MaltaToday survey • Labour leads by 7 points

Joseph Muscat holds his ground with the switchers in 2013 although the cracks are evident, while Simon Busuttil is still strong with his grassroots by the inroads he has made so far are not visible.

james
James Debono
17 March 2014, 12:24pm
Alfred Sant, who led Labour's campaign against EU membership in 2003, is leading the polls to be elected to MEP
Alfred Sant, who led Labour's campaign against EU membership in 2003, is leading the polls to be elected to MEP
The survey reveals that while a segment of PL supporters are lukewarm in their assessment of Muscat’s performance in government, a segment of PN voters in the last election have warmed up to the new government.

In fact among PN voters in the last election, 11% deem Muscat’s performance as PM positively while 7% have more trust in Muscat than in Busuttil. But only 3% of PN voters intend to vote Labour in May.

On the other hand, 12% of PL voters judge Muscat’s performance as PM as ‘so and so’ and a further 4% judge his performance negatively. 

4% of PL voters have more trust in Busuttil than in Muscat. But only 2% of PL voters intend voting PN in May.

The survey also reveals the four front-runners for the next MEP elections, namely newcomers Alfred Sant and Miriam Dalli on Labour’s side and the PN’s two incumbent MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa. The other two seats are up for grabs with no candidate establishing any significant lead over the others so far.

The survey suggests that former Labour leader Alfred Sant will get the largest share of votes.

48% approve Muscat’s performance

Slightly less than half of respondents approve of Muscat’s performance as Prime Minister of the country.

Muscat’s approval rate slipped from 59% in April, a few weeks after his party’s victory in the election, to 42% in July, only to rise again to 51% in October. Since then his approval rate has stabilised at 47-48%.

Muscat’s approval rate remains higher than that of his predecessor Lawrence Gonzi at any time between 2008 and 2013. In fact Gonzi reached his highest rate of approval (41%) in September 2008, only to slip to an approval rate of 19% a year later.

Compared to December, Muscat’s approval rating has increased by one point. But, significantly, the percentage of respondents who deem his performance ‘so and so’ has increased by 11 points.

On the other hand, the percentage of those who replied ‘don’t know’ when asked to judge his performance slipped by 11 points. This reflects a radicalisation of political discourse in the past months, characterised by the debate on the citizenship scheme and a more assertive opposition.

Most worrying for the Prime Minister is that more than one in ten of Labour voters judge his performance as ‘so and so’ while nearly one in twenty judge his performance negatively.

Among respondents who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013, nearly one in five judge his performance negatively, while a further 14% judged his performance ‘so and so’. This suggests that 33% of switchers deem the PM’s performance unsatisfactory.

But the most surprising result is that more than one in every ten Nationalist voters in 2013 judged Muscat’s performance positively. Only 39% of PN respondents outrightly describe his performance as a negative one while 45% deem his performance to be ‘so and so’.

This suggests that PN voters are split into three camps: an 11% minority which gives the PM a positive assessment, a larger 39% minority which deems the PM’s performance negatively, and a relative majority of 45% of PN voters who deem his performance insufficient but not completely negative. Reconciling these three different tendencies in his party could be a difficult task for PN leader Simon Busuttil, who so far seems keen on projecting a hawkish and assertive opposition in a bid to raise the morale of the party’s grassroots.  

The latest decision to vote in favour of Coleiro Preca as President of the Republic could represent an effort to project a more conciliatory approach.

Ultimately the survey shows that growing discontentment among Labour voters and switchers is being cancelled out by a more favourable attitude amongst a section of PN voters. The PL’s power of incumbency and the party’s shift to the centre-right on several issues could also be a factor in Muscat’s ability to charm a category of PN voters. On the other hand, this shift may alienate a part of the Labour vote.

Muscat leads Busuttil by 18 points

Compared to December 2013, Muscat has slightly increased the trust lead over PN leader Simon Busuttil by a point.

Both leaders have lost ground over last month. While Muscat lost a point, Busuttil has lost 2 points. The percentage of respondents who trust neither of the two leaders has also increased slightly, by a point. 

Significantly, while 4% of PL voters in the last election trust Busuttil more than Muscat (up from just 1.4% in December), 7% of PN voters trust Muscat more than Busuttil.

This suggests that Muscat is making more inroads in the Nationalist Party’s restricted voting base than Busuttil in Labour’s larger base. 

The good news for Busuttil is that 9% of switchers who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013 now prefer him to Muscat. If this trend continues over the next years, the next general election could be a more balanced affair.

But Muscat still retains the trust of two-thirds of switchers (64%) while 9% trust neither of the two leaders. This suggests that although the loyalties of this category remain fluid, Muscat is still the preferred leader among this strategic category of voters.

The survey also shows Busuttil being trusted by 75% of PN voters while Muscat is trusted by 90% of Labour voters. This suggests that Muscat enjoys a more solid hold within his own party than Busuttil. The survey even shows that Busuttil has lost 10 points among the PN category of voters since December.

Significantly, while 83% of PL voters (down from 85% in December) judge Muscat’s performance as prime minister positively, 90% trust their leader more than Busuttil. This suggests that a section of Labour voters is disenchanted by Muscat’s performance in government but would still prefer him to Busuttil.

The bad news for Labour is that this category could send a message by not voting in May. Added to this is a latent euroscepticism, which could make Labour voters more lukewarm on electing representatives to the EU parliament.

Labour 7 points ahead

Curiously, while Busuttil trails Muscat by a staggering 18 points, the gap between the two parties when it comes to voting intentions for elections for the European parliament due next May amounts to only 7 points. This means that compared to last year’s election, the PN has already cut the gap by 5 points.

The good news for the Nationalist Party is that a tenth of Labour voters – most of whom still prefer Muscat to Busuttil – would not vote in next May’s election.

The bad news for the Nationalist Party is that it is still suffering from a small haemorrhage of votes to Labour. In fact 3% of PN voters in 2013 will vote PL in next May’s election.

This is partly offset by 2% of PL voters (mainly switchers) who will be voting PN next May.

This means that even in opposition, the PN has remained vulnerable to Muscat’s seductive appeal to its ever-shrinking voting base. In this way, Muscat is able to offset any small losses among switchers and PL voters.

As things stand the only factor saving the PN from another humiliating defeat next May is the abstention of PL voters.

The good news for Muscat is his ability to continue to expand in Nationalist territory and therefore compensate for losses among Labour voters and switchers. The bad news is that although 68% of switchers approve his performance in government, 50% are undecided on who to vote for in the next election and only a third have already made up their mind to vote Labour.

The survey indicates that most of these undecided switchers still gravitate towards Labour. In fact 64% prefer Muscat to Busuttil. But their vote is not a forgone conclusion. Moreover a tenth of switchers have already migrated back to the Nationalist Party.

The survey indicates low levels of support for third parties. Only 1.3% intend voting for the Greens while 0.5% intend voting for other parties or candidates. But with 40% of voters not revealing their intentions or not voting, support for all parties could be higher than that registered in the survey.

Alfred Sant the front-runner

The survey indicates that ten years after leading his party in a campaign against EU membership, Alfred Sant will probably emerge as the candidate winning most votes in next May’s European elections. 12% of all voters and 35% of PL voters intend to vote for Sant. In his party the other sure bet is Miriam Dalli, who is supported by 18% of PL voters.

This suggests that the sovereignist Labour intellectual and former prime minister still enjoys the respect of a large section of Labour voters.

On the other side, the only sure bets are the incumbents – Nationalist MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa. The only surprise is that Metsola, who replaced Simon Busuttil in the European parliament a year ago, emerges as the frontrunner, surpassing Casa by 6 points among PN voters. 

The survey indicates that the other two seats are up for grabs and no candidate emerges as a favourite. The only indication given by this survey is that Francis Zammit Dimech has a slight advantage in the PN camp while incumbent Marlene Mizzi and candidate Cyrus Engerer are a step ahead of the others in the Labour camp. But any advantage any candidate can have in this survey may be attributed to the survey’s margin of error.

Ultimately the fifth and sixth candidate will be elected on the basis of the second, third and subsequent preferences inherited from the front-runners.

Methodology

551 respondents were contacted by telephone between Monday 10 March and Thursday 13 March.  400 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 +/-4.9%.

 

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