Smells like an election
Labour leads PN by 3.5 points in Gozo [FULL DATA]
A MaltaToday survey shows Labour leading the PN by 3.5 points in the strategic Gozo district, a district which Labour has never won since 1955.
14 August 2012, 12:00am
Contrary to last year's survey - when Lawrence Gonzi led Joseph Muscat by 2 points in the trust barometer - it is now the Labour leader who leads the Prime Minister by the same margin. In both cases the difference fell within the survey's margin of error. This result confirms the tight race for the Gozo district, which sees both parties with a chance of winning Gozo's third seat.
This emerges from a MaltaToday survey among 300 Gozitan respondents held between Monday and Wednesday.
An extrapolation of the survey results shows Labour heading for an unprecedented absolute majority after winning a relative majority in the 2009 elections for the European Parliament.
Compared to the 2008 general election, the PN has lost nine percentage points, while Labour gains 9.1.
The PL also has consolidated its lead over a survey conducted by MaltaToday a year ago. In fact as the election draws near, both major parties have increased their vote. But while the PN gained 5 points, Labour gained nearly 8 points.
But the district remains in the balance because of a prevalence of former PN voters among those who either intend not to vote or are still undecided.
In fact the PN would enjoy a slight 0.5-point lead over Labour if it recovers voters who voted PN in 2008 but now intend not to vote or who did not reveal their voting intention.
But the major worry for the PN remains the haemorrhage of votes from its 2008 vote base.
PL benefiting from a 10-point swing
The survey shows the PN losing 11% of its 2008 voters directly to Labour. On the other hand, only 1% of Labour voters now intend voting for the PN. This represents a massive 10-point swing in favour of Labour, which confirms the national 9-point swing.
Compared to last year, the PN has managed to consolidate its vote base, retaining 69% of its voters in 2008, up 10 points since last year. But it now loses more voters to the PL (up by 2 points) and to AD (up by a point). On the other hand the PN has been more successful in attracting back those who voted PN in 2008 but were previously undecided or who intended not to vote which decreased by 14 points. This suggests the PN has consolidated its Gozitan vote without making any inroads among Labour voters or stopping the haemorrhage of votes to Labour.
On the other hand, Labour not only manages to attract 11% of 2008 Nationalist voters but also manages to retain 90% of its 2008 vote.
But it only loses 1% of PL voters in 2008 to the PN. This is a clear indication that the PL is set for its best result in the Gozo district since 1955 - when the PL won a majority of Gozo's parliamentary seats.
PN has best policies for Gozo
Although Labour is currently leading the PN, only 24% of Gozitans think that the PL has the best policies for Gozo. On the other hand, 32% think that the PN has the best policies for the small island.
Only 70% of the PL's current voters think that the party of their choice has the best policies for Gozo. Curiously, 2% of PL voters admit that the PN has the best policies and a further 4% think that none of the parties has a good policy for Gozo. Twenty-five per cent of Labour voters could not say which party has the best policies for Gozo. This is a strong indication that a sizeable number of Labour voters opt for the Opposition party by default.
On the other hand, 85% of current PN voters are convinced that their party has the best policies for Gozo while only 15% could not say which party has the best polices. This suggests that while the PN has lost votes, it has retained a core of voters with a high level of conviction in their party's policies.
Significantly, among those who intend not to vote, the PN is deemed to have the best policies by 18% while Labour's policies are preferred by just 9%.
While the survey shows a lack of conviction in Labour's policies on Gozo, it could also reflect the fact that the PN has been in government for two decades and enjoys the power of incumbency.
Gozo's strategic value
Labour has not won a majority in any general election in the Gozo district since 1955. This adds significance of the survey result, which shows Labour possibly winning the Gozo district.
Labour's support in general elections between 1971 and 2008 had always hovered between 40% and 46%.
With the notable exception of 1987, Labour always ended up winning the general elections when it secured more than 45% of the Gozitan vote.
Following a fluke victory in Gozo in 1955, the party was nearly wiped out from the conservative island at the height of the Church-State dispute, gaining just 6.3% of the Gozitan vote in the 1962 election and 22% in the 1966 election.
But after the Maltese Church lifted its moral sanctions on Labour activists in 1969, the party managed to double its vote scoring 44.8% in 1971.
Support for the PL was to slip again by 5% in the following decade, with the party registering one of its worst ever Gozitan results in the 1981 election.
Surprisingly, led by incumbent prime minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, the party scored its best ever general election result in 1987 with 46% of the vote in Gozo - a result which reflected the party's power of incumbency which was not to be repeated until Alfred Sant's victory in 1996.
But after being elected to power in 1987 it was the PN which managed to increase its majority in Gozo by five percentage points from 1987 to 1992 thanks to an economic boom and the setting up of a Gozo Ministry led by Anton Tabone.
Labour saw its share of the vote increase by 5% in the 1996 election. The premature fall of Alfred Sant's government saw the party losing three points in Gozo against four points nationally - an indication that the party fared better in Gozo than in the rest of Malta.
The 2003 election saw Labour losing a further two points, dipping to 40.8% - its worst result in Gozo since 1992. This corresponded with a strong affirmation of the 'Yes' vote in the EU referendum.
Yet, the luck of the Nationalists took another nosedive after unemployment started to rear its ugly head again. But the 2008 election saw no remarkable shift to Labour. In this election, Labour won 42.9% of the Gozitan vote - an increase of two percentage points over its 2003 tally.
Labour had actually recovered its 1998 level of support, but its result was still 3% below the 46% gained in 1996.
The PL's relative majority in the June 2009 MEP elections represented the party's best result in Gozo since the 1955 general election.
But Labour's success came in the wake of a drop in turnout from 92% in the March 2008 general election, to just 77% in last June's MEP elections. This may well be an indication that a number of Nationalist Gozitan voters may well have abstained rather than switched party in these elections.
Even the present survey shows that 9% of Nationalist voters in 2008 will not vote if an election is held now. A further 9% are undecided. If the PN manages to recover these voters it could still win the district.
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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