It’s no secret that some geographic areas tend to lean one way in elections as opposed to the other. The United States has traditional “red states” and “blue states” dichotomy. In the UK, the Labour Party tends to monopolise industrial and urban towns like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, while the Conservative Party tends to do well in rural counties and affluent parts of London.
And while everyone here knows the old cliché of “the South votes Labour, the North PN”, that’s not nearly as detailed an answer as one can provide. Looking at data gleamed over 10 elections over a 41 period spanning from 1976 to 2017, this is an attempt at measuring the lean of each district.
Malta’s Electoral Districts
Malta has 13 electoral districts, with the aim for officials being to change the boundaries slightly every 10 years or so to keep them equal in size. As of 2017, each district has a population of around 27,000 eligible voters. The electoral commission website provides a breakdown by the town or city as of 2017.
How is this going to work?
The ‘lean’ of a district was measured through the margin the winning party scored over the losing one, in percent of all votes. If in a particular election in district 1 PN got 45% of the vote, while PL got 50% of the vote, that calculated margin would be PL +5 (50-45). While this approach ignores small parties like AD, and independent candidates, it’s relative simplicity makes a district’s lean easy to understand and visualise.
Mapping this onto a line graph, the area is split into two halves: a blue PN half when the margin is +PN and a red PL half when the margin is PL. Years span horizontally, starting with 1976 on the left and ending with 2017 on the right. In every line graph, the national result of Malta as a whole is given for that same election year as a comparison.
Just to get you eased into the format, let’s start with a district that tends to mirror the national result.
District 1: Malta in Microcosm
Made up of Valletta, Floriana, Hamrun, Marsa, Pieta and Santa Venera, District 1 tends to mirror the national election split, with it only leaning a maximum of 15% points in it’s history. It has been won by Labour 6 times and by PN 4 times, making it one of the more shift prone districts.
Other “Battleground” Districts
Besides District 1, districts 6, 7 and 13 also display relatively slim margins or have shown a tendency to switch recently.
Districts 6 and 7 were won by single digit margins, until 2013, when Joseph Muscat’s Labour carried both these districts in double digit margins. And while PN’s margin in Gozo waxed and waned between 15% to 10% for 30 years, Labour nearly tied it in 2013, before making sufficient gains to win it for the first time in decades.
Heavily Leaning Districts
The other 9 districts are heavily leaning, having consistently voted for one party over the other over these 41 years, and usually with double digit margins.
PN can depend on districts 9 and 11 for a solid lead, although districts 8 and 12, which traditionally also leaned heavily towards PN have started to split more evenly over the last two elections. PN’s greatest showing remains in district 10, being able to routinely carry it with a +30% margin, which dipped to 20% in 2013, before ticking up slightly in the last election.
Labour’s equivalent to PN’s district 10 is its district 2: it likewise wins it overwhelmingly, with the worst performance being in 1998 where Labour’s margin dipped to a ‘poor’ 29%. Interestingly, Labour have only further consolidated their grip in districts 3, 4 and 5, with their margins getting progressively better and better.
What becomes apparent graphically is how over the last 10 years, Labour has managed to erode PN’s lead in even the strongest traditional PN districts, all the while strengthening their margins in their own traditional heartland and even managing to seize a few key battleground districts which used to split evenly.
PN also featured an evident uptick in districts 10, 9, 8 and 5 in the last election – however it’s worth noting that this is in the 2017 General Election result. How that lead has fragmented under Adrian Delia is not reflected here, and is probably markedly different.
Here’s the average lean of a district over the last 10 elections:
Another way to visualise all of the above
Here’s a table giving the margin for every district per year. The colour of the cell shows whether that district in that particular year leaned PN or PL, and the shading details the size of that margin.
Spoiler: It’s almost a non-issue in Malta
Malta’s proportional representation system tries (and succeeds) to balance the number of parliamentary seats so they roughly have the same split as the national vote. So contrary to the United States or the UK, leaning districts don’t actually effect the representativeness of the Maltese Parliament in any meaningful way. Rather, they are more a tool to study the breakdown of votes across geographical location, with all the factors and implications that might entail for the parties.