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Maltatoday Survey | Labour leads by seven points

Labour has restored its lead as undecided voters rise inside the PN’s ranks, while Joseph Muscat has increased his trust rating. Switchers have also turned to AD, and 5.5% of those respondents who trust Muscat more are still undecided or will not vote

james
James Debono
19 May 2014, 9:29am
Both Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil still need to capture the votes of the undecided voters...
Both Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil still need to capture the votes of the undecided voters...
The latest MaltaToday survey on voting intentions for MEP elections due next week shows the PL leading by 7 points, two points up from last week.

The increase can be attributed exclusively to an increase in undecided voters among respondents who said they voted PN in 2013.

The survey was held between Monday and Thursday among 600 respondents.  

The survey indicates that the Cyrus Engerer case, which dominated the political agenda in the past week, alienated a segment of switchers (voters who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013) where Labour loses 13 points, mostly to Alternattiva Demokratika.  

But the Engerer case failed to galvanise the Nationalist vote which has actually shrunk. Neither has Muscat’s depiction of Engerer as a ‘soldier of steel’ served to mobilise Labour voters. In fact, the percentage of undecided former Labour voters has actually increased.

The survey shows Prime Minister Joseph Muscat leading Opposition leader Simon Busuttil by 13 points in the trust barometer. 

And 5.5% of all respondents who say they have more trust in Muscat than Busuttil, are still undecided or won’t vote in MEP elections. This contrasts with those 2% of all respondents who say they have more trust in Busuttil but are either undecided or won’t vote.

If both parties manage to mobilise these two categories of voters, the gap between the PL and PN would grow to nearly 11 points – practically the same result as in 2013.  

Despite Labour’s overall advantage, the survey shows a small 1-point shift from the PL to the PN, with the PN making small inroads among switchers. 

Muscat’s constant appeals to mobilise Labour voters has yet to pay off. But the PN faces similar problems with past voters. In fact, both parties now retain nearly 80% of 2013 voters.

Undecided increase in PN ranks

The survey indicates that the length and repetitive style of the campaign is taking its toll on PN voters.

The increase in undecided PN voters in a week which saw the party increase its vitriol against Labour, may be an indication that a segment of PN voters is experiencing electoral fatigue.

While the PN has seen its support decrease by 3 points since last week, the PL has seen its support decrease by 2 points. The PN also retains less of its 2013 voters, from 85% last week down to 80% - Labour retains the same percentage of voters as last week.

Voters are losing interest too, with a greater percentage of undecided among 2013 PN voters (14%) than among 2013 PL voters (11%). 

But there are more potential Labour voters than PN voters among the undecided cohort. While 33% of this cohort trust Muscat more than Busuttil, only 9% trust Busuttil more: a sign that the PL can still widen the gap if it manages to appeal to the segment of undecided voters who prefer Muscat. So the end result will depend on Muscat’s ability to mobilise Labour-leaning voters in the last two weeks of the campaign.

For the second consecutive time, there’s a small shit from the PL to the PN – while only 1.6% of PN voters intend switching to Labour, 2.7% of PL voters in the last election intend switching to the PN.

And significantly, 15% of ‘switchers’ in the 2013 elections have migrated back to the PN. But 36% of this voter category say they are undecided, while 10% won’t vote. And 25% will vote Labour again: the party is facing problems with this category, whose allegiance cannot be taken for granted.

AD attracts switchers

The survey shows AD increasing its voting share from 2.4% last week to 2.7% this week, doubling its share since March, when it polled 1.3% of the vote.

Arnold Cassola reconfirmed his position as one of the top six candidates, even though his electoral prospects remain small, as candidates from other parties are more likely to inherit from each other.

For the first time, a significant percentage of switchers (12%) are gravitating towards the greens: the party is attracting more ‘2013 Labour’ voters than ‘2013 PN’ voters for the first time.

The party also attracts a small percentage of PN voters, but suffers a very high turnover since it retains only 50% of its 2013 voters. The other half are either undecided or intent on not voting.

The far-right still benefits from a 1-point shift from the PL but only attracts 0.5% of total voting intentions.  

Muscat leads by 16 points 

Muscat remains significantly more popular than his own party.

While 48% trust Muscat more than Busuttil, only 38% intend to vote PL. On the other hand, while 32% trust Busuttil more than Muscat, 31% will vote for the PN.

Significantly, 8% of prospective PN voters trust neither Muscat nor Busuttil. This suggests that a segment of PN voters is more loyal to the party than to the leader.

On the other hand, 99% of prospective PL voters trust Muscat more than Busuttil. This suggests blind loyalty towards the leader among current Labour voters.  

But while the PN still retains a segment of respondents who do not trust Busuttil, the PL does not manage a tenth of its 2013 voters who trust either leader.

The survey shows that that 2013 Labour voters who have lost trust in Muscat account for 5% of the entire sample. None of these intend to vote Labour in the next election.  

But significantly, Muscat still attracts a segment of PN voters from the last election.  While only 1% of PN voters in 2013 intend to vote PL next week, 5% of them trust Muscat more than Busuttil. This confirms the same trend established in the last month of polling. With most of these voters undecided, the survey suggests that Labour may make further inroads in the Nationalist vote in next week’s election.

In fact, one of the risks facing the PN is that a heavy defeat next week may increase the PL’s appeal to these voters who may come to perceive the PL as the new natural party of government.

 

High turnout crucial for both parties

One of the factors weighing on this election is the uncertainty of a category of traditional Labour voters who still trust Muscat more than Busuttil, but are not sure on whether to vote on 24 May.

The latest survey shows the PN is not managing to mobilise its already restricted voting base. And Labour sees this cohort as crucial to reconfirm its 2013 majority and deal a lethal blow to the PN opposition. As things stand, the scale of Labour’s victory depends on the percentage of PL and PN voters who do not turn up to vote.   

This week’s survey shows that the PL’s failure to mobilise its voters is being compensated by the PN’s failure to mobilise a segment of its own voters. This means that motivating past Nationalist voters is a major problem for Busuttil, who could see gains among switchers neutralised by a high abstention rate among traditional PN voters.

It is in this context that Muscat has been attacking Busuttil for being indecisive on civil unions and hunting, while Busuttil keeps targeting disgruntled Labour voters by comparing their plight with that of the favoured “clique”.  Both are aware of the fact that these voters are unlikely to change sides, but may well prefer to stay at home or go to the beach.

Still no favourite for third PN seat 

Former Labour leader Alfred Sant and incumbent Roberta Metsola retain their front-runner position.

Incumbent Marlene Mizzi also consolidates her runner-up position, ahead of newcomer Miriam Dalli. Both enjoy a wide lead over other Labour candidates. But other candidates could benefit from significant vote transfers from Sant votes.

Joseph Cuschieri, entering the fray just two weeks ago has gained some ground, overtaking Gozitan Clint Camilleri and Charlon Gouder.

PN incumbents Metsola and David Casa retain the lead, and no clear favourite for the party’s probable third seat looks clear, although veteran MP Francis Zammit Dimech and newcomer Norman Vella seem to enjoy a slight advantage. 

Due to the margin of error, it is very difficult to determine the standing of other candidates, and a very large segment of voters remain undecided. Moreover, these results are only indicative because actual seats will be determined on the basis of second, third and subsequent preferences. Much will depend on how the surplus of the front-runners will be distributed among the rest of the candidates.  

This means that candidates with a low first count may still overtake stronger candidates who do not manage to attract the second preferences of the front-runners and eliminated weaker candidates.

Methodology

897 respondents were contacted by telephone between Monday 12 May and Thursday 15 May.  600 accepted to be interviewed.  The results of the survey were weighed to reflect the age and gender balance of the population.  The survey has a margin of error of +/-4 points.

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