Eight reasons a two-thirds majority could be in reach for Labour

Although a two-thirds majority for Labour is only possible if the PN fails to recover former voters saying they will not vote, it is no longer a far-fetched prospect: and there are eight reasons why Labour could be dreaming big...

The latest MaltaToday survey shows the PN retaining only 55% of its 2017 votes while Labour retains 83%.

One main reason for the large gap between the two parties is that while 23.1% of PN voters are presently undecided or intent on not voting (PL – 7%). This suggests that if the PN recovers this category of presently non-committed PN voters, the gap could be substantially narrowed.

The PN has a greater reserve of relapsed voters to recover than the PL. While presently 31,345 PN voters in 2017 are undecided or intent on not voting, only 11,968 PL voters are in the same position.

READ MORE: MaltaToday Survey | How Egrant turned into the mother of all miscalculations

But the bad news for the PN is that it is also losing a fifth of its voters in 2017 (21.2%) to Labour. This is only partly compensated by 9.8% of PL voters in 2017 who would now vote PN.

When these shifts are taken into account, the PN could be losing 28,768 votes to the PL while the PL is losing 16,756 votes to the PN. While Labour does not lose anything to third parties, the PN loses a further 814 votes to AD.

The worse scenario for the PN is one in which undecided voters or those intending not to vote do not budge on election day. In this case Labour would be perilously close to the 66% mark. Since seat allocation is linked directly to the proportion of votes gained by the parties elected to parliament, the PL would be very close to a two-thirds parliamentary majority. Labour’s chances of winning such a majority would be even greater if it recovers some of its 2017 voters who are presently not committed to vote for it while the PN fails to do likewise.

But this scenario is unlikely, as one would assume that both parties are likely to win back a proportion of presently non-committed voters who claim to be undecided or intent on not voting.

READ MORE: Egrant: The PN gamble that went wrong

In fact the best scenario for the PN is one in which both parties recover all of their “non-committed” voters. In this case Labour would end up winning around 59% of the vote while the PN would end up with about 40% of the vote. Although the gap is staggering, such a scenario would not result in a two-thirds majority for Labour.

These calculations do not take first time voters into account. Yet as things stand, it remains very difficult for Labour to win a two-thirds majority which would give it the power to change the constitution without the opposition’s consent.

The Egrant debacle alone does not explain why Muscat’s Labour enjoys such an enormous advantage over the Opposition. Surveys since 2008 have shown a haemorrhage of former PN voters shifting their allegiance to Labour, a process that has never been arrested except for a brief time after Panamagate. The key to Labour’s electoral success was its ability to morph into the PN’s ideological territory and win sectors which previously supported the PN, without alienating its core vote.

1. Labour has moved deep into PN territory

Muscat’s Labour is uncannily similar to Eddie Fenech Adami’s Nationalist Party in its golden years between 1987 and 1992. Like the PN in its best of times it is perceived to be a ‘better manager’ of the economy, a creator of new wealth revenues and a pro-business party which retains a social conscience. The major difference is that the PL is also more socially liberal, thus enhancing its appeal among voters who were appalled by the PN’s conservatism on issues like LGBTI rights, liberalisation of drug laws and access to IVF. This makes it very difficult for the PN to reposition itself in the ideological spectrum. To distinguish itself from a party which is so similar to them the PN tried to project themselves as the “cleaner” alternative, but this was a hard-sell after 25 years in government.

2. Labour retains its core vote

Labour also manages to retain its core vote while widening its appeal to former Nationalists. Part of the reason is that coming after 25 years in Opposition, Labour naturally rallied around an electorally successful leader. There are historical indications that Labour’s vote is more solid. The PL remained close to the 50% mark even in its worst times after the 1987 election and after the EU membership referendum. Since 2013 Labour has kept this solid base while adding switchers from the other side to its formidable hegemonic block.

3. Muscat faces little trouble from the unions

The acceptance of neo-liberal mantras over the past decades has lowered the expectations of organised Labour to present Muscat with more radical social demands. In fact, with the exception of environmental issues, there is little opposition to Muscat’s economic model. While Labour’s socialist credentials have been repeatedly questioned, Labour has so far managed to avoid austerity measures which penalise the working class. Increased government revenue means that there is more money to spend on measures like free child care without the need to increase taxes on the well off. Apart from income from the controversial sale of citizenship, more tax money is being collected from foreigners working here. Lower income earners, including disenfranchised foreigners, still suffer from rising rents and from hikes in the prices of essential products like bread but so far this has not weakened Muscat’s hold on the majority of working-class voters.

4. Labour policies have benefitted strategic segments of the electorate

Muscat’s Labour has enacted policies which may create long-term social and environmental problems but which have increased income among strategic categories of voters. For example, changes in height policy favoured homeowners and businesses that wanted to add an extra floor. Owners of restaurants have been able to increase covers through more permissive policies on al fresco dining. Meanwhile though endless construction has grown into a major concern for the public, this does not necessarily result in a change of political allegiance. On the other hand people may be more likely to change political allegiance when they become richer thanks to changes in goal posts. Labour also stands to benefit from a power of incumbency, which makes it easier for it to curtail electoral losses or abstention on the eve of elections.

5. The PN is a divided house and divided parties do not inspire

While Labour appears united behind an undisputed leader, the PN is perceived to be in shambles. In this way the PL manages to project itself as a party of stability. At the present moment, the electorate is reluctant to entrust government in the hands of a party lacerated by conflicts, which makes it impossible for it to present itself as an alternative government. Egrant may have solidified the perception of a disunited PN. If division spirals out of control and PN MPs continue to shoot from the hip, the prospect of a two-thirds majority for Labour may become even less far-fetched. Any attempt to unseat Delia after next year’s MEP election may result in the further fissures in the party which may spiral out of control. Therefore, restoring unity in the Opposition may be the only way to stop Labour from making further gains.

6. The PN is not credible enough on issues, which concern the public

The PN’s record in government on environmental issues and corruption has neutralised its attempts to turn these issues into its new battle cries. Through Egrant, the PN has shot itself in the foot and has further weakened its stance on the corruption issue. While the conclusions of the Egrant inquiry does not exorcise Muscat’s shortcomings in Panamagate, it does weaken the PN’s credibility on the issue. Migration remains a major concern for the public but neither can the PN propose a silver bullet solution without sounding simplistic to a category of its own voters which is either allergic to xenophobia or which sees immigrants as a source of economic prosperity. And while Muscat’s strong-arm tactics against NGOs rescuing migrants further alienates left-wing critics, it enables him to offset disgruntlement among those who supported him in his push-back days.

7. Muscat still projects himself as a moderate

Like other strongman politicians Muscat remains a polarising figure but the reaction he solicits from critics generally ends up strengthening his position. The Egrant narrative which depicted his family as the root of all corruption evil has backfired. Moreover Muscat’s promise that he will not lead Labour in the next general election serves to dispel fears of him entrenching himself in power. Ironically it could be the prospect of Labour being elected with a two thirds majority – something which is atypical of a European democracy – which could raise the alarm bells among a segment of the electorate that may be wary of an all-powerful government. This may increase voters’ temptation to clip Muscat’s wings before it is too late.

8. There is no credible third party to tap on disgruntlement among Labour voters

In the absence of a credible third party, the PN remains the only opposition to Muscat. In this way voters who want change but consider Labour as a ‘lesser evil’ in the circumstances have little space for manoeuver. Despite the PN being in such a bad shape the MaltaToday poll surprisingly shows a tenth of PL voters switching to the PN. But these are still outnumbered by a fifth of PN voters switching to Labour. Only a fraction of PN voters and no PL voters are switching to third parties. This suggests that the duopoly remains firmly ingrained with voters expressing disgruntlement by shifting from one side to another. As long as it gains more voters from the PN than it loses, Labour remains safe from any electoral threat from the PN and may even aspire to a bigger prize.