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MaltaToday survey | Muscat trust lead stable at 8 points, PL leads by 3

Although he was seriously damaged by Panamagate and other scandals which saw a 15-point trust lead in January 2015 halved, Joseph Muscat still enjoys a substantial lead

james
James Debono
2 October 2016, 8:00am
Last updated on 3 October 2016, 8:11am
Labour leader Joseph Muscat continues to enjoy a substantial lead over Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil
Labour leader Joseph Muscat continues to enjoy a substantial lead over Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil
MaltaToday’s survey for September – conducted after the summer recess and a week after Opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s address to party supporters on Independence day – shows Prime Minister Joseph Muscat still leading Busuttil by 7.7 percentage points, a marginal increase of half a point over the past four months, when respondents were asked which leader they trusted the most. 

This suggests that there have been very few changes since MaltaToday’s last survey held in May, with Muscat only making a small recovery after the dip in trust he endured after Panamagate but Busuttil also failing to make any significant inroads during the summer months.

As regards voting intentions, the survey also shows Labour leading by 2.7 points in voting intentions, up from one point last month, with Labour gaining half a point and the PN losing one point.

The PL’s advantage falls within the survey’s margin of error of +/-4.3 points. 

Both political leaders have seen a slight one-point increase in their trust rating, which was reflected in a three-point drop among those who trust neither leader. 

Both political leaders remain more popular than their party. But while Joseph Muscat’s trust rating is nine points higher than the support for his party, Busuttil’s trust rating is four points higher than support for his party. This indicates that Labour has space for future growth among that category of electors who prefer Muscat to Busuttil, but who are not committed with regard to voting intentions.

But while Labour starts with this notable advantage, MaltaToday’s survey confirms a shift in favour of the PN.

While only 2% of PN voters in 2013 say they would now vote Labour, 6% of PL voters in 2013 say they would vote PN. The survey shows that the PN has recovered a section of switchers who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013, while making small inroads among more traditional Labour voters. In fact 3% of PL voters in 2008 would now vote PN. But the PN’s inroads do not add up sufficiently to overturn Labour’s majority. 

The survey also shows a 4.4% intent on voting for third parties. But the third-party vote is split between those intending to vote AD (2.1%), Marlene Farrugia’s Democratic Party (1.5%) and other small parties (0.8%).

While AD and the PD retained the same level of support as registered in May, support for other parties increased by 0.4%.

But not voting remains a more appealing option for voters. In fact while 4.4% intend voting for a small party, a tenth of voters are intent on not voting.

 

Who is switching now?

The survey shows that more voters are shifting from Labour to the PN than vice-versa, with both Busuttil and the PN making significant inroads among switchers and to a smaller extent among traditional PL voters (those who voted Labour in 2008).

While 2% (up from 1% in May) of PN voters in 2013 would vote Labour now, 6% of PL voters in 2013 (up from 4% in May) now opt for the PN. Moreover 3% of PL voters in 2008 (down from 5% in May) will now vote PN. Significantly 5% of Labour voters in 2008 trust Busuttil more than Muscat.

In this sense the survey confirms the emergence of a small category of switchers who voted for Alfred Sant’s Labour in 2008 and reject Muscat’s party now. This shift may explain why the PN leader has been making a concerted effort to appeal to these voters by focusing on issues like his promise to reverse the increase of housing estate rents if elected.

The survey confirms that the PN has not entirely blocked the haemorrhage of votes, which started in 2008 after the election of Muscat as PL leader.

2% of PN voters who voted for Gonzi’s party in 2013 have now shifted to Labour while 3% of these voters prefer Muscat to Busuttil. This suggests that Muscat has not entirely lost the power to seduce a segment of the Nationalist electorate. This may also be a reflection of the party’s pro-business stance and its appeal to segments and lobbies traditionally closer to the PN. 

Moreover 7% of PN voters in 2008 will now vote for the PL and 8% of these voters trust Muscat more than Busuttil. This explains the use of Nationalist-friendly faces, such as journalist Karl Stagno Navarra and former PN mayor Ian Castaldi Paris on the Labour media, in a bid to entice and retain former Nationalist voters in Labour’s block. 

The major shifts are occurring among the ‘switchers’ category.

Within this category the PN has consolidated its position from May, seeing its support rising from 13% in May to 27%. In an indication that these voters are making up their minds, Labour has also seen its support increase from 8% to 20%.

Moreover, while 33% of switchers trust Busuttil more than Muscat, only 27% trust Muscat more than Busuttil. In this survey Busuttil registers his best ever trust rating among switchers. This suggests that a segment of switchers has gone back home to the PN but it is still not in enough numbers to enable the PN to overtake Labour.

This explains why the PN has given so much importance to Salvu Mallia in its Independence Day celebrations, in a bid to create a role model for switchers considering the move back to the PN.

The fact that 23% of switchers are still undecided suggests that the PN can still bank on winning more of them over in the next months.

How parties can increase their support

Although the survey shows the PL leading by only three points – which would represent a nine-point drop for Labour when compared to the 2013 election result, Muscat enjoys a trust lead of eight points over Busuttil. 

This suggests that Labour has greater room to grow among the larger percentage of respondents who trust Muscat more than Busuttil, than the PN does among those who trust Busuttil more than Muscat.

This gives a pivotal role in the forthcoming election to that segment which trusts Muscat more than Busuttil but who are still undecided on who to vote for or who intend to abstain in a forthcoming election.

This strategic sector amounts to 12% of the electorate. The segment which trusts Busuttil most but is still undecided or intent on not voting, amounts to 4.3%. On the other hand the PN faces the daunting task of winning over voters who presently do not trust its leader but may not be so keen on voting for Labour. This is a major handicap for the PN.

This is why Muscat may be banking on turning the next election into a presidential contest against Busuttil. For although he was seriously damaged by Panamagate and other scandals which saw a 15-point trust lead in January 2015 halved, Muscat surprisingly still enjoys a substantial lead.

But Muscat still faces a problem among Labour voters. A tenth of PL voters in 2013 and 5% of PL voters in 2008 trust neither leader. Only 6% of PN voters in 2013 trust neither leader. Moreover while 9% of PL voters in 2013 are intent on not voting, only 4% of PN voters in 2013 would do the same. 

This suggests that the PN may still find room to grow among disgruntled PL voters if Muscat fails to win them back.

But for the PN to do this it may find itself moving outside its own ideological comfort zone to appeal to past Labour voters. Small parties may also make gains from this category. But at present they only attract 2% of Labour voters in 2013 compared to 2.7% of PN voters in 2013.

Methodology 

The survey was held between Monday 26 and Thursday, 29 September. The results were weighed to reflect the age and gender balance of the population. 871 respondents were contacted. 500 respondents accepted to participate in the survey. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.3 points.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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