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Here’s Why Labour Won By Another Landslide, Even Though It Seemed Every Switcher You Knew Voted PN

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“It felt like 1987,” they said. Or 2003. Never since then had so many young people filled the halls and offices of Dar Centrali. So what went wrong for the Nationalist Party? How did it get another drubbing at the election? And why did the party and its supporters get the sentiment so wrong when the Labour Party and its supporters seemed to see it coming so clearly?

This is what many Nationalist voters are asking themselves today after Labour won a snap election by an even bigger majority than four years ago, despite four years of constant accusations of corruption. To many, it is a surprise result comparable to that of Donald Trump or the Brexit movement. So what happened? There are three major reasons, and most people stunned by the result probably fell victim to a combination of them. 

1. The social media bubble 

The technical term is ‘echo chamber’ which was also mentioned in the aftermath of the Trump and Brexit elections that left so many people in shock. In a nutshell, if you only speak to people in your circles, you’re not getting a good picture of what the rest of the country is thinking. And your skewed reality is amplified on social media, especially if you’re the sort of person to unfriend a person with opposing political views. 

Facebook has created a situation where the things we see on our newsfeed are things we want to see: echoes of what we believe. That’s because when someone says something we like, we react to it positively. Facebook takes this information and sorts our newsfeed according to similar content. Similarly, if someone pisses us off and we hide their post, we’re going to see fewer posts like theirs.

The echo chamber made it difficult for Nationalist supporters to realise there were thousands of people whose lives were genuinely changed for the better by the Labour Party and who weren’t prepared to give that up because of corruption allegations.

How do you fix this next time round?

Make an effort to ensure diversity within your circle of friends and Facebook feeds. The more varied, the better. And when you’re looking to gauge public sentiment, don’t just speak to people in one demographic. 

2. The New 36,000

Probably the most interesting phenomenon of this election is what we’ve labelled The New 36,000, more for symbolism than mathematical accuracy. The point is that for every vote won by the PN in the past four years, another was lost. And the people who gave Labour a massive victory in 2017 are not necessarily the same ones who did so in 2013.

Surveys* show that between 8,000-10,000 people who voted for Joseph Muscat in 2013 voted against him four years later. While roughly the same number of people did the opposite: choosing Lawrence Gonzi back in 2013 but changing their minds and voting Muscat in 2017. 

We all know what led Labour switchers to rally behind Simon Busuttil: corruption, transparency, meritocracy etc. But what made someone vote Muscat after supporting Gonzi? One explanation is ‘it’s the economy stupid’. Back in 2013, when Europe was in crisis, economic conservatives voted for Gonzi’s stability despite Muscat’s glitzy and exciting campaign. They didn’t trust the inexperienced Muscat and they hated the hippies who supported him for ‘silly things’ like good governance and the environment. In 2017, the tables turned. Suddenly the economy was thriving and the hippies were rallying behind Busuttil who simply did not seem like a risk worth taking. Again, these economic conservatives voted for stability rather than change. 

How do you fix this next time round?

Instead of believing anecdotal evidence of people you know switched political allegiances, keep your eyes on the surveys. If they’re all saying the same thing, it’s not a fluke caused by the margin of error. In the past four years, including the campaign, there was never a significant singular shift to PN. When Joseph Muscat was elected Labour leader in 2008, the shift happened almost overnight and his first 30,000+ majority was first registered at the MEP elections of 2009. It’s been retained since then, though probably with different people coming and going. 

3. Shy Voters 

Shy voters might tell you they’re voting for one party but are actually planning to vote for somebody else entirely. This tends to happen when an election becomes particularly intense and full of conflict. The Nationalist Party’s anti-corruption platform may have created a sense of self-righteousness among supporters who became loudly outraged when anybody disagreed with them.

Again, social media probably amplified this, and so did the Daphne Caruana Galizia brand of communication. Aggressive exchanges online made people fear voicing their genuine concerns about Simon Busuttil or the Nationalist Party. Whoever dissented openly was immediately labelled corrupt, bought or ignorant. So in an act of self-preservation many voters either kept their opinions to themselves or lied about them to their friends to avoid having to defend their views. On the other hand, those who were unhappy with Labour felt the situation had degenerated so badly that they could voice their concerns openly without much consequence. This enabled Labour exponents to target them with outreach efforts and possibly convert some of them back to the fold. 

How do you fix this next time round?

Create an atmosphere of welcoming discussion wherever you go. If somebody says you disagree with them, don’t tell them they’re ignorant or corrupt. Try to understand their point of view instead. 

*The 8,000 – 10,000 swing on either side was confirmed by Vincent Marmara whose survey (published on Torċa) correctly predicted the result. The surveys of MaltaToday also showed similar swings both ways. 

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READ NEXT: 13 Reasons Why The Nationalist Party Lost Malta’s Election

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