Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat has retained a 7-point lead in his trust rating over Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. Muscat enjoyed a similar lead in a similar poll held in September.
This suggests that events in the past two months, which saw the government surviving an unprecedented vote of confidence in parliament and presenting a middle class friendly budget have not significantly altered the political balance.
But the survey suggests that the Nationalist Party has consolidated its vote base, which is more united behind the PN leader than ever before. This is confirmed by a sharp drop in the number of former PN voters who intend not to vote in the next election.
This emerges from a MaltaToday survey conducted among 450 respondents held between last Wednesday 16 and Tuesday 22 November.
While commanding a significant lead over the incumbent, Muscat's trust rating has remained lower than the record levels registered in a June poll held in the aftermath of the divorce referendum.
Moreover, Gonzi registers his highest trust rating since September 2008 -six months after winning the general election.
Compared to the September poll, both party leaders have registered a 3-point increase in their trust levels. This came in the wake of a sharp 10-point drop in undecided respondents. This could reflect a rise in the political temperature in the past weeks and is an indication that political parties are closing ranks. Muscat, who saw his trust rating slipping by 7 points between June and September, has recovered 3 points in the past two months.
On the other hand, Gonzi has registered the second consecutive increase in his trust rating, which is now 7 points higher than in June.
As regards voting intentions, the PN has seen its support rising by 3 points while the PL gained 2 points.
The PL now enjoys a 7-point lead down from the 9-point lead it enjoyed in September. Support for the Greens remains stable at 1.5%.
The survey also shows the PN managing to keep a larger percentage of its voters in the 2008 general election, in a clear indication that the PN has started to consolidate its position among its core supporters.
The survey also shows that Joseph Muscat is more trusted with running the country's economy than Gonzi, albeit by a narrow 3-point margin which falls within the survey's margin of error.
The survey reveals a deep chasm in the political allegiances of different social classes. While the upper and middle classes (AB and C1) clearly favour the Nationalist Party and prefer Lawrence Gonzi to Joseph Muscat, working class respondents (C2 and DE) favour Labour and Muscat. Pensioners and the self-employed are more balanced in their political orientation.
These results come in the wake of a budget which largely benefited middle class categories.
Among AB and C1, two categories, which include managers, members of the professions and white-collar workers, Gonzi enjoys a 21-point lead over Muscat.
Among these categories, the Nationalist Party also enjoys a 14-point lead over Labour. Support for the Greens is completely restricted to this class.
On the other hand, Muscat trounces Gonzi among working class respondents.
Among C2s and Des - two categories which include skilled workers, unskilled workers and people on social benefits - Muscat enjoys a trust rating of 55% against Gonzi's 10%. Yet a significant 19% trusted none of the two leaders. Among the self-employed, Gonzi enjoys an 8-point lead over Muscat, but the PL still leads the PN by a similar margin. This is an indication that Gonzi is significantly more popular than his party among this strategic category of voters, which is being courted by Joseph Muscat.
Among pensioners, Muscat enjoys a narrow 4-point lead while Labour enjoys a higher 6-point lead.
PN consolidating core vote
The survey confirms that the PN still suffers from a significant haemorrhage of voters towards the PL, but less former PN voters are considering not voting in the next election. Moreover, for the first time in the past three years, the survey also shows a small but significant swing from Labour to the PN.
In fact, while 9% of respondents who voted for the PN in 2008 would now vote for the Labour Party, 3% of respondents who voted for the PL in 2008 would now vote for the Nationalist Party.
And while 10% of PN voters in 2008 trust Muscat more than Gonzi, 4% of PL voters in 2008 trust Gonzi more than Muscat.
Significantly, the number of respondents who voted PN in 2008 who now intend not to vote has fallen drastically from 13% in September to just 5% now. This suggest that the party is recovering from internal divisions at a grassroots level. The number of undecided PN voters has also slipped by 3 points since September.
Overall, the PN now retains 62% of its 2008 vote cohort compared to just 55% in September. Gonzi also enjoys the trust of 72% of PN voters in 2008.
Labour also manages to retain more of its voters in the latest survey. While in September it retained 79% of its 2008 voters, the percentage has now risen to 81%. Muscat enjoys the trust of 86% of PL voters in 2008.
Muscat more trusted on economy
Despite weathering the international economic crisis, Gonzi is slightly less trusted than Muscat in running the country's economy and finances.
Respondents were asked which of the two leaders they trust most in running the economy and finances.
While 33% opted for the Prime Minister, 36% opted for the opposition leader. Gonzi's trust rating on the economy was 2 points higher than his general trust rating (31%) while Muscat's trust rating on the economy was 2 points lower than his general trust rating (38%).
A survey held in September had shown while 27% prefer the PN's economic and financial policies, only 18% prefer Labour's policies.
This suggests that Muscat is considered as more trustworthy than his own party in economic and financial matters. This could explain why Muscat is projecting himself more as a candidate presenting himself for a Presidential election than as a party leader in a parliamentary system.
A total of 652 respondents were contacted by telephone between Wednesday 16 and Tuesday 22 November. The survey was held after the Budget and Joseph Muscat's speech, but before the Prime Minister's reply. 450 accepted to be interviewed. The results were weighed to reflect the age and population balance of population. The survey has a margin of error of /- 4.6%.