Muscat loses two points but retains 9-point trust rating

No gains for Simon Busuttil • Highest ever number of respondents say they trust neither Muscat nor Busuttil

james
James Debono
17 January 2016, 8:00am
Last updated on 18 January 2016, 8:57am
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Copy: MaltaToday Trust Barometer 17 January 2016
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Joseph Muscat has emerged as clearly more popular than his party, being trusted by 38% of voters. That’s eight points more than the percentage of voters who are sure of voting Labour again in an election.

On the other hand Busuttil is just one point more popular than his own party. 

The survey was conducted after the Christmas recess, which was dominated by the controversy over the PM’s New Year address, which saw him visiting the kitchen of a young couple who turned out to be the owners of a furniture factory. 

The survey indicates a small but consistent shift in favour of the PN. But it also shows a considerable movement between both parties.

While nearly 7% of PL voters in 2013 have switched to the PN, 3% of PN voters in 2013 have switched to the PL, confirming Muscat’s continued ability to charm a segment of the Nationalist electorate, with the PN still suffering a haemorrhage to Labour – the 3% of 2013 PN voters who said they would vote for Labour, down from 5% back in October.   

Altogether, the survey suggests that under Busuttil’s leadership the PN is narrowing the gap with Labour, but Muscat firmly remains the most trusted leader. Moreover, although the gap between the parties has been reduced to three points, undecided voters who trust Muscat more than Busuttil could once again tip the balance in favour of the Labour Party.  

The dilemma for Labour is that of alienating more switchers in its bid to mobilise or please disgruntled core voters intent on not voting.=

Muscat loses 2 points

Despite the difficulties he is facing as PM, Muscat retained a strong trust lead but has seen a two point drop since October. Significantly he has seen his trust rating decline by six points over last year’s figures. This suggests that diminishing standards of governance have taken a toll on the PM’s popularity.   

Busuttil failed to capitalise on these losses, retaining the same rating as that registered in both October and in January 2015. What has changed since last year is the gap between the two leaders, with Muscat’s rating taking a nose dive while Busuttil’s remained stable.

The survey also confirms Busuttil’s ability to appeal to a segment of switchers who voted PN in 2008 and Labour in 2013. Back in March, only 9% of these voters preferred him. Now 25%, compared to 27% in October, prefer him to Muscat. This suggests that Busuttil’s more assertive style of leadership over the past year, which has seen him ditch two former Ministers (Joe Cassar and Giovanna Debono), is paying some dividends.

Busuttil has also firmly consolidated his position among 2013 PN voters – 81% of whom regard him as the most trusted leader, up from 79% in October and 77% in June. This shows that over the past months Busuttil consolidated his position among PN voters while making limited inroads among switchers and Labour voters. 

Muscat still manages to charm a segment of the PN’s 2013 voters: 3% say they now prefer him to Busuttil, down from 6% in October.  

What is of concern to Muscat is the confirmation of a numerous segment of PL voters in 2013 that trust neither leader – up from 7% to 12% since June and down from 13% in October – suggesting that Busuttil stands strong with his restricted electorate, while Muscat faces problems with his electorate while still enticing a segment of PN voters. 

Significantly the survey shows the number of respondents who trust neither leader rise by 11 points but this is mainly accounted for by an eight-point decrease in undecided respondents. Yet Muscat’s drop has mainly been reflected in the increase in respondents who trust neither him nor Busuttil. This may reflect greater skepticism of voters with regard to the political class.

One third of switchers go back home

For the third consecutive time, the survey registers a small but significant shift in favour of the PN. 

7% of PL voters in 2013 say they will vote for the PN; only 3% of PN voters will vote PL. This suggests Labour has lost some 11,600 votes of its 2013 voters to the PN… which is itself losing 4,500 to the PL. Surprisingly, despite higher concern on environmental issues, the Greens only garner 1% in the survey and do not benefit from any swing from either party.

But 31% of switchers – PN voters who switched to Labour in 2013 – now say they will vote for the PN again, up from just 12% in March.

Despite its inroads among switchers, the PN has not entirely stemmed the haemorrhage of votes to Labour. 

But the party seems less vulnerable to Muscat’s appeal to middle-of-the-road voters.  In fact the percentage of 2013 PN voters who intend to switch to Labour has declined from 5% in October to 3% now. This could be an indication that Muscat’s actions over the past months have dented his appeal among this category of voters.

Labour also faces greater problems than the PN in mobilising its voters. Only 2% of the PN’s 2013 voters say they would not vote if an election if held now; that percentage is 13% for Labour’s voters.

But Muscat still commands a stronger following than his party. 38% trust Muscat more than Busuttil, when only 30% say they will vote Labour if an election were held now. On the other hand, Busuttil, at 29%, is only slightly more popular than his party. 

Even among switchers where ‘only’ 42% are sure of voting Labour again, 47% trust Muscat more than Busuttil, suggesting that Labour has more room to grow than the PN in recovering its 2013 voters.  This is based on the assumption that voters who trust Muscat more than Busuttil would be more disposed to vote for Labour in a real election preceded by an electoral campaign in which the party in government wields the power of incumbency.

In fact, while 77% of PL voters say they prefer Muscat, only 68% are sure of voting Labour. On the other hand, while 81% of PN voters prefer Busuttil, 80% of PN voters will vote PN again.  

Methodology 

Survey held between Monday 11 January and Thursday 14 January. 688 respondents contacted and survey stopped after 450- quota sample reached. Margin of error +/-4.6 percentage points. 38.3.% of respondents said they voted PL in 2013, while 25.4% said they voted PN – which suggests a slight over representation of PL voters in the sample.

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