[ANALYSIS] Why opposition to Muscat is greater among graduates

A post-crisis survey carried out by MaltaToday has exposed the sharp divide between the tertiary educated and the rest of the population

Why opposition to Muscat is greater among graduates
Why opposition to Muscat is greater among graduates

People were surprise at last Sunday’s survey, which showed Labour retaining its support and four in 10 agreeing with Joseph Muscat’s decision to leave in January.

The surprise was probably greater in professional and academic circles, where Muscat’s popularity is now at its lowest ebb.

Expectations of a quick melt down in support for Labour may well be rooted in sentiments prevailing amongst a particular cohort of educated middle class voters, which is often reinforced by the echo chamber effect.

Support for Muscat, despite the damning information linking his closest aides to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, is also a reflection of the sentiments reinforced by the party media and Labour Facebook groups such as Laburisti sal-mewt.

A breakdown of the survey results by educational level attained, gives a reason why different social groups are reacting differently to the crisis.    

University educated respondents are nearly twice as likely as other respondents to think that Joseph Muscat should resign immediately and not wait until 12 January when a new Labour leader is set to be elected.

The survey shows that among respondents who disagree with Muscat’s decision to step down on 12 January, 27.3% replied that he should resign now.

But among the tertiary educated the percentage rises to 48.1%.

If one where to take in to account all respondents including those who agreed with Muscat’s decision to step down on 12 January, one finds that 30% of all tertiary educated respondents want him to step down immediately compared to only 15.6% nationally.

In a clear indication that the university educated are more likely to consider Muscat’s position untenable, only 7% of the tertiary educated think that he should carry on with the mandate despite the dark cloud of suspicion hanging over him. This contrasts with 15% of all respondents, who believe Muscat should continue with his mandate.

These figures are only indicative and have to be taken with caution since respondents who agreed with Muscat stepping down on 12 January were not asked specifically whether Muscat should resign immediately.

It is possible that some agreed with him stepping down in January but would have preferred him to do so immediately.

In fact, a large chunk of PN voters replied that they agree with Muscat’s decision. Moreover, nearly half of those who disagree with him resigning in a month’s time, replied ‘don’t know’ when asked why, thus making their reply somewhat hard to interpret.  

PN makes limited gains among university educated

But the survey also exposes a sharp divide between those with a university education and the rest of the population with regards to voting intentions. 

The poll shows that while Labour lost a single percentage point compared to last month, Labour losses increase to nearly three points among the university educated.

On the other hand, while the PN has not made any gains among all the other educational groups, among the university educated its support has increased by 13 points. The increase comes on the back of a sharp decline in tertiary educated respondents who intend not to vote if an election is held now.

Support for Labour has increased by six points among those with a primary level of education.

Surprisingly, even among those with a post-secondary level of education, support for Labour has risen slightly.  

This may reflect the yearning for stability among voters who may have benefitted from economic growth or social policy measures under the current administration.

It may also reflect the allure of Labour’s neoliberal mantra which promises to turn us all in to ‘little rich men’.

Why is Labour losing support among the university educated?

While this educational divide may be attributed to traditional political and class alignments, it could also have to do with access to information and the way information on political events is digested and shared.  

One reason for divergent views amongst different educational groups may be that while the tertiary educated are more likely to read information published in the independent media, those with a lower level of education may be more reliant on news from the more partisan media, including party TV stations.  

The fact that One News downplayed the role of Schembri in the murder case to the extent that he was reported to be talking to the police rather than interrogated (mitkellem mal-pulizija) may be a big factor in the way its audience assessed recent events.  

The fact that Labour made gains among those who lack a secondary education, suggests that tribal loyalties are greater among the least educated.

The pattern is also observed in other countries, where less educated voters gravitate towards populist right-wing parties led by strong men politicians.   

But in contrast to Malta, in most other EU countries university educated people tend to gravitate towards the centre-left including progressive outfits like the greens.

In this, Labour was crippled both by the latent conservatism of the Maltese middle class but also by its thuggish behaviour while in office in the 1980s.

Since Muscat took over, Labour did make inroads among more educated voters while retaining a hold on other categories of voters. But the latest events may have reversed the trend.

This may be dangerous for Labour because the sentiment may filter across to other socio and economic groups, including Labour-inclined middle class voters who could start expressing misgivings.

Muscat knew this too well when he actively sought the consent of agenda setters with a liberal agenda before the 2013 election. Yet his ultimate legacy may well be the undoing of this major breakthrough.

The divergent views expressed by tertiary educated respondents in contrast with the rest of the population exposes the limits in the influence of both the media and civil society organisations, which may be greater among the university educated cohort but more negligible among those with a lower level of education.

The referendum on Spring hunting which saw all the independent media and civil society unite against the hunting lobby had already exposed these limits.

What happened to the erudite Labourites?

But the survey suggests that university educated Labour voters have been impacted by the latest events, with party support among this cohort dropping by nearly three points in the space of a month.

Although the drop is not dramatic and may reflect the margin of error of the surveys, it contrasts with Labour’s hold in other educational groups.

Moreover, the PL has now been overtaken by the PN in this category. This suggests that despite their misgivings on Adrian Delia, a segment of university educated PN voters have returned to the fold.

This has not been the case in all other educational groups, where the PN actually loses support.

While last month Labour had a nine-point advantage among the university educated, the PN now leads by seven points.

The decline in support for Labour among the tertiary educated is even more striking when the latest voting intention results are compared to a survey carried out by MaltaToday before the MEP elections in May.

Back then Labour enjoyed the support of 43% of the university educated. The support has now dropped to 28%, a sharp decline of 18 points since May.

But Labour has retained its advantage in all other educational categories.

This may be an indication that Labour’s fall is being cushioned by the lack of political alternatives.

When asked who they will vote for, people do not simply vote against a party but also for who they want to govern the country.

The current state of the PN, torn by divisions and crippled by a weak talent pool, does not make it a viable choice for many. And even among the tertiary educated nearly 40% are undecided or won’t even vote.

The weakness of third parties to tap in the strong desire for change in civil society is also a factor.

So is the absence of a strong political alternative to Labour from the left, which is able to communicate with the masses through a populist message such as Podemos did in Spain.

For one may ask; what promise of change in living conditions is being offered to those suffering in isolation in times of plenty?

In the absence of credible oppositions, it is not surprising that Labour retains, even in these unprecedented and desperate times, its support.