The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Where did Labour’s huge vote majority go?

Albert Galea Monday, 10 June 2024, 13:26 Last update: about 3 days ago

The dust is only just starting to settle and reality is only just beginning to kick in from what Malta witnessed over the weekend as the votes from the 2024 European Parliament election were cast and counted.

The Labour Party emerged victorious, but it was with their worst ever result in one of these elections and it was one which saw the margin between them and the Nationalist Party decimated to just 8,454 votes.

The PL won the last MEP election in 2019 by 42,656 votes and the last general election in 2022 by 39,474 votes.  Anything resembling that majority was, on Sunday, consigned to the history books.  Malta’s political scene in the run-up to the next general election has been changed.

Sunday’s result was one which left people on both sides stunned: every survey, even internal party ones, had gotten it wrong.

In and among the many inevitable questions, the burning one is quite simple: Where did the PL’s huge majority disappear to?

Did more Labourites simply not vote?

Voter abstention was what the Labour Party was fearing the most in the run-up to last Saturday’s vote, and it was PL leader Robert Abela’s rallying cry to those considering not voting to approach the party and tell them what needed solving.

The initial statistic that the turnout, at 72.97%, was pretty much identical – even ever so slightly higher – than the turnout in the 2019 MEP elections, which was 72.7%, seemed to suggest that Abela’s appeal might well have worked.

But the districts turnout suggested a bit of a different picture.

Figures issued by the Electoral Commission after voting closed showed that the biggest drops in turnout was seen in Labour-leaning districts.

The sixth district - which is made up of Qormi, Siggiewi, Luqa, and part of Zebbug – went from having the highest turnout in 2019 to dropping by 6.55 percentage points this year. The eighth district – made up of Birkirkara, Balzan, Iklin and Lija – saw a decrease from 71.99% in 2019 to 65.8% this year; a decrease of 6.19 percentage points.

Perhaps it is indicative that out of those localities, Birkirkara saw the biggest decrease in its local council turnout.  The turnout in the locality decreased by a mammoth 12.12 percentage points when compared to the local council elections in 2019, which were also held in tandem with the EP elections.

The data shows clearly that the drop in turnout was more pronounced in the heavily Labour-leaning second, fourth, and fifth districts than in the heavily Nationalist-leaning tenth, eleventh, and twelfth districts.

This being said, this data is not fully comparable: Early voters were not taken into account in the district tallies for both the 2019 and 2024 elections, but there were 14,041 early voters this year – over double the 6,168 early voters in 2019.

Who they are, demographically speaking, remains a mystery as they are not sorted by district.  It may be possible that they hailed from more PN-leaning districts, which would bring the turnouts there up to or exceeding 2019 levels, and lend credence to the theory that some PL voters aggrieved with how they have been treated by their own party simply decided to stay at home.

Did Labour voters support third parties and independents?

The next working theory is that the aggrieved PL voters who did go to vote sent a message to their party by voting for a third party or an independent candidate.

Those not contesting under the red or blue colours pooled together 33,102 votes – equivalent to 12.71% and almost a whole quota’s worth of votes.  All were knocked out of the running sooner or later, and how their votes were redistributed can give us a window into the profile of who supported each candidate.

The statistics show that the PL did seem to lose voters to some non-party candidates, particularly to Imperium Europa’s Norman Lowell.  Lowell had 8,577 votes to his name when he was knocked out of the running, and 1,478 of those went to PL candidates compared to 877 which went to the PN and 1,365 which went to Arnold Cassola.

Independent candidate Conrad Borg Manche who used to be part of the PL and was the mayor of Gzira also seems to have pulled votes from the PL – but not as many, when compared to the PN, as one would have initially thought.

Out of the 7,641 votes he had to his name when he was knocked out, 1,039 went to the PL and 877 went to the PN.  Another 722 went to Imperium Europe, but the lion’s share of 3,290 went to Cassola.

The inheritance from ADPD leader Sandra Gauci’s 3,603 votes was near enough equal: the PL candidates got 425 votes off her, and PN candidates got 424 votes off her.

The most telling sign however comes from Arnold Cassola’s vote inheritance.  The third best individual candidate on first-count votes in the whole election, Cassola appears to have been far more favoured by a PN-leaning demographic than a PL-leaning one.

Out of the 22,941 votes that he had to his name when he was knocked out, 7,693 went to the remaining PN candidates and only 2,019 went to the remaining PL candidates.

Another indication is from how the second preferences of Alex Agius Saliba’s and Roberta Metsola’s votes were distributed: Cassola received 2,490 votes from Metsola’s 50,293 votes over the quota (4.95%), while he received just 121 votes from Agius Saliba’s 26,719 votes over the quota (0.45%).

So the conclusion that can be drawn is that on the most part, independent candidates actually attracted a more PN-leaning demographic than a more PL-leaning demographic.

More people went out and voted for the PN

The fact of the matter is that in comparison to European Parliament elections – particularly in comparison to 2019, more people did vote for the PN.

The theory that PL voters either migrated to third parties and independents or just didn’t vote would have been credible, but the numbers show that the PN attracted 10,740 votes more than it did in 2019 and 8,566 more votes than it did in 2014.

Both numerically and percentage-wise it was the PN’s best ever showing in a European election, and the figures explained earlier show that some independent candidates – particularly best performer Cassola – actually pulled more first count votes away from the PN than from the PL.

Party sources told The Malta Independent on Sunday that the PN had mounted a huge mobilisation effort in the run-up to the election, and the numbers show that it did appear to have worked to some degree.

What will be telling is how the PN fared at local council level, something which will become apparent by the end of the week.  With a more limited number of independent candidates contesting (although there are some present in some key localities), those elections could show whether the PN has a renewed sense of grassroots support in localities across the island or whether this result was just a flash in the pan.

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