The Labour Party has recovered ground lost in the fourth and fifth weeks of the election campaign and is back leading the PN by almost 13 points just three weeks before the general election, the latest MaltaToday survey shows.
The Nationalist Party had managed to cut Labour's 14-point lead registered in the last week of January to 10 points in last week's survey. But the past week has seen Labour widening the lead again by 3 points.
While the survey shows the PL gaining one point from last week, the PN has lost 2 points.
This emerges from a survey carried out between Monday and Thursday among 750 respondents, which has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points.
Significantly, the MaltaToday survey shows the net swing from the PN to the PL increasing from 6.4 points to 8.4 points.
The survey suggests that ongoing controversy over the oil procurement scandal and the publication of emails referring to meetings between businessman George Farrugia and Minister Austin Gatt have dented support for the PN.
It also suggests that the PN missive against Labour deputy leader Tony Abela through the publication of a secret recording in which Abela is heard telling members of the PL's Attard committee that he had asked the police not to press charges on a case related to an internal feud in a party club, has not had any impact on the polls.
Neither has the PN capitalised on the Prime Minister's successful foray in the European Council by securing €1.12 billion in EU funding for Malta, which was immediately obscured by Gonzi's decision to recommend a presidential pardon for businessman George Farrugia.
PN loses momentum
Labour had widened its lead over the PN from 11 points in the beginning of January to a record 14 points in the third week of the campaign.
The new increase in Labour's gap came in the wake of the oil kickbacks scandal, whose repercussions continued to be felt the following week after transport minister Austin Gatt was called in for questioning by the police.
But over the fourth week of the campaign, the gap was cut from 14 to 12 points, which has been the normal gap between the two parties over the past year except for December following the Budget, when the PN had managed to close the gap to 9 points.
The fifth week of the campaign saw the gap cut to 10 points, which was one of the lowest gaps recorded in the past year. The PN's gains coincided with an interview in which former deputy leader Anglu Farrugia denounced the links between Labour and big construction developers.
But over the past week and amidst further controversy on the oil procurement scandal, Labour has once again widened its lead.
At 2.1%, Alternattiva Demokratika registers its best result in the past year. The Greens have seen a 0.3-point increase in support, registering a record 5.4% in the 18-34 age bracket. This surge in support for the Greens among younger voters coincided with the leaders' debate at University, where party leader Michael Briguglio left a positive impression. Support for the Greens has shot up from 1.5% in the first week of the campaign to 2.1% now.
The survey also shows that only 23% think the PN is coming out with the best ideas, while 43% opt for Labour and 4% opt for the Greens.
Labour is still leading among new voters, and those respondents who say they did not vote in the 2008 election.
The percentage of people who intend not voting has increased from 1.7% to 3.3% over the past week. The number of undecided voters remains stable.
Joseph Muscat continues to enjoy a very high trust rating of 46.5% against Gonzi's 32.5%.
PN bleeding again
The survey shows the PN losing 10.3% of its 2008 voters to Labour up from 8.8% in the latest survey. The percentage of PL voters in 2008 now shifting to the PN has decreased from 2.4% to 1.9%.
This means the net swing between the two major parties has increased 6.4 to 8.4 points.
The PN also loses 2 points to AD down from 2.8% last week, but double that registered in the first week of the campaign. Labour only loses 0.3% to the Greens.
The survey sees the PN retaining 69% of its 2008 voters and the PL retaining 88% of its 2008 voters. Both parties retain fewer voters than last week.
In this survey, AD only retains 27% of its 2008 voters, losing 18% of its support to Labour and 9% to the PN, with the rest being still undecided.
But the party compensates for these losses by attracting ex-PN voters, new voters and non-voters in the 2008 election. In this survey AD attracts 8% of new voters.
In fact, two-thirds of AD's new support base is composed of people who did not vote for the Greens in the 2008 election, as declared by this week's respondents.
If AD manages to retain its undecided 2008 voters it would reach 2.6%.
Significantly, the PN is not compensating its losses to Labour by making gains among new voters, as was clearly the case before the 2008 election. In fact among this category of first-time voters the PL enjoys a 13-point lead over the PN.
The PN is also trailing Labour by 24 points among another pivotal category, those who did not vote in the 2008 general election.
The 2008 election had seen the lowest turnout since 1971 with the number of non-voters increasing by 9,000 over 2003 levels. This week's survey indicates that 49% of non-voters in 2008 will be voting in March and the overwhelming majority of these will be voting for Labour.
New voters, which were pivotal to the PN's victory in 2008, are also shifting towards Labour, albeit at a lower rate.
This category has been quite volatile in its voting intentions with the PN leading Labour over most of the past year, but Labour has gained an edge over the past weeks.
Significantly the survey shows the PN still trailing by 9 points (up from 6 points last week) if it managed to recover all of its 2008 voters who are still undecided or who intend not to vote. This suggests that prospects for a late recovery for the PN remain very bleak.
Younger voters most unstable category
While the PN's vote has remained stable among both the over-35 year-olds and over 55 year-olds, the party has suffered a 5-point dip among under-34 year-olds.
In last week's survey it was Labour which lost 4 points among this age group. AD has now gained 2 points in the youngest age group.
The survey confirms that the younger voters remain the most volatile category of voters in the campaign, registering the greatest swings from week to week. In this week's survey the PL's gains among under-34 year-olds are offset by a 4-point drop among those aged between 35 and 55 year-olds.
Labour's losses in this age group are corresponded by an increase among non-voters and undecided respondents.
But Labour has gained 3 points among over 55 year-olds while the PN has retained a stable vote among older voters.
PL perceived as having best ideas
In this survey respondents were also asked which of the three parties contesting the election has the best ideas.
The PL comes across as the party with the best ideas with 43% of respondents opting for this party when asked the question. Only 23% think the PN is being the most honest while 4% think the Greens have the best ideas.
Younger voters seem to be the most receptive to AD's platform, which includes issues like same sex marriage and decriminalisation of soft drugs. Among this category 8% think AD has the best ideas.
The 35-55 year-old category is the most sceptical with 10% replying that none of the parties contesting the election have the right ideas.
The large gap between the two major parties on the count is mainly attributable to the higher conviction of PL voters in their party's ideas.
In fact while 93% of current PL voters think their party has the best policy only 81% of current PN voters think likewise.
Muscat retains trust lead
In the trust barometer Joseph Muscat enjoys a 14-point lead, up from 12 points last week.
Both leaders are more popular than their respective parties. While Muscat's trust rating is 4 points higher than support for his party, Gonzi is 3 points more popular than his party.
The survey suggests that Gonzi has still not recovered one of the greatest hurdles for his re-election, which is Muscat's higher trust rating. This is a complete reversal of the situation in 2008 when Gonzi was more trusted than Alfred Sant.
But not all those who trust Muscat would vote for his party. In fact 1% of those who trust Muscat most would vote AD, 0.3% would vote PN, 1% would not vote and 12% are still undecided.
6% of those who prefer Gonzi are still undecided while 1.3% would vote AD and 0.4% would vote Labour.
The survey was held between Monday 11 February and Thursday 14 February. A total of 1,004 respondents were randomly chosen from telephone directories and contacted by telephone. Of these, 750 accepted to be interviewed. Results were weighed to reflect the age and sex balance of population. The survey has a margin of error of +/-3.6%.