Poll of polls: Labour heading for absolute majority

An extrapolation of survey results conducted over the past three weeks by MaltaToday shows the PL heading for an absolute majority of between 51% and 55%. But the scale of Labour’s victory depends on a strategic category of voters who right up to the last survey preferred Joseph Muscat to Simon Busuttil

james
James Debono
25 May 2014, 7:33am
Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle emerge from the Burmarrad polling station on Saturday (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle emerge from the Burmarrad polling station on Saturday (Photo: Chris Mangion)

*average of extrapolated result for each party in the four polls conducted over past month

Labour is heading to win an absolute majority of between 51% and 55%.

This emerges from an extrapolation of results of polls conducted between 4 May and 22 May, after removing don’t knows and respondents who won’t be voting.

The mean gap between the two parties, based on extrapolated results of surveys conducted in the last three weeks of polling stands at 9 points. 

The latest survey conducted between Monday and Wednesday situates the gap between the major parties at 6 points. But after removing ‘don’t knows’ and ‘non voters’ the gap between the PL and the PN rises to 8 points. 

MaltaToday is informed that this gap tallies with internal surveys carried out by both major parties.

Surveys conducted over the past three weeks consistently showed Alfred Sant and Roberta Metsola as the two main front-runners in their respective parties. Marlene Mizzi and Miriam Dalli trailed Sant in the Labour Party while David Casa emerged as the PN’s runner up.

Result hinges on undecided ex-PL voters

Surveys show that the size of the gap between the two parties depends on the level of abstention in both camps.

Surveys suggest that an 85% turnout among PN voters in 2013 against a PL turnout of 80% in same election will yield a smaller extrapolated gap of between 6 and 8 points.

On the other hand, an 80% turnout in both parties will yield a gap of over 9 points in Labour’s favour.

 

One important factor weighing on these elections is the behaviour of undecided respondents on Saturday. It is probable that this segment also includes respondents who will not be voting.

One major factor which makes the gap between the two parties hard to predict is the large number of respondents who trust Muscat more than Busuttil but remained unsure who to vote for in the MEP elections.

This category represented 6% of respondents in the latest MaltaToday survey. This means that if this category turns up to vote on Saturday, Labour’s margin of victory would be closer to the 2013 election result. But if a large section of these voters abstain, Labour may win with a relatively small margin.

It is in this context that both major parties seem keen on encouraging abstention on the other side, while seeking to mobilise core voters. That explains Simon Busuttil’s call on voters to show Muscat the “yellow card” and Muscat’s constant pleas to the party’s “soldiers of steel”.

Moreover, in a bid to rally voters, Muscat changed tactics right in the middle of the campaign. While initially underplaying the importance of the result – presenting his party as the underdog of the campaign – towards the end of the campaign he expressed confidence in another landslide victory. He even went as far as to take the risk of portraying these elections as a choice between him and Busuttil. This could be interpreted as a move to underscore the importance of these elections among lukewarm Labour voters.

Muscat could also be counting on polls showing that he is more trusted than Busuttil.

But it is not just Labour which faces disgruntlement or a lack of interest among its voters in these elections. Surveys have shown that around 20% of both PN and PL voters in 2013 are either undecided or won’t vote.

But while former PL voters are more likely to trust Muscat, most undecided PN voters trust neither of the two leaders. 

The scale of Labour’s victory will not only depend on how many former Labour voters turn up to vote but also on how many former PN voters will stay at home.

Although a low turnout on Saturday may well indicate problems for Labour, much depends on the turnout of PN voters.   

Surveys have consistently shown a very small shift from the PL to the PN.

Only a small category of switchers (PN voters in 2008 and PL voters in 2013) are shifting from PL to PN or AD. What is more significant is the high level of indecision among switchers registered in all surveys undertaken in the past weeks.

This shows that in its attempts to mobilise its core vote, the PL may well have alienated switchers who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013.

Surveys indicate that support for all third parties combined is under 4%.

Support for AD seems to be close to somewhere between 3% and 4% while support for the far right oscillates between 1% and 2%. But support for third parties may be under- or over-represented in surveys due to the 4-point margin of error. 

Surveys also tend to underestimate support for the far right, as people may not be keen on any public association with notorious candidates like Imperium Europa’s Norman Lowell. This is because in surveys the world over, respondents are not likely to admit to what others may perceive as anti-social behaviour. 

Who will grab the PN’s third seat?

Surveys provide no clue as to who will win the PN’s third seat. As things stand, a probable third PN candidate will be the last one to be elected, probably without securing a full quota.

When it comes to the choice of candidates, the survey indicates that within the PL camp, Alfred Sant, Marlene Mizzi and Miriam Dalli are the most likely to get elected, although a large vote for Sant would mean that other candidates may come back into the game after Sant’s surplus is distributed. A disproportionate share of Sant’s vote to any candidate will alter the dynamics of the elections.

MaltaToday’s survey gives incumbent Marlene Mizzi a small advantage over newcomer Miriam Dalli for the runner-up position. But even this battle seems to be too close to call, and Dalli’s popularity as a TV personality may boost her support among respondents who make up their mind on which candidate they choose at the very last moment.

The donkey vote which penalised Mizzi in the 2004 MEP elections may also play a role this time round, as a segment of candidates tends to choose a particular candidate and then proceed by voting all the party’s candidates in the same alphabetical order as they are listed on the ballot sheet.

As regards the PN, the only certainty is that Roberta Metsola and incumbent David Casa start as favourites for the PN – two sure seats, while a possible third seat will be determined by the complex system of vote transfers.

In the PN’s case, vote transfers from eliminated candidates may play a more decisive role than in Labour, where Sant is set to win a greater portion of votes than either Metsola or Casa.

Moreover, although both major parties are likely to win three seats each, their designs could be thwarted by voters who vote for one or two candidates.

A segment of voters may be impressed by the qualities of strong personalities like Sant or Metsola, but may use their vote to express their disillusionment at the quality of other candidates. 

The number of these voters may be an important factor in the final seat allocation.  Others may also give their first preference to either of the two big parties and continued on AD or another party. Some may even be tempted to choose candidates among all the parties on the list. Voters may feel more free to experiment with their vote in an election where the government of the country is not at stake.

This will probably result in a situation where one – or even two – candidates will be elected without reaching the required quota. The quota itself may also be reduced thanks to a low turn out. In such an eventuality, even third party candidates with a significant number of first preferences may get back in the game. But their survival will depend on the number of transfers they receive from candidates belonging to the big parties.

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