MaltaToday | 16 March 2008 | MaltaToday Surveys: Chronicles of a defeat foretold

NEWS | Sunday, 16 March 2008

MaltaToday Surveys: Chronicles of a defeat foretold

Opinion polls were not just predicting the outcome of the election but served to shape the campaign in to a Presidential contest in which Lawrence Gonzi was a front runner from day one, JAMES DEBONO notes in his analysis.

MaltaToday’s surveys clearly showed that from the official kick-off of the electoral campaign non-committed voters started shifting for the Nationalist Party.

Survey Timeline

27 January - Sant makes full recovery in party’s general conference

Last pre-electoral survey conducted between Wednesday 30 January and Friday 1 February shows MLP ahead by 5.6% but 42.6% still non committed.
4 February - Lawrence Gonzi announces election and announces massive tax cuts.
MLP blasts good causes fund donation to private company

First electoral survey conducted between Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 February shows MLP’s advantage falling to 1.7% with number of non-committed voters falling to 35.3%.
13 February - Lawrence Gonzi excludes coalition with AD, promises to take MEPA in his hands.

Second electoral survey conducted between Monday 11 February and Wednesday 13 February shows AD support falling from 3% to 1.8% and MLP’s advantage falling to 1.5%.
PN intensifies campaign against reception class proposal.

Third electoral survey conducted between Monday 18 and Wednesday 20 February shows the PN leading for the first time with an advantage of 1.8%.
25 February - Labour leader exempts private schools from reception class proposal
MaltaToday survey conducted between Monday 25 and Wednesday 27 February shows PN leading MLP by 5.4%.
27 February - Labour reveals report stating that Cabinet agreed in principle with fees on healthcare.
27 February - AD reveals report on Polidano’s Safi supermarket forcing resignation of DCC board.
Alfred Sant reveals that MEPA has approved an outline permit for an open air disco on land owned by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.
1 March - Pullicino Orlando denies any knowledge of open air disco, claims that he does not even know applicants.
3 March - Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando presents himself as a journalist for an Alfred Sant press conference. Alfred Sant walks out.

Fourth electoral survey conducted between Friday 29 February and Tuesday 4 February shows PN leading by 1.7%
5 March - AD leader Harry Vassallo served with arrest warrant.
6 March Alfred Sant reveals contract signed by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Mistra developers on last day of campaign.
9 March - PN wins election with a relative majority of 1500 votes.

This showed that the MLP’s 6% advantage in the last pre-electoral survey can be attributed to the large number of potential PN voters who were non-committed before the election date was announced.
Pre-electoral surveys showing the MLP with a wide advantage could have been a blessing in disguise for the PN which was far less complacent than Labour in the first weeks of the campaign.
On the other hand Labour was over-confident right up to the very end even if polls showed the PN gaining ground on the swell of GonziPN.
A time-line of MaltaToday surveys reveals that AD’s pivotal 3% immediately dropped to 1.8% after Lawrence Gonzi rebuked the idea of a coalition.
It also shows that the PN’s campaign picked up in the first three weeks of the campaign when Lawrence Gonzi took the initiative by promising tax cuts and MEPA reform while his party and its acolytes embarked on a massive scaremongering campaign directed both at Labour and AD.
But the same surveys also showed that the PN was losing support in the final week of the campaign when its advantage fell from 5.4% to just 1.7%.
The final drop in PN voters preceded the final blow to the PN when Alfred Sant exposed a contract showing Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s involvement in the Mistra deal.
The survey consistently showed the PN losing more votes to the MLP and AD than vice versa. Yet the same surveys showed the PN winning the major chunk of new voters. The survey consistently showed a prevalence of former PN voters in the sample - a clear indication that a number of Labour voters were unwilling to participate in the survey.
When these factors were taken into account MaltaToday predicted that the election was too close to call.
The survey also correctly predicted a dismal performance by Azzjoni Nazzjonali whose vote during the electoral campaign wavered between 0.3% to 0.9%.
Surveys conducted by MaltaToday consistently showed that Lawrence Gonzi was more popular than Alfred Sant. This was the case during the past two years.
Sant only picked up in the last pre-electoral survey just after his recovery from a surgery. Yet Gonzi picked up support during the campaign with 48% preferring him to Sant in the final week and only 40% preferring the opposition leader.
This was a natural advantage for the PN which had effectively changed a parliamentary election in to a presidential contest.
This shows that opinion polls were in fact shaping the nature of the campaign and not just predicting the final result.
Interestingly throughout the campaign the MLP focused on the one issue where it was trouncing the PN; corruption. On this issue less than 25% trusted the PN.
But MaltaToday’s surveys showed the PN winning on all bread and butter issues except the cost of living. The PN was preferred to Labour on issues like job creation, education, health care and taxation.
The only small party to have an impact was AD on environmental issues where it was considered the best option by 18%. Yet AD failed to have an impact on bread and butter issues. This explains why AD scored less than 1% in those districts were the environment is low in people’s priorities.

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16 March 2008

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MaltaToday Surveys: Chronicles of a defeat foretold

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