MaltaToday Survey | Egrant: The PN gamble that went wrong

Simon Busuttil may have seen in Egrant the silver bullet to down his political nemesis but a MaltaToday survey shows that very few believed the company belonged to the Muscats

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announcing the conclusions of the Egrant inquiry last month
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announcing the conclusions of the Egrant inquiry last month

Simon Busuttil gambled what was possibly his last card to try and win the election when he made the Egrant allegation his own last year.

The social media barrage, the angry protests organised by the Nationalist Party and the media attention the Egrant story received at the time may have given the impression that many believed the ‘explosive’ story published by Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The atmosphere that was created possibly gave the former Opposition leader a false sense of security that Egrant was the ‘scandal’ that would sway the electorate.

But a MaltaToday survey held in the wake of the Egrant inquiry’s findings showed that only 17% of people at the time believed the allegation that the Panama company belonged to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle.

While 38.9% of people said they did not know what to believe, an indication that the story may have sowed some form of doubt, a whopping 44.1% did not believe Egrant was owned by the Muscats.

The numbers clearly point towards a gross miscalculation by Busuttil, who three days after Caruana Galizia’s blog linking Michelle Muscat to Egrant, was protesting in Valletta, calling on the President to remove the Prime Minister from office and promising protection to public officials if they came forward with incriminating information.

But despite Busuttil picking up the Egrant crusade, only a third (33%) of those who voted PN last year said they believed Egrant belonged to the Muscats, as opposed to 13.5% who did not. The absolute majority of those who voted PN (53.5%) were unsure what to believe.

The figures may have to be interpreted with caution, given that 15 months’ later people had the benefit of hindsight and an inquiry result that put paid to the allegations.

However, the survey found that while only 3% of Labour Party voters believed the Egrant story last year, a quarter (25.4%) were unsure. This indicates that the story did manage to sow doubt among PL sympathisers but evidently not strong enough to sway the election.

On a regional basis, the Egrant story’s strongest believers hailed from the traditionally PN-leaning Northern Harbour region where 21.8% said that during the election they believed the company belonged to the Muscats. Significantly, 42% of people in this region did not believe the story.

The region where the Egrant story found fewer believers was the South East, where only 8.8% said they believed the company belonged to Muscat and his wife.

The story had the strongest believers among those aged 51-65, with 20.3% saying they believed Egrant belonged to the Muscats. The highest level of support when respondents were analysed by educational background was among those with a post-secondary education (19.3%).

The survey suggests that the PN’s emphasis on Egrant meant the party was talking to a restricted audience, of mostly elderly people, concentrated mainly in traditional PN-leaning regions.

But another consideration borne out of the survey is the fact that for almost three quarters of the electorate the ‘explosive’ story was not an important factor when deciding how to vote.

Asked how important Egrant was in determining how they voted in the election last year, 73% said the issue had no bearing at all. Only 10% said Egrant had “a lot” of importance for them, while 17% said it had “little” importance on their voting decision.

This result was reflected across all age groups, all regions, and people of all educational backgrounds.

But more importantly for the PN, Egrant was not deemed to be an important voting issue for 60.9% of those who voted for the party last year.

Only 18.8% of those who voted PN said Egrant was an important factor. This can mean that there were other serious allegations at the time that were more important for PN voters but it can also indicate a disconnect between supporters and the Egrant narrative pushed by the party’s top brass.

And now, in the aftermath of Magistrate Aaron Bugeja’s findings, the survey showed that more people believe the Prime Minister had nothing to do with Egrant.

Asked whether after the inquiry they believed the Muscats had nothing to do with Egrant, 57% said Yes. The naysayers dropped to 17.6% but a substantial 25.4% said they were unsure.

Of those who were unsure what to believe when the Egrant allegation was made last year, 32.2% now believe the Muscats had nothing to do with the Panama company.

Of those who believed the Egrant story last year, 11.2% now believe otherwise, while a solid 66% of them remained adamant that the Muscats had something to do with Egrant.

When broken down by political allegiance, 26.8% of 2017 PN voters now believe the Muscats had nothing to do with Egrant, while 34.5% still believe the story.

A question of belief: Busuttil takes a battering

An election held under the shadow of the Egrant affair last year presented a stark choice of who was the most believable between Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil.

The election result was clear enough but a MaltaToday survey held after the Egrant inquiry findings were made public, showed that the fallout from the affair has hit Busuttil hard.

Asked whether they believe the former PN leader more or less than they used to a year ago, 53.5% said they now believe Busuttil less after the inquiry conclusions.

Only 3.2% believe him more, while 43.3% said their belief in Busuttil was unchanged from last year.

Significantly, 26.3% of those who voted PN in the last election believe Busuttil less than they used to a year ago, while 8.1% believe their former leader more. For 65.7% of PN voters, their belief in Busuttil remained unchanged.

Simon Busuttil suffered the largest trust deficit among those aged 65 and over
Simon Busuttil suffered the largest trust deficit among those aged 65 and over

Busuttil suffered the largest belief deficit among those aged 65 and over, with 62.4% saying they now believe him less.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Prime Minister was believed more by 31.7% of people after the Egrant inquiry conclusions.

An absolute majority (57%) said their belief in the Prime Minister was unchanged from last year and 11.3% said they believed him less today.

A breakdown of the results showed that the elderly believed Muscat more now after the inquiry findings (51%) than they did last year. There were also 6% of those who voted PN last year who believe the Prime Minister more.

The fallout from the inquiry findings also saw people lose their belief in slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who broke the Egrant story on her blog in April last year.

While 51.7% of people said their belief in Caruana Galizia was unchanged after the Egrant findings, 44.7% said they now believe her less. Only 3.6% said they believe her more.

There are 23.6% of PN voters, who today believe the late journalist less than they used to a year ago.