MaltaToday Survey | Muscat more trusted, but drops four points since June

Prime Minister's performance rated positively by 42.1% in July survey, but loses 4.3 points from last survey rating.

james
James Debono
9 July 2013, 12:00am


The latest MaltaToday survey shows Joseph Muscat's approval rate slipping by four points in the past month, down from 46% to 42%. This represents a 17-point drop from his sky-high 59% approval rate in April, a few weeks after the election, which saw Labour win by a record 55% majority.

But despite a second consecutive drop in his rate of approval, the prime minister is still substantially more trusted than Simon Busuttil. The survey shows a 13-point trust gap between the two leaders, down from 17 points last month. The gap between the two leaders now reflects the gap between the two parties in the last general election.

The survey was held between Monday and Thursday, in a week dominated by news of John Dalli's controversial trip to the Bahamas in 2012, lingering controversy over the presence of Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia in interviews for Security Services officials and the rescue of 300 migrants at sea on Wednesday.

The latest MaltaToday survey shows Joseph Muscat's approval rate slipping by four points in the past month, down from 46% to 42%. This represents a 17-point drop from his sky-high 59% approval rate in April, a few weeks after the election, which saw Labour win by a record 55% majority.

But despite a second consecutive drop in his rate of approval, the prime minister is still substantially more trusted than Simon Busuttil. The survey shows a 13-point trust gap between the two leaders, down from 17 points last month. The gap between the two leaders now reflects the gap between the two parties in the last general election.

The survey was held between Monday and Thursday, in a week dominated by news of John Dalli's controversial trip to the Bahamas in 2012, lingering controversy over the presence of Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia in interviews for security services officials and the rescue of 300 migrants at sea on Wednesday.

Significantly, Muscat still enjoys a high level of trust among the respondents who voted PN in 2008 and Labour in 2013.  67% of these strategic 'switchers' trust Muscat more than Busuttil, although only 48% of them judge Muscat's performance as Prime Minister positively.

The survey also shows that Busuttil consolidated his position among PN voters in 2013. In this category the opposition leader has improved his trust rating by eight points. This suggests that the PN leader is strengthening his appeal among Nationalist voters but has still to make substantial inroads among non-PN voters (except with one-tenth of the switchers, who now trust him more than Muscat).

On the other hand Muscat has still succeeded in making inroads with PN voters, 4.5% of whom prefer him to Busuttil. Only 1.6% of Labour voters prefer Busuttil to Muscat.



Less than half approve Muscat's performance

In a clear indication that Muscat's honeymoon is definitely over, after more than 100 days in office, Muscat has seen his positive rating slashed from a stratospheric 59% in April to more sobering 42%.

This is only slightly higher than the approval rate of Lawrence Gonzi in September 2008, when his performance was judged positively by 41% of respondents.

But having suffered a substantial 14-point drop in his approval rate among Labour voters between April and June, Muscat has consolidated his position in this category, wherein his approval rate is the same as last month.

This suggests that, despite a number of difficulties, which have included the Franco Mercieca saga, the controversial appointment of Lou Bondi and the choice of a Chinese company blacklisted by the World Bank to conduct studies on the Gozo Bridge, Muscat has not lost any further ground among Labour voters.

Muscat's positive rating has also increased by 10 points among the switchers. But Nationalist voters definitely like him less. Moreover the percentage of switchers who deem Muscat's performance to be "not so good" has increased by seven points. In fact what has happened in the past month is that the switchers have become more definitive in their judgement of Muscat.

The survey shows a five-point drop in the percentage of Nationalist voters who approve of Muscat's performance as PM, from 16% last month to 11% now. But the fact that more than a tenth of PN voters still judge Muscat's performance positively confirms his ability to reach out beyond his constituency.

This could prove problematic for the PN's leadership, which has to retain this moderate segment while still appealing to the 27% of PN voters who judge Muscat's performance negatively. Interestingly, this more radical segment has increased by three points. The majority of PN voters either described Muscat's performance as not so good (43.8%) or were undecided (18%).

Overall only a small minority, 8%, judge Muscat's performance negatively. This suggests that Muscat still enjoys the benefit of the doubt of the electorate. In fact the number of respondents who were undecided about how to judge Muscat's performance has increased by eight points compared to last month. This increased particularly among respondents who did not reveal which party they had voted for in the past elections.

Muscat leads Busuttil by 13 points

But despite his falling popularity, Muscat is still more trusted by respondents than the new Nationalist Party's leader Simon Busuttil, who trails him by a considerable 13 points.

But mostly thanks to a surge in support among PN voters, Busuttil has now closed the gap by four points.

In a clear indication of the high level of demoralisation among PN voters following one the worse electoral defeats in the party's history, in June, 23% of PN voters were either undecided or trusted neither leader. A month later the percentage of PN voters who trust neither leader has dropped by eight points.

This could be an indication that a larger number of PN voters are warming up to their new leader; Simon Busuttil, who in the past month has taken a more visible public profile, especially in parliament, while promoting his party as a team.

Worryingly for Busuttil is the fact that for the second consecutive survey, 4.5% of PN voters in the last general election prefer Muscat to him. This indicates that Muscat is still able to position his party in a way which appeals to some Nationalist voters, without suffering any major losses in his own constituency. This suggests the PN has still not stopped the haemorrhage which bled the party before the 2013 election. It also suggests that Muscat's  appeasement of lobbies which were traditionally close to the PN could appeal to a category of PN voters.

Still Busuttil did manage to attract a tenth of the switchers, who abandoned his party in the last general election. This suggests that Busuttil does enjoy some appeal beyond the limited constituency of 2013 PN voters,

In the final instance Muscat manages to compensate for losses among the switchers by winning over another small chunk of Nationalist voters.

Understandably, Muscat is four points less trusted than he was at the height of the electoral campaign. Busuttil is also four points less trusted than Gonzi was in the same period.

A question of class or education?

Significantly, while in June Muscat emerged as the most trusted leader among respondents hailing from all educational groups, in this month's survey Simon Busuttil prevails against Muscat among respondents with a university education. In this category Busuttil's trust rating has improved by nine points at the expense of Muscat.

This suggests a consolidation of Busuttil in a category which includes the upper middle-class, which was always generally sympathetic to the Nationalist Party.

But in an interesting sign of changing dynamics, Muscat has strengthened his position among respondents with a post-secondary education. On the other hand, Busuttil lost eight points in this category.

Pre-electoral surveys had already suggested a shift of allegiance from PN to PL in this category of respondents. It suggests that Muscat has retained his appeal among lower middle-class respondents.

Busuttil has slightly improved his rating among respondents with both a secondary and primary education, two categories which include Labour's traditional, working-class constituency, where Muscat enjoys a higher trust rating.

But in a worrying sign for Muscat that not all is well on the home front, he also saw a five-point drop in support among respondents with a secondary education. But in this category Busuttil only manages to recover two points, in a sign that it will be hard for the PN leader to reap any benefits from working-class disenchantment - at least in the short term.

Methodology

The survey was conducted between Monday, 1 July and Thursday, 4 July. A total of 731 potential respondents were contacted by telephone for the interview, 400 of whom accepted. The results of the survey were weighted to reflect the age and gender balance of the population. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.9%.
james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...