Abstention increases by 10-points among PN voters

As was the case in October non-voters still account for 31.5% of the electorate. But MaltaToday’s November survey shows a three-point decrease in the percentage of PL voters intent on not voting and a 10-point increase among PN voters

While the percentage of those who voted Labour in 2022 but are now saying they will not vote has dropped from 29% to 26%, the percentage of PN voters now intent on abstaining has jumped from 14% to 24% (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
While the percentage of those who voted Labour in 2022 but are now saying they will not vote has dropped from 29% to 26%, the percentage of PN voters now intent on abstaining has jumped from 14% to 24% (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

MaltaToday’s post-budget survey shows no change in the overall percentage of non-voters with turnout remaining at a historic low of 69.5%.

Abstention also remains higher among under 50-year-old voters and among those who have a post-secondary or tertiary level of education.

But while in October only 14% of PN voters were intent on not voting compared to a staggering 29% of PL voters, the latest survey shows a marked increase in the proportion of Nationalist voters now intent on not voting.

While the percentage of those who voted Labour in 2022 but are now saying they will not vote has dropped from 29% to 26%, the percentage of PN voters now intent on abstaining has jumped from 14% to 24%.

In this scenario the PL’s national four-point advantage over the PN can be attributed to two factors - the PN’s lower retention rate of 2022 voters and PL inroads among over 65-year-old voters among whom abstention is substantially lower than in other age brackets.

The survey shows that while in October the PN had retained 77% of its 2022 voters, it is now retaining only 67%.

In contrast, while in October the PL had only retained 57% of its 2022 voters, following the budget it is retaining 61%.

The increase in the proportion of Nationalist non-voters suggests the PN cannot take its 2022 voters for granted. The party still finds it difficult to keep all of them on board.

The PN’s problems are compounded by the low trust rating of its leader among PN voters.  The surveys shows that Grech is only trusted more than Abela by 46% of PN voters in 2022.

This is particularly problematic for a party which is not making significant inroads among Labour voters who prefer parking themselves in the non-voters’ camp. This means that the PN’s only path to victory in the short term, is to retain as much as possible its 2022 voters while hoping that Labour keeps on losing more voters to abstention.

This was exactly the case in October when the PN’s wafer thin advantage was mainly the result of Labour losing substantially more votes to abstention, and the PN retaining a much larger share of its voters. But the latest survey suggests that the PN’s electorate remains volatile and prone to desertions, especially in periods where Labour has wind in its sails, as was the case after the budget.   Such a high maintenance electorate may also require strong leadership which can keep together a disparate coalition of voters.

The problem for the PN now is that it is losing nearly as many votes to the non-voters camp as Labour while its gains among PL voters are being neutralised by corresponding losses to Labour.

Labour winning in age group with highest turnout

Another worrying trend for the PN is that Labour has made inroads among over 65-year-olds, where the abstention rate has not changed over the past month and remains stuck at a low 13%.

This means that Labour’s gains in this category are largely not attributable to a decrease in non-voters within its ranks.

Within this age group the PL has seen its support shoot up by seven points. As a result of these gains the party has widened the gap with the PN in this cohort from less than a point in October to 11 points now.

This means that in the only age group where voting turnout is close to normal levels, the PL is winning with a bigger margin. Boosted by a budget targeting pensioners, Labour has managed to consolidate its position among a cohort of voters who are more likely to go out and vote on election day.

Moreover, the level of support for Labour in this age group (48%) is still slightly lower than Abela’s trust rating (51.5%). This suggests that Labour still has some room to grow in this age group.

Labour has also recovered its lead among 51- to 65-year-olds, amidst a four-point drop by the PN and a two-point increase in the abstention rate.

The trend in both categories of over 50-year-old voters where abstention rates are lower is largely positive for Labour. But the survey suggests that Labour is facing a more difficult task in recovering support among under 50-year-olds.

The worrying signs for Labour

One worrying indication for Labour is that it has made no gains among 36- to 50-year-olds despite a significant nine-point increase in turnout in this cohort.

In this cohort the decrease in abstention has seen both parties increase their support and remain locked in a tie as they were last month.

Even on a regional level a three-point drop in abstention in the Labour leaning Southeastern region has not seen Labour increasing its seven-point lead.

Also worrying for Labour is the high rate of abstention among those who continued their studies after secondary level but did not attend university, a category which leaned towards Labour in most post 2008 surveys but where abstention is sinking Labour.

This category includes within it segments of the lower middle class which could be struggling with the cost of living, whose needs were partly addressed by the COLA increase and a higher children allowance.

But the survey suggests that this category was lukewarm on the budget, with only 21% saying that the budget had a positive impact on their lives. A substantial 40% of post-secondary educated voters replied that the budget left them in the same position as before while 25% could not express a verdict.

In this survey abstention in this category has increased from 37% in October to 42% now and has surpassed that among the university educated (36%).

Within this strategic category where Labour was last month leading by a percentage point, the PN is now leading by three points.    

The PN is also leading by nearly six points among 16-to-35-year-olds, a category in which a staggering 42% will not vote in a forthcoming election.

But the survey suggests that Labour can recover some ground in this age group where Robert Abela is five points more popular than his party and Grech is 12 points less popular than his own party.

Abela is also 10 points more popular than his party among the post-secondary educated and three points more popular than his party among 36- to 50-year-olds.

Labour’s path to regaining its super-majority largely depends on winning back support among under 50-year-olds and the post-secondary educated.   

The first step for Labour would be recovering those voters in these categories who trust Abela more than Grech.

On the other hand, the PN’s fortunes cannot depend on Labour losing votes to abstention, as it would remain vulnerable to any Labour recovery among its own voters but needs a sustained effort to persuade non-voters that the PN can offer a better alternative, a task made even more difficult by Grech’s low trust rating among both PN voters and current non-voters.