Rewriting the political playbook

Voters worried about corruption, inequalities and environmental degradation are now more likely to protest by not voting rather than support a PN obsessed by culture wars with no bearing on daily life

The Nationalist Party may have thought that it had rediscovered a sense of purpose and unity in opposing the part-decriminalisation of abortion, but with MaltaToday’s first survey of 2023 proving otherwise, it looks like the alienation of key demographics, especially younger and more educated voters, has to become the party’s top concern.

The abortion issue comes in the shape of a timid reform which only allows terminations in very limited circumstances. It does not influence party choice. And while the issue can trigger culture wars from keyboard warriors – such as former Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo – larger segments of the electorate consider such issues secondary to economic issues.

And Labour is still being rewarded for navigating the ship in stormy international waters and mitigating the impact through cash injections and subsidies often directed at the most vulnerable.

Instead, the people being ignored are the ones feeling the pinch in terms of low income and housing affordability – but the PN hardly prioritises these issues.

Voters worried about corruption, inequalities and environmental degradation are now more likely to protest by not voting rather than support a PN obsessed by culture wars with no bearing on daily life.

People generally hate it when an issue is stuffed down their throat by a vocal lobby, which believes it has a monopoly on the truth. With the doom and gloom of preachers over what is a relatively minor reform that actually leaves the ban on abortion in most cases intact, the stage is set for such voices to appear by the side of religious conservaties and the loony right-wing. This is not where Bernard Grech should be seen, but he has not had the foresight or wherewithal to shape a different agenda.

Labour itself has managed to convince its own conservatives that abortion on demand is not presently on the table while its timid tinkering with draconian abortion laws still offers some hope to liberals. Liberal voters, including those who are very critical of Labour’s track record on governance, may well put a peg on their nose to keep the ultra conservatives at bay. While for most voters abortion does not determine their voting choices, among those for whom this issue is a priority the game is no longer as one sided as it used to be.

In this sense the PN’s abysmal results among under 50-year-old voters speak volumes. Currently, only 13% of 36-50-year-olds and 18% of 16-35-year-olds will be voting PN. Among both categories 38% will not vote while 26% will vote Labour. Even among the tertiary educated which also includes older and more conservative professional elites, 37% will not vote in contrast to 30% who will vote PN.

But even Labour has its own issues: the rapid growth in population in recent years as a result of thousands of foreign workers was the direct consequence of the government’s economic policy, but this same policy has become a concern for its own voters more than anyone else.

MaltaToday’s survey shows that ‘foreigners living in Malta’ is the third highest concern at 13.3% for those who voted for the PL in the last general election. It is also the third highest concern for those who did not vote. But surprisingly the issue fails to make it among the top five among Nationalist Party voters.

These figures put the PL in a quandary on how to allay fears among its voter base on an issue that has been pretty much at the heart of the economic success of the past 10 years. It appears the government has to do much more to placate any concerns – real or imagined – people may have over the sizeable presence of foreign residents and workers.

As the MaltaToday survey shows, criminality and by natural extension, justice, have emerged as the topmost cause for worry in the first concerns survey of 2023. 27.6% of all respondents made criminality their top cocern, a probable reflection of the public outcry and shock that followed three recent incidents – the murder of Pelin Kaya, who was car-rammed by a driver high on drugs; the unprovoked assault by teenagers on children in Valletta; and the acquittal of two men on trial for the murder of Sion Grech 18 years ago.

However, ‘foreigners living in Malta’ – often correlated to notions of either crime or social unrest – is a top five concern for all age groups except millennials, who are also the only ones to prioritise environmental destruction.

Millennials aged between 16 and 35 have lived their whole adult life in a Malta that is part of the EU, where work and study exchanges with foreigners have become commonplace. This could explain why ‘foreigners living in Malta’ is not a top five concern for millennials.

But this is also the cohort which is most concerned about environmental destruction with 11.2% indicating it as their principle worry. ‘Environmental destruction’ is the third highest concern for millennials. Again, here is an important indicator for parties looking to rewrite their political playbook by thinking ahead and imagining who their future voters will be.