Grech’s election props up PN support among university-educated

The university-educated are flocking towards the PN, but Labour retains a substantial lead not just among the secondary-educated but also the post-secondary demographic

University-educated respondents are once again flocking towards the PN, but Labour retains a substantial lead not just among the secondary-educated but also among respondents who continued their post-secondary education, such as in institutions like MCAST.

The latest MaltaToday survey shows that following the election of Bernard Grech as leader, the PN has seen its support among the university-educated increase from just 11.5% in July to 41.8% now.

Significantly, for the second consecutive time since Grech’s election, the PN enjoys a relative majority among university-educated respondents, with the gap between the two big parties increasing from 9.1 points in October to 12.5 points now. This represents a sharp change from April, when the PL held a 22-point advantage in this category.

University-educated respondents – along with voters in Gozo, the northern and western regions – remain the only demographic groups where the PN enjoys a relative majority, with Labour enjoying a lead in all other educational groups, regions and among respondents of all ages.

The poll gains of the PN among the university-educated corresponds to a massive decline in non-voters and undecided from 46.8% in March to just 27.1% now. This suggests that the party has now recovered the support of the anti-Delia faction, which was particularly strong among university-educated PN voters. Previous surveys during the PN leadership contest showed Delia having the least support among tertiary-educated PN voters.

Moreover, support for Labour has consistently slipped among the tertiary-educated from 41% in April to 29% now. This suggests that Labour is experiencing problems in addressing the concerns of more educated voters who are also more likely to have post material concerns on themes like the environment, quality of life and good governance.

This may explain why Labour is trying to reach out to this category by trying the convey the message that it is turning a new page on issues like the environment and good governance.

Yet the PN’s gains among the university-educated are not reflected in other educational groups, particularly among the post-secondary educated where the party has practically retained the same level of support that it had under Adrian Delia. The gap between the two parties among the post-secondary educated has increased from 15.6 points in October to 27.2 points now. The gap now is the same as it was in April. This indicates that under Bernard Grech the party has not reached out to these socially mobile voters.

It would then be a return to the prevailing situation under Simon Busuttil when the PN enjoyed a lead among tertiary-educated voters but lagged behind Labour among those with a primary, secondary and post-secondary education. The latter were pivotal in the construction of Labour’s new majority before 2013 shifting from a pro-PN majority before 2008.

Significantly the PN has now made more advances among secondary-educated than among the post-secondary educated. In fact while the gap among the post-secondary educated has remained stable, the gap among secondary has declined from 26.6 points in October to 17.4 points now.

The educational divide may reflect the wider class divide between Labour-leaning working-class voters who are more inclined towards vocational and technical education, and professionals who are more likely to be university-educated as well as having different concerns and ways of accessing and interpreting the media. This contrasts with voting patterns in most other European countries where social-democratic and progressive parties tend to prevail among university graduates, but have lost to the far-right among voters with a lower level of education. This may explain why Maltese Labour balances its social liberalism with a hawkish stance on migration.

The educational divide also suggests that the PN is finding it more difficult to communicate with working-class voters, including those who attended MCAST and other post-secondary institutions apart from university. All this in a context where issues like low wages or housing affordability hardly feature in everyday political discourse.