Current talk of town is that Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party is so popular that we are heading towards a one-party system. Some are speculating that Labour is heading towards two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would practically guarantee a quasi-monopoly on political power, including constitutional reform.
This conspiracy concludes that Muscat wants a presidential system which thus make him supreme leader after he quits as Prime Minister.
What does evidence tell us? Public social scientific surveys carried out after the 2017 general election show that Labour initially further increased its share of the vote but this difference has narrowed slightly. And as any social scientist worth his mettle would know, the interpretation of surveys also includes the interpretation of gaps, voids and abstentions.
The latest survey in this regard was published by GWU paper It-Torċa on February 25. Its take-home points include that Joseph Muscat is ahead of Adrian Delia by 24 percentage points and that the former enjoys trust by all Labour voters while the latter enjoys trust by 72.5 per cent of Nationalist voters. Thus, Muscat enjoys trust of 47 per cent of respondents while Delia enjoys 23 per cent. A similar survey carried out by Malta Today a few weeks earlier showed that Muscat enjoys 41 per cent trust compared with Delia’s 15 per cent. In this case, Muscat had experienced a drop of nine points while Delia experienced an increase of eight points.
It-Torċa’s survey also found that 47 per cent of respondents would vote Labour while 29 per cent would vote Nationalist. Four per cent were undecided, 12 per cent refused to reply, 6.5 per cent said they would not be voting and 1.5 per cent said they would vote for other parties.
It-Torċa’s pollster Vincent Marmarà, a statistician with an excellent reputation, used a particular scientific research method to interpret the choices of undecideds and non-responders – this is the same method he used for his famous survey before the 2017 general election.
Last Sunday Marmarà’s method concluded that were an election to be held today, 58 per cent would vote Labour, 40 per cent would vote Nationalist and 1.6 per cent would vote for other parties. Comparatively, the last Malta Today survey concluded that 42 per cent would vote Labour, 29 per cent Nationalist and one per cent Alternattiva Demokratika.
The Malta Today survey also showed a non-vote response of 10 per cent and an undecided percentage of 17. These surveys clearly show that a comfortable majority of the population prefers Joseph Muscat and his style of governance to Adrian Delia’s alternative, and they seem to favour economic growth to other policy concerns such as good governance, security, transport, environment and sustainability of the current economic model. Here there is little difference to what the electorate preferred in the 2017 general election, when the Nationalist Party was headed by Simon Busuttil through its Forza Nazzjonali coalition.
However, there is a difference within the Nationalist Party today. Its current leader enjoys a democratic mandate – the most democratic one to date in view of party members’ right to vote – but paradoxically the same leader is experiencing a trust-deficit among some PN activists and voters. To me it is clear that this phenomenon is working to Labour’s advantage and is a major challenge for different sides within the PN camp. This is even clearer when all recent general elections and scientific surveys clearly show that third parties contesting on their own steam remain practically inexistent in Malta’s political map.
Upcoming surveys will confirm or otherwise whether Delia’s small inroads since officially becoming PN leader represent an upward trend and whether this will be sustained. One also has to look into the possible leadership contest within Labour.
The non-voting and non-declared respondents within such surveys could be giving different messages. They might not be trusting the pollsters or they may simply not be bothered to reply. They might also wish to send a message to their respective parties or feel unrepresented by all. Amid such mixed messages, Marmarà’s method provides a reliable interpretation.