The first thing people will be talking about early tomorrow morning in anticipation of the outcome of today’s election is the turnout.

However, though turnout will be the only concrete data coming out of Naxxar by the time people wake up eagerly awaiting the result, past experience shows this should not be considered as some sort of indication of the final outcome.

Though many will normally interpret the effect a high or low turnout is likely to leave on the result according to their own beliefs, past trends show that things can go either way, whether the actual number of voters is higher or lower compared to previous elections.

Though compared to other democracies, Malta has one of the highest voting turnouts and today’s election is not expected to be an exception, changes of administration happened when the number of voters was both greater and smaller compared to previous elections.

A look at historical data shows that while a higher turnout in 1987 – almost two per cent over 1981 – led to a change of government, with the Nationalists returning to Castille after 16-years in opposition, a higher turnout in 2003 was not conducive to a change in government.

For the three elections since 2003, turnout has been following a downward trend

On the other hand, a lower turnout in the 1998 election – almost one per cent down – led to a change in government, with the same thing happening in 2013, when there also was a lower turnout despite a change of administration.

For the three elections since 2003, turnout has been following a downward trend, reaching 92.9 per cent in 2013, the lowest since 1987.

While between 1987 and 2003 the turnout was consistent on the whole, fluctuating between 95 and 96 per cent, there has been a sudden drop over the past 15 years, with the number of people choosing to vote with their feet increasing by more than 2.5 per cent – about 9,000.

At the same time, not all those who make it to the polling booth vote correctly.

Though some of the invalid votes are genuine mistakes, the majority are intentional, normally to transmit a message to politicians.

Some people write messages on their vote to make sure party agents see them when ballot sheets are being sorted. Others may decide to invalidate their vote after being pestered to vote by the political parties.

Data from past elections also indicates that there is no relationship between the number of invalid votes and the final electoral result. Since 1996, the percentage of invalid votes has remained consistent – just slightly more than one per cent.

A total of 341,857 people are eligible to vote in today’s election. The number of uncollected votes is 8,372.

 

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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