The Malta Independent 13 July 2024, Saturday
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TMIS Editorial - Political survey: What the numbers say

Sunday, 24 September 2023, 10:00 Last update: about 11 months ago

The results of the political survey that are being published by The Malta Independent on Sunday today provide so much food for thought.

The survey was carried out in the first days of September, midway through which the benefits fraud scandal broke, a story that could have had its effect on the way people responded to the list of questions.

The survey was carried out as part of an agreement signed by Standard Publications Limited and IDEA Intelligence, which administers maltasurvey.com. With a sample size of 1,600 respondents, and a margin of error of just 2.5%, the results of the survey give an idea of what the Maltese would do if a general election is to be held today. More results as to what people think about ministers and their main concerns at present will be published on Monday and Tuesday.

As things stand today, three and a half years before the next general election is due, the results of the survey indicate that the Nationalist Party has a slim advantage but, at the same time, Prime Minister Robert Abela is trusted more than Opposition Leader Bernard Grech. This could be explained by taking a look at history, which has always seen Labour supporters remaining more loyal to their leader, irrespective of who he was and the circumstances of the time, than Nationalist voters.

One significant point is that the survey shows that the Labour Party is finding it harder to retain its voter base than the PN. It’s likely that the three major issues we had this year – the court annulment of the deal which saw three hospitals being passed on to the private sector, the Prime Minister’s U-turn on the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry, and the latest benefits fraud scandal have dented Labour’s popularity.

Another major outcome from the survey is that the percentage of people who said they will not vote in the next election is similar to the percentage of non-voters in the 2022 election, which was the highest ever since Independence. There are another 4.4% of people who are still unsure of what they will do.

Another notable point is that more than half the respondents are not happy with the performance of both the government and the opposition. This is yet another indication of the people’s mistrust and distrust of politicians and political parties. It also shows that the people are disappointed with the current crop of politicians.

Bearing in mind that the distance between the two parties, a mere 0.4%, is well within the survey’s margin of error of 2.5%, this is a strong indication that the situation is volatile and not easily decipherable. To put matters into perspective, if this is translated into votes, what we will have is a 1,500-vote victory for the PN, a similar result to the one that really happened in 2008.

So much can change between now and the election. We’ve seen it happening so many times that people’s collective mood shifts from one week to another. This happens mostly among the so-called floating voters, those who consider themselves as belonging to neither of the two main political parties, but who change allegiance depending on the time and circumstances.

It must be said that the party in government, in this case the PL, has the advantage of occupying Castille, giving it the power of incumbency that it can use to influence voters. We are seeing it evolving right before our eyes – the benefits fraud scandal that has emerged in the last month indicates that people were being given disability funds they were not entitled to, in exchange of a vote for the Labour Party. As more and more details emerge in court, we are still far away from knowing the full extent of the scandal.

We will have an official picture of what the people are thinking when the next round of European Parliament elections takes place in June, along with the local council polls. Yet, even here, the results could be misleading. Thirty years of local council elections and 20 years of EP elections have taught us that these are not given the same importance as general elections by the voting public, and do not necessarily express the same result as a general election.

For one thing, the turn-out at these elections has always been substantially lower than that for general elections. As an example, we mention the last such elections in 2019, when the turn-out for the EP election was 72% and that for local councils even lower at 62%. Still, such polls midway through a legislature do serve as a base for all parties to build their strategies for the general election.

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