A newspaper column I wrote three years ago, which remains relevant today

Published: June 6, 2017 at 10:26am


We need to hear from the demographers. Look at the newspapers and the television talk shows. It’s wall to wall retired politicians and not particularly bright journalists talking about what they think the election results mean.

I’m sorry, but who actually cares what they think and why does it matter? Voting patterns are a numbers game and not a matter of opinion or ‘observation’.

This is all about numbers. And unless you know who those people are and where they are coming from, all calculations are pointless and inadequate.

No political party can segment the market unless it has the demographics. There is no such thing as The People. There are only different social groups, and within those wider social groups there are many, highly or subtly differentiated other groups.

Muscat targeted the market so efficiently precisely because he had people to segment it for him. Labour’s last four years in Opposition were a terrific exercise in market segmentation. People and groups were targeted and instead of being insulted at the thought that they had been segmented and treated as targets, they were actually flattered.

The demographic factor has been completely ignored in the elections of the last few years, by journalists, so-called political observers and the Nationalist Party (at least from what I can see and without being privy to information). It is certainly not talked about on television or discussed in the newspapers though it is the most obvious basis for some really interesting analysis.

The number of registered electors is growing immensely, relative to population size, year on year. In which social groups is the biggest growth taking place?

The Labour Party and the Nationalist Party know how people in different socio-economic groups tend to vote, because they have polls to show them that. The PN has the vast majority of the vote in ABC1, for instance, and Labour in C2DE. In fact, the first sign that the PN is going to fare badly is when people in the upper socio-economic group begin speaking against it, which in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they influence others.

The newspapers, in this election, did not ask for a breakdown of the vote in terms of socio-economic groups, in the surveys they commissioned. In general elections, they tend to do so.
Electoral patterns and choices over the last few years cannot be effectively interpreted without factoring in information on growth and shrinkage in different socio-economic groups.

It even goes beyond that. New ways of harvesting survey data in Britain are going way beyond the standard ABC1 C2DE, which ignores factors like social and family background and obtains information only on current job or profession/your personal level of education.
This now needs to be done in Malta.

It has, in fact, been imperative for the last 15 years or so. Many of what I call the ‘Super One crowd’ and ‘Nouveau Labour’ are technically in socio-economic group A because of their university education and their jobs/business interests/careers and income. But they remain intrinsically C2DE in attitude and values. And that is what shapes choices.

The child of illiterate labourers, who has obtained a university education and done well in his career, does not have the same outlook, values and motivation as the scion of a family that has been literate and comfortably off for many generations, who has also obtained a university education and done well in his career. Yet for survey purposes, both slot into the exact same socio-economic group. This is horribly misleading, because the results are warped.

Because social mobility in Malta is so strong and has been really incredibly strong in a concentrated period of just 15 years or so, the work of demographers really needs to come into play when studying election results and voting patterns.

The birth rate among different sectors of the population has to be factored in, too. When I look at footage of Labour mass meetings, I see a predominant mass of very young people, mainly teenagers. When I look at footage of PN meetings, the predominant mass is middle-aged. And this was even in 2008, when the PN won the majority of the youth vote – the young people would have been eclipsed by the older ones had they not been shoved up to the front.

I don’t think that this is because Labour is more attractive to young people than the Nationalist Party is – though that was certainly a factor in last year’s general election – because those are not the sorts of young people I see at Labour meetings.

I rather suspect that the real reason is demographic rather than political: that there was exponential growth of that part of the population over the last generation or so, with no parallel growth, exponential or otherwise, in the socio-economic group/s that have for years provided the Nationalist Party with its core vote.

There’s another point: whereas in the past it was the uneducated, semi-literate voting working-class and under-class who emigrated in large numbers, now it is the more highly educated and trained people from the PN’s core vote who are leaving Malta to live and work elsewhere.