The Malta Independent 21 April 2019, Sunday

Counting chickens

Noel Grima Sunday, 10 February 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

The repeated polls by MaltaToday, and probably by others, keep saying that the PL will thrash the PN in May’s European Parliament elections and the limited local council elections by a margin that may be even wider than the historic margin obtained in the 2017 General Election.

One can constantly see people acting as if they believe this, just as in 2017 when people sensed that Labour was about to win and switched to Labour in droves.

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There are more than enough reasons why these predictions are being made, even if one abstracts from the opinion polls. The economy is doing well, unemployment is at a historic low, and Malta is doing better, so everyone says, than its EU colleagues. People are flocking to Malta for work which they cannot find in their countries, and the living is easy. Regulation is light-fingered and there is an army of lawyers etc who iron out any possible problems.

In addition, the Opposition is at a historic low – fractured, ill led, at odds with itself, with a flawed and controversial leader, beset by so many personal and political troubles who yet enjoys the support of the party core but not that of the wider swathes of party supporters and certainly not that of a hard core internal opposition.

Everyone says and fears the May vote will be a wipeout and that the party will lose maybe two of the three MEP seats in Brussels and Strasbourg. And after this debacle, a bloodbath in the party is promised.

But will it be like this?

First of all, one must consider the strange case of party loyalties. For people do not always vote like they say will in opinion polls. There is a core of party loyalists which will always vote for the party whatever others or the polls say. True, that will never become a majority. A majority is formed by sliver after sliver being attracted and welded to the party core. That is how PN got to power and also how PL succeeded.

But when the chips are down and the party calls and the flags are out, many forget their inner doubts and follow their particular flag.

It is true that the election is won more by those who abstain or who vote strategically than by those who follow the leader but we would be talking here about a general election which the May election is not. In May it will be possible to vote in novel and unconventional ways, which is why many are predicting a surge in nationalistic, xenophobic, Eurosceptic parties across Europe.

Come May, therefore, the PN core vote will vote as the leader says but otherwise the ‘pale blue’ voters will be all over the place.

But will the PL voters do likewise? The received wisdom is that the PL vote is more solid. Take television watching, for instance. One TV viewers are more consistent, whereas PN viewers are not really Net viewers except maybe for the hard core. Extrapolating this to voting patterns, PN voters are easily distracted whereas PL voters are more loyal to the party.

But is this received wisdom still valid? From here onwards, it is sheer speculation on my part. But it may well be that in the overall relaxation of party politics (you wouldn’t have noticed it in the bubble of party politics in Malta) even PL voters may be distracted or attracted to different political formations such as the Patrijotti, thus weakening the PL vote.

There is a further reason. The PL hard core does not feel it is being well served by the PL government it elected. For all the customer care officials in every ministry, some or many are getting the short stick in their dealings with ministries. People have been heard voicing their anger at the service, or non-service they get from government departments, be it Income Tax, the hospitals, Social Security, and the like.

Some have come to the conclusion that this government is staffed by PN supporters who are undermining the government all the time. Maybe this is exaggerated but this is how the PL hard-core reasons.

So take the opinion polls with a pinch of salt. The end result may be a surprise for all.

 

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