MaltaToday survey | Majority prefers de Marco as PN leader

The majority of respondents in a MaltaToday survey prefers Mario de Marco as next PN leader.

James Debono
15 April 2013, 12:00am
Mario de Marco (above) leads outgoing PN deputy leader Simon Busuttil by 15 points among all respondents.
Mario de Marco (above) leads outgoing PN deputy leader Simon Busuttil by 15 points among all respondents.

While the majority of Nationalist voters prefer Simon Busuttil as the next party leader, Mario de Marco strikes a chord with Labour voters and "switchers" who voted PN in 2008 and Labour in last March's general election.

This emerges from a MaltaToday survey conducted over the past week, which asked respondents whom they prefer among the four contenders who submitted their nomination for party leader last week.

The survey indicates that while Simon Busuttil enjoys a clear majority among current PN voters, Mario de Marco is better placed to reach out to both Labour voters and voters who deserted the PN in the last election.

The PN has rejected internal calls to enfranchise all party members, and the election to be held in May will be restricted to the party's 900 councillors.

But public-opinion surveys could have a bearing on the councillors, who will assess which candidate enjoys the greatest chance of restoring the party's fortunes after the catastrophic defeat in last March's general election.

The survey shows that the other two contenders for the post, namely former Minister Francis Zammit Dimech and entrepreneur Raymond Bugeja, do not enjoy a wide following among both Nationalist voters and others.


Nationalist voters opt for Busuttil

The former Minister for Tourism Mario de Marco is the preferred choice of respondents for the post of PN leader. He enjoys a clear 15-point lead over present PN Deputy Leader Simon Busuttil among the 500 respondents participating in the survey.

But among Nationalist voters in the March general election, Busuttil enjoys a strong 9-point lead over de Marco. Busuttil also enjoys a slight 2-point lead over de Marco among PN voters in the 2008 general election.

This indicates that, despite the heavy PN defeat at the polls and Busuttil's highly visible profile in the campaign as the PN Deputy Leader, 46% of present Nationalist voters would still opt for Busuttil, while 37%  would opt for the former tourism minister.

This suggests that a significant segment of the Nationalist electorate still regards the former MEP as an asset for the party. Busuttil could also benefit from the perception that he stood up to be counted in the party's hour of need by contesting for the post of deputy leader in a contest held in December.

Only 7% opt for stalwart Francis Zammit Dimech, while an insignificant 3% opt for outsider Raymond Bugeja.

But Busuttil's appeal diminishes among other categories of voters which the PN needs to recover lost ground.

Moreover, among respondents who voted for the Nationalist Party in 2008, while 41% opt for Busuttil, 39% opt for de Marco.

De Marco's overall 15-point lead over Busuttil is explained by the latter's unpopularity among Labour voters and de Marco's greater appeal among switchers and voters who refused to divulge their vote in the last general election.

Significantly, de Marco is more appealing to the electorally strategic category of switchers, who voted PN in 2008 but switched to Labour, AD or stayed PN in 2013.

In this category, 57% prefer de Marco, and only 27% prefer Busuttil.

Not surprisingly, Busuttil registers the lowest levels of support among Labour voters.

Only 7% of Labour voters would prefer Busuttil as PN leader, and 40% would prefer de Marco. Curiously, entrepreneur Raymond Bugeja registers a higher level of support among Labour voters (5%) than among PN voters (3%).

Busuttil's low score among Labour voters suggests that his highly visible role in the last general election has alienated him from the Labour Party's electorate. De Marco's less visible role in the campaign makes him less of a divisive figure for Labour voters. De Marco has also distanced himself from personal attacks made during the campaign.

Remarkably, the results of MaltaToday's present survey on the PN leadership battle are reminiscent of pre-election surveys held about the PL leadership election in 2008. They showed Joseph Muscat leading among Labour voters and George Abela leading on a national level, thanks to a strong level of support among Nationalist voters.

Among the wider electorate, de Marco also benefits from the perception that he was one of the best performing ministers in the former cabinet. A "rate the minister" survey conducted by MaltaToday showed that Mario de Marco was the most popular minister in Lawrence Gonzi's Cabinet, with a positive rating of 53%.

The survey also indicates an increase in support for de Marco among Nationalist Party voters.

A MaltaToday survey in October, before the presentation of nominations for the post of PN deputy leader, showed while 49% of PN voters wanted Simon Busuttil, only 29% opted for de Marco. Unlike Busuttil, de Marco did not contest for the post of deputy leader. Presently, de Marco is 8 points more popular among Nationalist voters than he was in October.

The age factor

The 18-to-34 age bracket is the most favourable to the 44-year-old Simon Busuttil, while 35-54 is most favourable for the 47-year-old de Marco. The younger age group is split, with both de Marco and Busuttil enjoying the support of 31% of respondents. But de Marco's support rises to 50% among the middle-aged group, against Busuttil's 18%. The older group also favours de Marco over Busuttil by a 12-point margin. De Marco is slightly more favoured among females. While he enjoys a 16-point lead among them, his lead among males falls to 15 points.  Francis Zammit is slightly more popular among females, while Raymond Bugeja is slightly more popular among males.


A total of 667 respondents were contacted by telephone between Monday 8 April and Wednesday 10 April. The survey was stopped when a quota sample of 500 was reached. Respondents were selected through random sampling. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.4%. The results of the survey were weighted to reflect the age and gender balance of the population. Respondents were asked how they voted in the 2013 and 2008 general elections.

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