The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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TMID Editorial: How could the surveys have been so wrong?

Wednesday, 19 June 2024, 09:20 Last update: about 28 days ago

It’s not one survey that got it all wrong. It was all of them.

In the weeks leading up to the European Parliament and local council elections, each and every survey was indicating another big victory for the Labour Party, one that was to be similar to the string of electoral wins that the PL has accumulated since 2009.

The PL was supposed to have won the EP election with a margin of between 24,000 and 30,000 votes, according to the surveys that were being published.

And yet, when the people voted, the results were far away from what the surveys had shown. Labour ended up winning by a good margin, but a far cry from the bashing it was supposed to have inflicted on the PN. As it happened, Labour’s lead was slashed from the 42,000 gap it registered in 2019 to just 8,400 votes.

With regard to the local councils, even here Labour’s advantage has been cut substantially, by more than half, from 47,000 in 2019 to 20,000.

It has been explained to us that the reason behind such a discrepancy between the survey results and the election outcome was that too many people who were responding to the surveys were not indicating their choices. “I don’t know” was a common answer, leaving the options open. The number of undecided voters, we were told, remained high in the week preceding the election, when usually the number drops to a few percentage points.

It is not the first time that surveys have gone the wrong way. In 2015, all surveys that had been published showed that a referendum on spring hunting would have resulted in the people voting to abolish the practice. But, in the end, the hunting lobby won the poll, and the spring hunting season still opens every year.

This time, although the surveys got it right as to which party was to obtain the highest number of votes, they got it all wrong as to by how much.

It could be that people, whether voluntarily or because they are afraid, do not show their real intentions to that voice at the other end of the telephone line asking delicate questions. The element of distrust seems to be growing between one election and another, and more and more people are no longer willing to impart their voting intentions to someone they do not know.

Over the past one or two decades, surveys have come to be part of our culture. They are a subject of discussion, sometimes created controversy, but at the end of the day they have to be taken for what they really are – nothing more than an indication of where the wind is blowing although, as we have seen recently, it turned out to be a breeze, and not a hurricane.

As politicians always say, the real survey is when people go to the polling booth to cast their vote. There, they are anonymous; they fill in their preferences in private, and put the vote in the ballot boxes without showing it to anyone.

It is there, and only there, that their real intentions are expressed.

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