[FULL DATA] Muscat leads by 15 points in trust barometer

Political leaders lose equal points in trust rating

james
James Debono
29 March 2015, 7:31am
Joseph Muscat retains a remarkable trust rating.
Joseph Muscat retains a remarkable trust rating.
MaltaToday Survey and Trust Barometer • 29 March 2015 | Create infographics
The latest MaltaToday survey shows both political leaders losing two points in their trust rating when compared to January and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat retaining his strong 15-point lead over opposition leader Simon Busuttil.

Two weeks before April’s local elections, the survey shows that Muscat remains more popular than his own party, which enjoys an eight-point lead over the Nationalist Party in voting intentions on a national level.

The survey shows the PN narrowing the gap between the two parties by a percentage point as the PN gained four points while the PL gained three points over their respective results for January.

That was the result comparing February with January. But where it comes to comparing the 2013 election result, the survey shows the PN losing 6% of its 2013 voters to the PL while the PL is losing 5% of its 2013 voters to the PN. This indicates that while the PN is showing signs of vitality attracting a small segment of PL voters, these gains are offset by losses among respondents who had voted PN in the last general election.

Moreover the trust barometer indicates that the segment of 2013 PN voters who prefer Muscat to Busuttil is greater than the segment of PL voters who prefer Busuttil to Muscat.

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While Busuttil is more trusted than Muscat by 4% of PL voters in 2013, Muscat is more trusted than Busuttil by 8% of PN voters in 2013. This indicates that Muscat still manages to seduce a segment of PN voters.

But while the survey shows Muscat as the more trusted leader, it also shows him enjoying the lowest approval rating since the 2013 general election.

The percentage of voters who trust his performance positively has fallen substantively from 58% immediately after the election to 42% now. Muscat’s approval rating has fallen consistently since November.

This indicates that while Busuttil has made no inroads, himself losing two points in the trust barometer, Muscat is facing the first signs of discontent among a segment of PL voters.

Significantly, one in every four Labour voters in 2013 now rate his performance as Prime Minister as “so-so”. And 41% of switchers who crossed from PN to PL in the 2013 election also deem his performance as “so-so”.

42% approve Muscat’s performance

Respondents were asked to rate Muscat’s performance as Prime Minister.

The survey shows Muscat’s approval rating slipping over the past months, declining by two points since November and by another point since January.

Muscat had seen the percentage of respondents who judge his performance positively slip from 59% in April 2013 to 46% in June before the push back of immigrants threat. Muscat’s approval rating rose to 51% in October 2013 but declined to 45% a year later and to 42% now. The latest survey shows the highest percentage ever of respondents who judge his performance as ‘so-so’ (39%).

Despite this dip in approval, which comes in the wake of two damning reports by the auditor general, one on the bail out of the Café Premier and another on the hedging of fuel from SOCAR, only 12% of respondents deem Muscat’s performance negatively.

But significantly for the first time since the general election, the survey shows an absolute majority (52%) of respondents who either judge Muscat’s performance negatively, or as ‘so-so’.

But Muscat’s approval rating remains substantially higher than that of Lawrence Gonzi, his predecessor as Prime Minister, in the 2008 to 2013 period. The highest ever approval rating for Gonzi stood at 38% in 2009. In subsequent surveys Gonzi’s approval rate hovered between 20% and 25%.

Despite seeing a steady decline in his approval rating, Muscat’s performance is still judged positively by 15% of those who voted for the PN in 2013.

This suggests that the PN’s electorate is split between a substantial minority (15%) who express a positive judgement on the new government and a solid core (33%) that express a negative judgement. The majority of PN voters (48%) express a so-so judgement, suggesting that the PN’s electorate is not a homogeneous entity.

It may also suggest that PN voters may appreciate Muscat’s repositioning of his party to the centre-right on certain issues.

Moreover the positive judgement of some PN voters may be the result of the positive economic results of the government, coupled with the power of incumbency, through which the new government holds the reins of patronage.

The survey shows some signs of disgruntlement among Labour voters.

Only 1% of PL voters in 2013 judge Muscat’s performance negatively. But a significant 25% (up from 16% in January) of PL voters judge his performance as so-so. Among switchers 41% give a so-so verdict.

This suggests that while Muscat has alienated a segment of switchers and Labour voters he still manages to offset these losses by charming voters who opted for Gonzi in 2013.

Busuttil trailing by 15 points

Respondents were asked which of the two political leaders they trust most.

In this survey Busuttil registers his lowest trust rating since June 2013 and Muscat his lowest trust rating since July 2013.

The survey clearly shows that the small gains Simon Busuttil is making among switchers and some Labour voters, are being offset by more substantial losses among 2013 PN voters.

In fact the survey does bring Busuttil some good news from the Labour front.

While Busuttil is the preferred choice of 9% of switchers who defected to Labour in 2013, interestingly Busuttil is also preferred to Muscat by 3% of PL voters in 2008. This suggests that Busuttil can appeal to a small segment of PL voters who feel alienated by Muscat.

Still, despite this modest gain by Busuttil, 56% of switchers still prefer Muscat to Busuttil.
But Muscat offsets these losses by making gains among 2013 PN voters, 8% of whom prefer him to the Nationalist Party leader.

This is further confirmation that Busuttil has not stopped the haemorrhage of PN voters, which has been ongoing since 2008.

Moreover, the survey, held a few days after the TimesTalk debate between the leaders, shows both leaders registering a two-point drop. This suggests that negative campaigning by both parties during the past weeks has taken a toll on the two leaders.

Labour leads by 8 points

For the second time since the 2013 general election, respondents were asked to state for which party they would vote if a general election were to be held tomorrow. The survey shows Labour leading by eight points, down from nine points in January.

This is because while the PN increased its share by four points, the PL has registered an increase of three points.

Interestingly the survey shows that while 6% of PN voters in 2013 would now vote Labour, 5% of PL voters in 2013 would now vote for the PN. This suggests a stalemate, with both parties losing nearly as much as they are gaining from the other side.

This may suggest that Muscat’s personal appeal among a category of PN voters does not necessarily translate into a vote for Labour in a forthcoming general election.

The survey also suggests that while 15% of PN voters judge Muscat’s performance positively and 8% trust him more than Busuttil, only 6% of PN voters in 2013 would vote Labour in a general election.

On the other hand while only 4% of PL voters in 2013 trust Busuttil more than Muscat, 5% of Labour respondents would vote PN in a forthcoming election.

This suggests that although Busuttil’s appeal among PL voters is limited, it is resulting in a definitive shift of allegiance for these voters while Muscat’s appeal among PN voters is stronger but translates into a similar shift of voters.

But with the PL starting the race with a 36,000-vote gap in its favour, this stalemate means that Labour still retains the same lead over the PN as in 2013.

The survey also shows the Greens retaining most of their 2013 voters and increasing their share through small gains from both major parties.

A substantial 9% would not vote if an election were held now. Significantly 5% of PL voters replied that they would not vote. The survey also shows a third of switchers being presently undecided on who to vote for in a general election.

Methodology

The survey was held between Wednesday 18 and Tuesday 24 March. A total of 832 respondents were contacted by telephone. 600 accepted to be interviewed. The survey was stopped when the 600 quota was reached. The results were weighed to reflect the age and gender balance of the population. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4 points.

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