Gender and age disparity: has abortion overshadowed political polls?

Abela and Labour have lost support among men and the elderly but gain from women and the tertiary-educated, while both leaders gained from 16-35s: how far is this shift reflecting the ongoing abortion debate? asks James Debono

A candle held at a vigil by pro-life demonstrators against an amendment to the total Maltese abortion ban
A candle held at a vigil by pro-life demonstrators against an amendment to the total Maltese abortion ban

The latest MaltaToday survey suggests that gender is becoming a key factor in determining the political choices of the electorate, with Abela and Labour strengthening their hold among female voters while shedding support among male voters and the elderly.

Overall, among all respondents, the survey had shown Grech improving his trust rating by four points and Abela by one point. It also showed Labour losing three points as the PN gained four points. In this way Grech has narrowed Abela’s lead from 29 points in October to 26 points now, and the PN has narrowed Labour’s advantage from 20 points in October to 12 points now.

But in the latest survey’s trust barometer, Abela still leads Grech by a staggering 32 points among women but only by 20 points among males. In fact an absolute majority (53%) of women trust Abela. But trust in the Prime Minister drops to 43% among males.

A previous survey held in October had shown Abela leading by 31 points among males and by 26 points among females. A comparison between the two surveys shows Abela gaining 8 points among women while losing 5 points among males.

The latest survey also shows Labour leading the PN by 15 points among women but only by 10 points among males. Moreover, while the PL lost nearly 8 points among males over the previous month, support for the PL among women has increase by 2 points.

The shift of political opinions along gender lines coincided with growing controversy on a bill meant to give legal protection to women and doctors who have to terminate a pregnancy in cases where the mother’s health and life is in “grave jeopardy”. A survey held in July had shown support for the decriminalisation of abortion was slightly higher among females then among males. While 39% of women backed decriminalisation in all or some circumstances, only 34.2 % of males expressed the same view. But a previous survey in 2019 indicated that support for abortion in cases where the life of the mother is in danger was slightly higher among males (39%) than among females (36%).

Moreover, the drop in support for Abela and Labour among males may also be attributed to other issues, including ‘bread and butter’ issues like inflationary pressures, while it still has to be seen whether the difference in political views on gender lines is sustained in future surveys.

Major shift among over 65s and tertiary educated

What the survey clearly shows is a shift against Labour among respondents aged over 65, which is also the bracket most opposed to decriminalising abortion. Among this age bracket, compared to survey results last month, Grech gains five points while Abela loses ten points. In this demographic, Labour loses nine points, and the PN gains three points.

In contrast both political leaders registered gains among 16-35 bracket; but while Grech gained 10 points, Abela gained 11 points. This suggests a greater polarisation in the past month, with both parties making inroads among the youngest age bracket, with the PN increasing its abysmal support in this bracket from 7.3% to 16% now and Labour increasing support 29% to 32%.

This suggests that greater unity in the PN on the abortion issue may have increased its support across the board but Labour only registers major losses among those over 65.

Moreover, among tertiary-educated voters both Abela and Labour have emerged stronger in the latest survey. In this category Abela registered a 13-point improvement in his trust rating while Grech registers the same trust rating as last month. And while Labour has increased its support among the tertiary educated by 6 points, the PN has remained at the same level as last month.

Significantly in October the PN led Labour by 2 points among university graduates, the PL now leads the PN by 4 points. Furthermore 4% in the tertiary-educated would vote for the Green Party which supports the government’s amendment to the abortion law and wants it extended to other cases including rape and incest.

Support for the decriminalisation of abortion was also highest in this educational bracket in the July survey. While among the secondary-educated only 28% supported the decriminalisation of abortion in some or all circumstances, 55% of the university-educated expressed the same view.