Malta’s newest party: the non-voters

The end result suggests that there is a widespread, groundswell, popular movement, that seems to be waiting for nothing more than a serious, dynamic, and – above all – ‘new’ political alternative to emerge

As tends to be the case, the latest MaltaToday electoral survey has been met with conflicting interpretations. On the surface, the figures indicate that opposition leader Bernard Grech has succeeded in narrowing the electoral gap by an impressive 10,000 votes – but the same survey also suggests that - if an election were held today – Labour would win with a 54.3% majority: in other words, the same margin that separated the two sides, in the 2017 election.

Elsewhere, the messages that emerge seem to be similarly ‘mixed’. Prime Minister Robert Abela, for instance, has seen his own trust ratings decline for the second consecutive month. Nonetheless, both Abela himself, and (even more so) the Labour Party, still score considerably higher across virtually all demographic groups, than the Nationalist Party.

What also emerges from our survey, however, is that both Labour and PN are struggling to win over the single, most strategically crucial voter-segment in any election: those who declare, from today, that they have no intention of voting at all, one way or the other.

On paper, this segment remains roughly the same size – 9% - as it was in 2017. But there are indications that the same category may be on the increase. For one thing, the category of ‘undecideds’ – at 12% - is conspicuously higher than it normally is, so close to an election. Of itself, this already increases the probability that some of those 12% ‘undecideds’ will, in fact, end up joining the ‘non-voters’ on election day… and the likelihood seems to increase considerably, when you also factor in the demographics of this emerging group.

Significantly, in the past year of MT surveys, both non-voters and undecideds have consistently fallen into two specific brackets: namely, the tertiary educated and those aged between 16 and 35 years.   In fact, our survey suggests that more than a third of both these categories are either intent on not voting, or still undecided who to vote for.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence, that this percentage works out as almost exactly the same as thate of respondents who register a lack of trust in both Robert Abela’s Labour, and Bernard Grech’s PN (and even the smaller parties, such as ADPD).

What these figures seem to be telling us, then, is that there is a growing category of voter – in particular, among the young – which has ‘lost faith’: not so much in the individual parties themselves; but rather, in the political system as a whole.

And indeed, both major parties appear to be almost equally affected: an analysis by region, for instance, reveals that non-voting is highest in both the Labour leaning south harbour (12.5%), in the PN leaning north (13%).

Moreover, when comparing respondents’ present voting intentions, with how they had voted in past elections, it emerges that 60% of current non-voters, had all voted either PN or PL in 2017.

This means that both parties are haemorrhaging votes to the “non-voters party”; and while it difficult to pin-point any one cause, for what appears to be a widespread sense of disillusionment (even among previously committed political supporters of either party), the profile of this burgeoning category seems to also point in a certain direction.

One indication is the high rate of non-voters among the tertiary educated: a category which has historically tilted towards the PN because of the EU issue; and which also traditionally includes a high number of floating voters.

One particular category of interest is that of university educated Labour voters, who had voted Nationalist in 2003 because of the EU issue, then went back to Labour in 2009 or 2013, and still voted PL in in spite of their misgivings.

This is, ultimately, the likeliest segment in which to find disgruntled former Labour voters who are turned off by all the recent corruption scandals, and/or by the Labour Party’s increasing proximity to big business (and its apparent abdication of its socialist roots).

By the same token, however, it would be difficult for the Nationalist Party to attract such people to their own cause: given that most of those voters had been equally repelled by past PN governments… for much the same reason.

Likewise, the Nationalist Party has done little to endear itself to this category, in recent years. While conspicuously ignoring some of the major complaints emanating from similar brackets – in particular, where overdevelopment, hunting, and the environment are concerned – the PN has only reinforced its former image as a conservative force, than remains inimical to the more progressive aspirations of this sector.

Equally significantly, however, our survey also indicates that the smaller parties – not just ADPD, but also independent candidate Arnold Cassola – have similarly failed to attract the non-voters’ trust, to the degree to which they might be expected.

Without entering the merits of why these small political movements remain so unappealing, to the one category that is likeliest to support them… the end result suggests that there is a widespread, groundswell, popular movement, that seems to be waiting for nothing more than a serious, dynamic, and – above all – ‘new’ political alternative to emerge.

And this may have major ramifications, for the post-election scenario.