elettorali che sono una vera porcata, e non permettono di votare in semplicità e chiarezza, potremmo anche imbracciare i fucili.”

Concluding then:

“Volevo dire che noi alla democrazia ci teniamo e che democraticamente reagiremo a ogni tentativo di impedire la chiarezza e la regolarità in cabina elettorale.”

Which in English would be (my translation – could well sound a bit less illiterate than the original):

“If needed, in order to stop people from Rome who printed these ballots which are a real junk, and don’t allow to vote clearly and in a simple way, we could as well make use of rifles.”


“I wanted to say that we are attached to democracy and we will democratically react to every attempt to prevent clarity and lawfulness in the electoral booth.”

I must say I’m relieved to hear that Lega Nord members are so attached to democratic values, and would thus limit themselves to accepted democratic procedures like the use of guns and rifles. It seems therefore that their use of nuclear weapons in order to prevent, e.g., illegal electoral propaganda, can be excluded.

I conclude adding that apparently, some Lega Nord enthusiasts, having found several flaws in the pencils being prepared for the elections, are proceeding to a hasty substitution of the same (see photo). However, it seems that a Lega Nord representative had declared that the methods employed are not likely to result in any unwanted casualty.

More Statistics…

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

I continue here the theme of the previous post, i.e., predictions on the Senate election outcome in Italy, based on pre-electoral polls, and statistical analysis of the data. In the last couple of days, a few regional polls had been finally published. I tried to incorporate the more recent ones in my model. As before, I start by giving the results, then add a few comments:

PdL PD SA UDC Others
159 141 9 5 1

The model is now an hybrid, using local polls for 9 regions (Piemonte, Lombardia, Veneto, Liguria, Lazio, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicilia) and national polls for the others. In spite of having considered only recent polls, spanning the same period, the data are not uniform, in the sense that the 9 regions follow the general trend only approximately. In other words, the uniform national swing is not completely respected. In any case, I guess this is the best I can produce with the present data.

I invite you to have a look for a comparison at, a site that uses a very similar procedure, based on regional polls whenever available. Other predictions can be found (apart from noiseFromAmeriKa) also at The Right Nation, a right-wing Italian site and on the blog of Chris Hanretty, an English political scientists.

I repeat again the warning, the Senate electoral system is highly unpredictable, and several region are apparently an extremely close call. In some cases a couple of thousands votes can swing a few seats.

Just for fun, I put below another curiosity. It’s the plot of the correlation, for the model based on nation wide polls, between the PdL-PD vote gap and the projected number of seats in the Senate.


The nice thing is that there is no real correlation below 10%. Therefore, the distance between the two main competitors, in general taken as the main indicator to predict the outcome of the election, is irrelevant for the Senate race.

I’m sorry I never got proper training in chaos theory.


UPDATE March 31

In order to facilitate comparisons, I publish below a table with the Senate forecasts for PdL, split by Regions, made by the above mentioned sites during the last days. Please let me know if you spot any discrepancy/error in the Table.


Note1: I don’t have informations about Hanretty’s predictions split by regions – he predicts a total of 164 seats for PdL, though. I have taken the information directly from the corresponding sites for Right Nation (R. Nat.) and Politiche08 (Pol 08). For noiseFromAmeriKa (nfA) I derived the numbers myself using their published spreadsheet.

Note2: R. Nat. and nFA both use the polls superaverage published by R. NAt., while Pol ’08 uses 2006 results integrated by all regional polls available. I have used an average of all nation wide polls made in March (Grav 1), integrated then by recent regional polls for 9 regions (Grav2).

Note3: R. Nat. attributes one likely seat for Sen. Pallaro from South-America to PdL, on the ground that in the past he declared he would vote for the majority. In the table I took it out from PdL to ease comparison with other sites.