No shortcut for PN in polls, but Labour has reasons to worry

The bottom line is that, while Labour is slowly losing ground, the PN is not making any territorial advances. The worse thing the PN can do, in this situation, is to wait for the next big scandal in the hope that it wins by default

MaltaToday’s survey last Sunday - partly carried out during a tumultuous week, dominated by more revelations on the hospital concession - came a surprise to people who expected Labour to be severly punished, for the role of its former leader in the scandal.

Such a superficial analysis, however, presupposes that voters immediately react to the political events dominating the news cycle, during any given week: ignoring the fact that political perceptions tend to be built up over a longer period of time.

Moreover, the expectation of ‘drastic change’ assumes that concerns on corruption and governance will always trump all other considerations: such as the economy, and bread-and-butter issues.

In fact, our latest survey registered only small changes, since a survey held in March which had already showed Labour shedding its super-majority.

But this change did come out of the blue. It represented a continuation of a decline in Labour support which was already evident in the 2022 election. In fact, Labour only managed to increase the electoral deficit, thanks to a lower turnout among former PN voters.

Moreover, once again the survey does not reveal any significant movement of voters from the PL to the PN, or vice versa.  Labour’s gains come mostly as a result of a greater retention of 2022 voters, who were previously ‘undecided’.

The latest survey shows that the PN has remained at the same levels as in March; while Labour has gained 2 points, with the gap between the parties increasing from 2.4 points to 4 points. Moreover, the trust gap between Abela and Grech has increased from 8.1 to 11.6 points.

These movements fall within the margin of error of both surveys: suggesting that, overall, the situation has remained largely stable.

This raises a number of questions.  One major question is why disenchanted Labour voters would rather not vote at all, than trust the PN.  In this sense, the PN has still not managed to find an effective way of appealing to disenchanted Labour voters.

Another question is why third parties are not tapping into this large reserve of non-voters.  The reality is that ‘not voting’ is becoming a more attractive prospect for disenchanted voters, than opting for ADPD and other smaller parties.

Another trend established in subsequent MT surveys is that under 50-year-olds are still shunning the PN and its leader.  In fact, in this age bracket only about a fifth would vote PN. And among under 35-year-olds, the ‘abstention party’ (31%) beats both Labour (21%) and the PN (19%).

But the really bad news for the PN is that while 26.2% of the 16-to-35 age-group trust Abela, only 19% trust Grech: while a majority (52%) trust neither.

Conversely, the survey shows Grech enjoying the same level of trust as Abela among over 65-year-olds; with the PN ahead, in this category.

This raises the question: why has the PN become so irrelevant for younger and middle-aged voters?  And while one should not generalise on the values and aspirations of these voters, the persistent trend suggests that the PN’s conservatism on many issues is out of synch with these age-groups.

Another significant trend, confirmed by the latest survey, is that while Robert Abela is more popular than his party, the opposite is true for Bernard Grech. While 29% would vote PN, only 26% trust the party leader.  On the other hand, while 37% trust Abela, only 33% will vote Labour.

This poses a major stumbling block for a PN recovery, simply because Labour has more room for future growth among respondents who trust Abela more than Grech.  Moreover, past surveys clearly indicate that elections are always won by the party led by the most trusted leader.

What is certain is that the PN cannot expect a sharp reversal of fortunes without developing a clear strategy on how to appeal to young voters, and to former Labour voters who are now intent on abstaining. It also has to find a way of somehow endearing its leader to the electorate.

To do this, the PN has to project itself as a credible agent of change, by coming up with proposals which can create a basis for a new majority.  This is no easy task, as the PN will have to find a way of retaining its traditional voters, while appealing to floaters and former PL voters alike.

It also has to guarantee the economic stability yearned for by more middle-of-the-road voters, and the pressing demand for real change on issues like land-use, affordable housing, low wages, and good governance.   

The bottom line is that, while Labour is slowly losing ground, the PN is not making any territorial advances. The worse thing the PN can do, in this situation, is to wait for the next big scandal in the hope that it wins by default

Labour, on the other hand, cannot afford to rest on its laurels, and must stop taking its voters for granted.  If the survey confirms anything, it is that the Labour Party has so far failed to lure back those Labour voters who have had enough; and are now intent on not voting at all.