How big is Bernard Grech’s ‘silent majority’? What the survey says

Bernard Grech brushed aside the poor result obtained by the PN in the last MaltaToday survey, telling supporters the game is not over yet

Bernard Grech brushed aside the poor result obtained by the PN in the last MaltaToday survey, telling supporters the game is not over yet.

Grech says the numbers show “80,000 people” who did not declare their voting preference, what he called “a silent majority”.

The October survey showed support for the PN plummeting by four points to 27.3% since September, leaving a 16-point gap between the major parties (Labour, 43.2%, down less than one point).

The PN leader’s reaction is understandable. With poll findings showing the PN regressing, Grech had to fan the flame of hope. But does his claim that there is a silent majority out there that can be convinced to turn the tables on Labour hold any water?

1. Eligible voters: 353,810

We kick off the exercise by determining how many voters will be eligible to vote if a general election is held now. The latest figure available is from the April 2021 electoral register: 353,810 voters aged 16 and over.

2. Survey translated into votes

Here we translate the MaltaToday October survey results into real votes by transferring the percentages onto the eligible voter population.

PL 43.2% 152,846
PN 27.3% 96,590
ADPD 1.6% 5,661
Unsure voters 12.4% 43,872
Non-voters 12.3% 43,519

3. The ‘silent majority’: 87,391

The survey finds 43,872 voters who are “uncertain” on who to vote for, and another 43,519 who claim they will not vote. These are uncommitted voters who have not indicated a voting preference.... the ‘silent majority’ Grech was referring to.

4. Profiling the ‘silent majority’

Let’s match unsure voters and non-voters with the answers they gave us in our other survey asking respondents to rate government’s performance in five policy areas from very bad to very good. For this exercise, we group the ‘bad’ answers (very bad + bad) and contrast them with the ‘good’ answers (very good + good) for each policy area.  

Economy Disposable Income Environment Fight against Corruption Immigration
Bad vs Good Bad vs Good Bad vs Good Bad vs Good Bad vs Good
PL voters 0.3% vs 86.7% 2.5% vs 65.6% 27.4%% vs 31% 32.1% vs 28.4% 15.9% vs 36.6%
PN voters 24.4% vs 21.5% 39.8% vs 15.6% 74% vs 5.1% 89.2% vs 0% 48.7% vs 7.1%
Unsure 13% vs 45.8% 21.4% vs 37.9% 60.3% vs 4.7% 54.6% vs 7.9% 18.8% vs 24.2%
Non-Voters 15.2% vs 28.1% 31.2% vs 20.6% 66.9% vs 10% 77.8% vs 5% 42.4% vs 9.1%

5. The non-voters

On all five policy areas, non-voters have a ‘bad vs good’ profile that is similar to PN voters although they are slightly less negative and marginally more positive in their rating of government.

This tallies with other findings in the survey that show how those who voted for the PN in the 2017 general election are three times more likely than Labour voters to say they will not vote if an election is held tomorrow. The survey showed that 15.2% of PN 2017 voters now say they will not vote and 4.6% of PL voters will do likewise. We work out the number of PN and PL non-voters and deduct these from the overall figure to establish how many new voters will not vote.

Total non-voters 43,519
4.6% of PL 2017 7,865
15.2% of PN 2017 20,626
New voters who will not vote 15,028

6. The unsure voters

Unsure voters have a profile that approaches that of Labour voters on the economy and disposable income – the two most important issues for voters. On the economy, unsure voters are half as likely as Labour voters to give government good marks, but more than double PN voters. The same pattern is observed on disposable income. Unsure voters have a similar profile to Labour voters on immigration, the least important issue. On the environment, the third most important issue for voters, the unsure are in synch with PN voters, while on corruption their profile approaches that of PN voters but with a markedly less negative outlook.

We work out the number of PN and PL unsure voters and deduct these from the overall figure to establish how many new voters will not vote.

Total unsure voters 43,872
10.9% of PL 2017 18,636
11.4% of PN 2017 15,469
New voters who are unsure 9,767

7. Bridging the gap

Based on our survey’s raw results the existing gap between the PL and PN stands at 56,256 votes. To bridge this gap Bernard Grech has to tap into a reservoir of 87,391 votes who are evenly split between non-voters and unsure voters. If it is assumed that 2017 voters who today will not vote or are unsure, go back to their fold, the gap reduces to 46,662 votes. This means there aren’t enough uncommitted new voters to tap into for Grech to be able to bridge this gap. If the PN manages to convince all uncommitted new voters it will still trail the PL by 21,867 votes.

The gap
Assuming that unsure voters and non-voters from 2017 will vote again for the same party
PL survey declared votes 152,846
PL 2017 non-voters 7,865
PL 2017 unsure voters 18,636
TOTAL PL excluding new voters: 179,347
PN survey declared votes 96,590
PN 2017 non-voters 20,626
PN 2017 unsure voters 15,469
TOTAL PN excluding new voters: 132,685
Gap PN needs to bridge 46,662
New voters who will not vote 15,028
New voters who are unsure 9,767
TOTAL uncommitted new voters 24,795
Assuming PN captures all uncommitted new voters
TOTAL PL vote: 179,347
TOTAL PN vote: 157,480
Gap: 21,867

8. Bernard’s impossible path to victory

To win the election, the PN has to first convince all those who voted for it in 2017 but are today unsure or will not vote (36,095 votes), to cast their number one vote in the blue box again. It then has to convince all the new voters who are unsure or will not vote (24,795) to vote for it. But it crucially also has to convince at least 11,000 voters who have decided to vote Labour or voted PL in 2017 but are unsure or will not vote, to switch. And even in this scenario, it will be a razor-thin victory. However, given the profile of unsure voters, it is unlikely they will all vote PN and probably much will depend on the trust they enjoy in the party leaders. At this level, Grech trails Robert Abela by a 23-point margin. The PN leader faces a gargantuan task with little time on his hands to convince voters. A PN defeat appears a forgone conclusion and in the best-case scenario it will lose by around 22,000 votes. The worst-case scenario could see the PN lose by around 46,000 votes.