[SURVEY] PN narrows the gap to 5 points

The PN has narrowed Labour’s lead from 8 points to 5 points, but Joseph Muscat leads Simon Busuttil by 13 points in the trust barometer. And 7% of all respondents say they trust Muscat more than Busuttil, but are either undecided or intent not voting. What’s happening?

james
James Debono
13 May 2014, 8:30am
While the PN has seen its support increase by 8 points since last week, the PL has seen its support increase by 5 points
While the PN has seen its support increase by 8 points since last week, the PL has seen its support increase by 5 points
The latest MaltaToday survey on voting intentions for the European elections due in two weeks’ time shows the PN narrowing the gap from 8 points last week, to 5 points now.

Held among 500 respondents, the survey shows Prime Minister Joseph Muscat leading Opposition leader Simon Busuttil by 13 points in the trust barometer – a crucial popularity test that often determines elections.

Moreover, the survey shows that 7% of the respondents who have more trust in Muscat than Busuttil, are still undecided or won’t vote in MEP elections.

This contrasts with just 2% of the respondents who have more trust in Busuttil but are either undecided or won’t vote. The survey indicates that if both parties manage to mobilise these two categories of voters, the gap between the PL and PN would grow by 10 points.

Despite Labour’s overall advantage, a small but significant three-point shift from the PL to the PN suggests that the PN is making small inroads among Labour voters, especially switchers.

Muscat’s constant appeals directed at Labour voters to vote for his party on May 24 have yet to pay off. On the other hand the PN seems to have recovered the same level of support before the dip in last week’s survey held in the aftermath of the civil unions vote.

Alfred Sant and Roberta Metsola still the two respective camps. Incumbents David Casa and Marlene Mizzi seem heading for reconfirmation along newcomer Miriam Dalli, but no clear favourite emerges for the PN’s probable third seat, which should be decided by second and subsequent vote preferences.

3-point shift from PL to PN

While the PN has seen its support increase by 8 points since last week, the PL has seen its support increase by 5 points.

This suggests increased mobilisation after both parties organised mass activities and fund raising activities on May 1. It also shows that interest in MEP elections has increased following a lull registered in last week’s survey, carried out in the three days before the May 1 public holiday.

The survey also shows Green party Alternattiva Demokratika retaining 2.4% while the far-right registers its first inroads garnering 1% of voting intentions.

While the progressive AD attracts a 2-point shift from the PN, the far-right is benefiting from a 2-point shift from the PL.

For the first time in the past year the survey registers a small but significant shift from the PL to the PN. While only 1% of PN voters intend switching sides to the PL, 4% of PL voters in the last election intend switching to the PN.

Significantly, the survey suggests that one-fifth of voters who voted PN in 2008 and then switched to Labour in 2013, have migrated back to the PN. In previous surveys only a tenth of switchers had done likewise.

Significantly 16% of switchers are now saying that they won’t vote in the election, while a tenth are migrating either towards the greens or to the far-right.  This suggests that 47% of switchers, will not be voting Labour on May 24.

The survey also shows that while 85% of PN voters in 2013 intend voting PN again in May, only 80% of PL voters in the last general election intend voting PL again.

The survey shows the PN recovering the same level of support (85%) among its 2013 cohort of voters registered in April before the vote on civil unions. In fact compared to last week the PN has recovered 4 points among its 2013 voters cohort.

For the first time, the number of undecided and non-voters in both camps is practically the same: 13% of PL voters and 11% of PN voters. This suggests that both parties have mobilised a greater percentage of their voters in the past week. 

But the survey suggests that there are more potential Labour voters than PN voters among undecided voters. 

In fact while 47% trust of undecided respondents trust Muscat more than Busuttil, only 10% of these undecided voters trust Busuttil more than Muscat. This suggests that Labour can still widen the gap, if it manages to appeal to the segment of undecided voters who prefer Muscat.

And while the PN starts the race with the advantage of attracting more of its core voters than the PL, the survey shows that the end result will depend on Muscat’s ability to mobilise Labour-leaning voters in the last two weeks of the campaign.

PN more popular than Busuttil

Busuttil has seen a 5-point increase from last week’s 27% trust rating to climb back to more respectable 33%. On the other hand Muscat’s trust rating has increased by 3 points to 46%.

Apart from inevitable fluctuations in the survey’s margin of error, this suggests that Busuttil’s popularity has recovered from the set-back registered in the polls following his party’s collective abstention on the civil unions bill.

The survey indicates that while Busuttil is slightly less popular than his party, Muscat is considerably more popular than his party. Ironically the situation is similar to that before the 2008 election, when Lawrence Gonzi was more popular than his party, while former Labour leader Alfred Sant was less popular than his own party.

It also reflects Muscat’s presidential style of politics, which contrasts with Busuttil’s more collegial party leadership. In fact, while Busuttil registers a trust rating of 33%, support for the PN has peaked at 34%. On the other hand, while 39% intend to vote for the PL, 46% trust Muscat more than Busuttil.

This suggests that Busuttil is managing to cut Labour’s lead, despite trailing Muscat by 13 points in the trust barometer.

But this shows that any PN gains may be ephemeral, if Labour manages to catch up with its leader. Curiously 2% of respondents who trust Muscat more than Busuttil will still vote PN in the next election.

Moreover while only 81% of respondents who trust Muscat more than Busuttil intend voting for Labour in the MEP elections, 92% of those who trust Busuttil more than Muscat will be voting PN.

And while only 6% of those who trust Busuttil more, are undecided or intent on not voting, 16% of those who trust Muscat the most are undecided or intent on not voting.

Importantly, these two cohorts represent 2% and 7% respectively, of the total number of respondents: this means that if both parties were to win these two categories of undecided voters, the gap between PN and PL would amount to 10-points. 

Interestingly a large part of those who trust Muscat more than Busuttil but are undecided on whom to vote for on May 24, have voted Labour in the past two elections. It is in this context that one has to see repeated appeals by the PM to the Labour core to vote in forthcoming elections.

High turnout among PL voters crucial for Muscat

It is the uncertainty of this category of traditional Labour voters who still trust Muscat more than Busuttil, but are not sure on whether to vote on May 24, which is troubling Labour strategists. It was probably concern over these voters which prompted Muscat to appeal for the support of the party’s “soldiers of steel”.

Winning back this category is considered crucial in the party’s bid to reconfirm its 2013 majority and deal a lethal blow to the PN opposition. A repeat of the 2013 victory would not only cement Labour’s political hegemony but would give legitimacy to more difficult and controversial decisions in the months following the election.

On the other hand if the PN manages to cut Labour’s 12-point lead substantially, the PL risks facing a re-invigorated opposition which would have more wind in its sail.

As things stand, the scale of Labour’s victory depends on the percentage of PL voters who turn up to vote. It is in this context that PN leader Simon Busuttil has been targeting disgruntled Labour voters as well as disillusioned switchers by inviting them to show Muscat a yellow card for disappointing their expectations.  In the next weeks the PN may capitalise on fears that a landslide victory would give Muscat license to push forward his agenda without any restraint.

No favourite for third PN seat

The survey shows former Labour leader Alfred Sant and incumbent MEP Roberta Metsola retaining their position as the front runners of their respective parties. 

While Metsola’s has gained 4 points, Sant registers a 7-point increase.

The survey shows a tie for the runner-up position in the Labour camp between newcomer Miriam Dalli and incumbent Marlene Mizzi.  Both Mizzi and Dalli enjoy a wide lead over other Labour candidates.

Although Sant, Mizzi, and Dalli are emerging as the favourites for Labour’s probable three seats, other candidates could return in the game if they benefit from significant vote transfers from Alfred Sant.

The survey also shows Gozitan candidate Clint Camilleri gaining some ground some support outside his Gozitan stronghold.

In the PN camp in this survey the two incumbents (Metsola and Casa) remain firmly in the lead. This month’s survey shows no clear favourite for the party’s probable third seat.

Due to the margin of error it is very difficult to determine the standing of other candidates and a very large segment of voters remains undecided. Moreover these results are only indicative because actual seats will be determined on the basis of second, third and subsequent preferences. Much will depend on how the surplus of the front-runners will be distributed among the rest of the candidates. 

This means that candidates with a low first count may still overtake stronger candidates who do not manage to attract the second preferences of the front-runners and eliminated weaker candidates.

Methodology

767 respondents were contacted by telephone between 5-9 May. 500 accepted to be interviewed. Results are weighed to reflect age and gender balance of the population. Margin of error +/-4.3%.

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