On 30 October 2022, Vincent Marmara uploaded a post on his Facebook page, commenting on a poll he conducted for the GWU newspaper it-Torca. “It is clear that the reduction in votes amongst PN voters is substantial. It is evident the PN is losing votes and that they are going to other parties,” he found.
Maramara’s poll results showed a number of trends but Marmara chose to comment on the PN’s woes. He could have highlighted the fact that in just seven months Labour lost 21.5% in support. That amounts to 34,982 Maltese citizens who voted Labour last March but wouldn’t do so if another election were held tomorrow.
His poll showed that the number of Labour voters who switched to PN is double the number of PN voters switching to Labour. But Marmara didn’t highlight that on his Facebook page.
But them again he has every reason to send out positive messages for Labour and utterly negative signals for the PN.
Marmara has been conducting polls for the GWU for a long time. Who is paying him is not clear. He persistently refuses to reveal who pays him. Despite being a full time university lecturer, Marmara benefitted from over €1.2 million from state coffers, mostly through direct orders, in just four years.
For the last seven years he’s been earning €5,000 a month from the Malta Gaming Authority. He was given his first direct order in October 2014 by the disgraced Joseph Cuschieri. In a clear breach of public procurement rules, that contract has continued to be extended.
By last March, Marmara had made over €370,000. Although his contract specifically states he should include the major tasks performed, his invoices simply state “research and consultancy services”.
When MGA CEO Carl Brincat was asked why Marmara’s behaviour was being tolerated and why his direct order had been repeatedly and illegally extended, he refused to reply.
In addition to earning around €5,000 a month for his part-time work at the MGA, Marmara had been awarded at least 28 other direct orders by various ministries and government entities between 2017 and 2021. These amounted to €366,000.
The direct orders came from the Ministry of Transport, the Lands Authority, the Housing Authority, the Ministry of European Affairs, Infrastructure Malta, Heritage Malta, the Planning Authority, MFSA, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Family Affairs, the Energy Ministry, the Malta Tourism Authority, Water Services Corporation and SportsMalta.
He was even given a direct order by the University of Malta worth €35,000 for conducting a National Safety and Security Survey despite being a full-time employee of the same university.
His company Powerful Knowledge, which was founded in 2017 with his business partner Frank Bezzina, Prorector for International Development and Acting President, was awarded a €453,600 contract for mystery shopping for the administration.
But Marmara’s company was paid an additional €152,000 over and above the value of the contract. Marmara’s bid was the lowest but once awarded it was boosted significantly. By the end of it, Marmara’s Power Knowledge was paid €605,000.
Marmara was also tasked by the Office of the President to carry out work in relation to the President’s conference on national unity.
In the run-up to the March general election, former Justice Edward Zammit Lewis awarded him another €9,600 direct order to carry out an unspecified and untitled “national survey”.
Since then another of Marmara’s companies, Sagalytics has been given another €24,000 euro direct order by Jobsplus.
Maramra has now been appointed by Minister Clifton Grima as government representative on the University’s Faculty of Science board. He also sits on the board of the National Statistics Office which gives him direct access to sensitive information – all this while conducting personal surveys for several government ministers to measure their popularity in their electoral districts.
No wonder Marmara is so keen to give his polling data such a skewed anti-PN and pro-PL interpretation. Marmara is a trained statistician. He knows that polls are self-fulfilling prophecies. He is surely aware of the bandwagon effect where people tend to conform to the majority opinion. The more Marmara’s polls show that Labour still enjoys a huge majority, the more likely it is for voters to stick with Labour. The more Marmara abuses his data to paint the PN in an abysmal light, the less likely PN voters are to stick with their party and the more likely they are to switch, maybe not to Labour, but to other parties.
David Rothschild and Neil Malhotra showed that polls significantly impact individual-level attitudes. They showed clearly that low public support decreases support further. ReachTEL clearly showed the bandwagon effect of polls – voters who think a particular political party will win end up voting for that party. If the social and media environment gives the impression that the election is already won, then the bandwagon effect is even greater. It is specifically for this reason that many countries halt polling before an election because the bandwagon effect can tilt the democratic process.
The shift of voters to the perceived majority view is called “contagion. When political opinion polls support one political party over another, there is little doubt that there will be a contagion effect.
Kurt and Gladys Lang published an article, The Impact of Polls on Public Opinion, in which they showed that by making the minority view appear even less popular than it actually is, polls will discourage and even intimidate those supporting the minority view into giving up.
This is what Marmara is doing with his commentary if not with his polls. He is doing Labour’s work – which is why Labour is paying him so handsomely. He is driving the narrative that there is no point supporting the PN, it’s haemorrhaging voters, they’re going to lose anyway, so why bother? That narrative drains not only voters but also voluntary service and funding from the party. And that serves Labour well, But it serves Marmara even better.