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MaltaToday Survey | Traditional Labour voters: 10% say they’re not voting

[FULL DATA] Labour lead over PN up one point, Muscat’s trust lead over Busuttil down from 9 to 8 points

James Debono
21 February 2016, 7:45am
Last updated on 22 February 2016, 7:45am
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
A sign of disgruntlement among traditional PL voters has crept into MaltaToday’s polls, with one-tenth of respondents who voted Labour in 2008 trusting neither Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, nor Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and saying they will not vote if an election were held now.

But none of these PL voters would vote PN and only 2% said they trust Busuttil more than Muscat. On the other hand, nearly 33% of switchers – those who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013 –are now back in the PN fold.

This suggests that if Muscat manages to convince disgruntled traditional PL voters to return to the fold, his party would enjoy a much stronger lead over the PN. It also suggests the PN needs to appeal to this category of voters to further reduce the gap.

Despite a momentous political month which saw the resignation of Michael Falzon from parliamentary secretary responsible for lands, and the controversy on the appointments to the judiciary, the survey shows little change from a survey held in January which had already seen Muscat losing two points over his trust rating in October.

In the trust barometer, Busuttil now trails Muscat by eight points, down from nine last month. This is the lowest gap between the two leaders registered in the past two years.

But the PL is now leading the PN by four points – up from three points last month. The PL’s gain is accounted for by a small decline in the number of PL voters in 2013 who were undecided in the last survey.

The gap between the two parties is still a far cry from the 12-point lead the PL enjoyed in the 2013 general election. This is because although the PN is making significant gains among switchers, while Labour is being heavily penalised in the polls by the abstention of traditional Labour voters.

But it is not just the PL which is affected by disgruntlement. In a sign of widespread disgruntlement with the political establishment, nine per cent of all PL voters in 2013 and seven per cent of all PN voters in 2013 are presently intent on not voting, while 11% in both parties trust neither Muscat nor Busuttil.

The survey also confirms a shift from the PL towards the PN. While just 1% of PN voters in 2013 are presently intent on voting for Labour, 4% of PL voters would vote for the PN. The survey shows the PN consolidating its vote, losing the least number of votes to the PL since 2013 and Busuttil trusted by 86% of PN voters, up five points from last month. If the PN manages to convince PN voters who say they are intent on not voting, it could further close the gap.

Moreover while 6% of PL voters now trust Busuttil more than Muscat, only 1% of PN voters trust Muscat more than Busuttil. And 28% of switchers also say they are now intent on voting PN.

Muscat leads by 8 points

Despite the difficulties he is facing as PM, Muscat retained a strong trust lead but has seen a three-point drop since October and a point since January. Significantly he has seen his trust rating decline by seven points since March last year. This suggests that diminishing standards of governance have taken a toll on the PM’s popularity.

Busuttil has slightly capitalised on these losses, increasing his trust rating by a point over last month and two points over March 2015. Overall, while Muscat’s ratings have been consistently going down over the past months, Busuttil’s ratings have remained stable.

The survey also confirms Busuttil’s growing appeal to a segment of switchers who voted PN in 2008 and Labour in 2013. Back in March 2015, only 9% of these voters preferred him. Now 28% of switchers prefer him to Muscat.

Busuttil has also firmly consolidated his position among 2013 PN voters – 86%, up from 81% in January who regard him as most to be trusted, up from 79% in October and 77% in June. This shows that over the past months Busuttil consolidated his position among PN voters while making limited inroads among switchers and Labour voters.

Yet the survey shows that he is making no inroads among traditional Labour voters. In the absence of this it will be very difficult for the PN to win the next election.

Muscat seems to have lost his ability to charm a segment of the PN’s 2013 voters: only 1% say they now prefer him to Busuttil, down from 6% in October.

What will be of concern to Muscat is the confirmation of a numerous segment of PL voters in 2013 who trust neither leader – up from seven to 11% since June. Busuttil stands strong with his restricted electorate, while Muscat faces problems with his electorate and has stopped enticing PN voters.

PN consolidates vote

For the fourth consecutive time, the survey registers a small but significant shift in favour of the PN.

Four per cent of PL voters in 2013 say they will vote for the PN; only 1% of PN voters will vote PL. This suggests Labour has lost over 6,700 votes of its 2013 voters to the PN, which is itself losing 1,300 to the PL. In a sign of consolidation, compared to last month both parties are losing fewer votes to each other. But similarly to last month Labour is losing more votes to the PN than vice versa. Moreover for the first time in the past two years the PN has managed to stem the haemorrhage of votes to Labour.

The party seems less vulnerable to Muscat’s appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. In fact the percentage of 2013 PN voters who intend to switch to Labour has declined from 5% in October to 3% in January to just 1% now. This could be an indication that Muscat’s actions over the past months have dented his appeal among all shades of PN voters.
Yet the decline of PN voters who would vote PL (from three to one per cent) is corresponded by an increase in those who would not vote (from two to seven per cent). This could be another sign that Labour is now seen as a no-go area by PN voters in general.

Only a third of switchers sure of voting PL

Switchers remain a highly volatile category. While Labour manages to retain 33% of switchers, 28% will be voting PN. Significantly, 51% of switchers’ votes are up for grabs and could determine the outcome of the next general election. But Labour may take a greater share of switchers in an actual election. This is because 39% of switchers trust Muscat more than Busuttil.

Despite signs of disgruntlement in both parties, the Greens only garner 1% in the survey and do not benefit from any swing from either party. Moreover so far the Greens have consistently failed to attract any support from switchers or to tap into the disgruntlement of traditional Labour voters.

Muscat remains more popular than PL

But Muscat still commands a stronger following than his party. 37% trust Muscat more than Busuttil, when only 31% say they will vote Labour if an election were held now. On the other hand, Busuttil, at 30%, is only slightly more popular than his party which only garners 27%

But the survey suggests that Labour has more room in which to grow than the PN in recovering its 2013 voters. This is based on the assumption that voters who trust Muscat more than Busuttil would be more disposed to vote for Labour in an election preceded by an electoral campaign in which the party in government wields the power of incumbency.

In fact, while 79% of PL voters say they prefer Muscat, only 74% are sure of voting Labour. On the other hand, an equal percentage of PN voters (86%) would vote PN again, and prefer Busuttil.

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