MaltaToday Survey | Busuttil rides high as Muscat holds trust rating after Panamagate

Simon Busuttil's trust has jumped up four points, his greatest leap yet over these past three years, to close the gap between him and Joseph Muscat - who retains a 37% trust rating - to just 3.7 points, the smalles gap ever.

james
James Debono
13 March 2016, 8:00am
Last updated on 14 March 2016, 7:30am
Honest politics delivers its payback for Simon Busuttil, who has made an unprecedented jump in trust ratings
Honest politics delivers its payback for Simon Busuttil, who has made an unprecedented jump in trust ratings
MaltaToday Trust Barometer 21 February 2016
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The PN is trailing the PL by just a single percentage point. Joseph Muscat leads Busuttil by 4 points, down from 8 points last month and 15 points last year

MaltaToday’s latest survey shows Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil gaining four valuable trust points as the number of those who trust neither party leader decreased.  

But in an indication of re-entrenchment amongst Labour voters, the Prime Minister has retained the same trust level registered in a survey held last month before revelations on companies registered in Panama by Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

The survey was held among 550 respondents between Monday and Wednesday.

While Muscat held his ground among 2008 Labour voters, where he registers the same level of trust, he has lost trust among switchers (respondents who voted PN in 2008 and Labour in 2013). 

Among this category the percentage of those who trust him more than Busuttil has decreased from 39% to 23%. But Muscat’s trust rating has increased slightly among traditional PL voters.  

Significantly for the first time Simon Busuttil is more trusted by switchers than Muscat. While 27% of switchers now trust Busuttil, only 23% trust Muscat more.  41% of switchers trust neither of the two leaders.  

Busuttil registers the highest ever trust rating recorded since he was elected party leader, while Muscat’s registers his lowest.

The PN has consolidated its hold over its 2008 voting base, of whom only 5% (down from 10% last month) would vote PL now  and 77% now intend voting PN (up from 72% last month).

Continues from page 1 In the trust barometer, Busuttil now trails Muscat by eight points, down from nine last month. This is the lowest gap between the two leaders registered in the past two years.

On the other hand, although 2008 Labour voters are surprisingly less keen on not voting than last month (down from 10% to 7%) they are more willing to switch sides.   4% of these traditional PL voters have shifted to the PN or AD (up from none last month).

The survey also suggests that electoral fever is increasingly gripping the country with all three parties scoring gains. But while the PN has gained 6 points, Labour gains 4 points and AD gains half a point.   

The results of the survey must be seen in the light of an increase in the proportion of voters who were willing to declare their voting intentions. In fact the share of respondents who declared their political allegiance in 2013 has shot up from 66% in February to 76% now. The percentage of those who declared their present voting intentions has also shot up from 59% last month to 69% now. The survey sample reflects the result of the 2013 general election, with 43% declaring they had voted for the PL and 32% voting for the PN.

How Panamagate has impacted Labour voters

The survey shows the percentage of Labour voters in 2013, who trust neither of the two leaders, has risen from 11% to 14%.  5% of Labour voters (the same as last month) trust Busuttil more than Muscat while 78% trust Muscat more than Busuttil.

Not surprisingly Panamagate has left a greater impact on switchers (respondents who voted PL in 2013 and PN in 2008) than traditional labour voters. Among switchers the percentage of those who trust Muscat more than Busuttil has declined from 38% to 23% while those who trust Busuttil more than Muscat has remained stable at 27%.  The percentage of switchers who trust neither leader has shot up from 22% to 41%.  

Moreover within this category only 20% intend voting for the PL again, down from 33% last month. Significantly the percentage of switchers who would now vote PN has shot up from 28% to 32%. This means that one in every three switchers has now returned to the fold. The percentage of switchers intending to vote PN has increased from just 12% a year ago to 32% now.

Interestingly the number of undecided switchers has gone up from 6% last month to 27% now, while 21% will not be voting. This is an indication that w

But Panamagate has had less of an impact on most traditional Labour voters even if it has spurred a small but significant minority of PL voters to switch political allegiance. 

While none of these voters shifted to other parties in the February survey 2.5% now intend voting PN while 1% intend voting AD. Moreover the number of traditional PL voters who trust Busuttil more than Muscat has slightly increased from 2% to 3%.  This suggests that the PN has started to nibble at the PL’s core vote.

Surprisingly the percentage of traditional Labour voters who trust neither party leader has slightly gone down from 10.5% to 9.2% after Panamagate. This suggests that although Muscat’s leadership still faces a problem of trust with a significant part of Labour’s electorate, Panamagate has not resulted in a further increase of disgruntlement among this category of voters.

But the survey suggests that Panamagate has further strengthened the unease among this section of PL voters to the extent that some are switching allegiances. In fact while the percentage of traditional PL voters who intend not to vote in a forthcoming election has decreased by 4 points the percentage who are defecting to the PN or AD has also increased by 4 points.

Joseph Muscat still remains more popular than his own party although less than before. While 34% would vote for the PL in a forthcoming election, 37% trust Muscat more than Busuttil. Last month Muscat was 7 points more popular than his party.  Now he is only 3 points more popular than his party.

Moreover while Muscat registers the same trust rating as last month, the percentage of respondents who will vote for the PL has increased by 4 points.  This reflects the overall increase in respondents of both parties who were willing to declare their present and past voting intentions in this particular survey. This may be attributed to the political climate.

While the gap between the two parties amounts to just a percentage point, Muscat is now 4 points ahead of Busuttil.  This suggests that in a presidential style contest the PL may enjoy a wider margin over the PN than the one-point difference registered in the survey.  

How Panamagate has impacted PN voters

The survey clearly shows that the PN has consolidated its voting base.

While in February 10% of PN voters in 2008 declared that they would vote for the PL in a forthcoming election, in this survey only 5% of these voters opted for Labour.  Surveys over the past years consistently showed the PN losing 10% to 15% of its 2008 voters to Labour.  In this sense Panamagate may have well served to help the PN recover its 2008 strength.

The survey also indicates that the party has recovered most of its 2008 voters who abstained in the 2013 general election. The party has clearly made greater inroads among non-voters in 2013, 20% of whom would vote PN while only 9% would vote Labour.

Neither is the PN registering any significant losses to Labour. In fact while the PN is on the receiving end, with 5% of PL voters in 2013 now intent on voting for it, it is losing 2% of its 2013 voters to Labour. Moreover while a year ago only 12% of switchers intended to vote PN, now 32% will be voting for the opposition party.

Still although the PN is gaining more votes from the PL than losing, it still starts the race with a 36,000 vote deficit. The main reason why the PN is lagging one point behind the PL is that 10% of PL voters in 2013 will presently not vote (compared to 6% of PN voters).

Only 2% of PN voters in 2013 trust Muscat more than Busuttil and would vote PL if an election were held now. Surveys held in 2014 had shown the PN still losing between 5% and 10% of its 2013 vote base to Labour. This suggests that Muscat has lost the power to lure PN voters to his fold.

Presently 90% of the PN’s 2013 voters would vote PN again (up from 86% last month).  But the PN still faces a problem with a segment of its 2013 voters, 6% of whom would not vote in a forthcoming election and 11% of whom trust neither Muscat nor Busuttil. In this sense the PN’s hopes on winning the next election hinge on recovering its own disgruntled voters, especially if Labour fails to recover its own disgruntled voters.

The survey suggests that the latest events have consolidated Busuttil’s position among 2013 voters, 87% of whom trust him more than Muscat. 77% of PN voters in 2008 also trust him more than Muscat (up from 74% last month).

While Muscat remains more popular than his own party, Busuttil is just as popular as his own party. This means that the PN has less room to grow than the PL in a presidential contest. 

The survey shows the Greens increasing their support by half a point, from 0.8% to 1.3%.  For the first time since 2008 the green vote is larger than the gap between the two larger parties.

Comparing Xarabank’s and MaltaToday’s surveys

Both surveys have revealed practically identical results when it comes to voting intentions, with MaltaToday showing a 1% difference, and Xarabank’s a 1.8% difference.

The trust rating is based on a slightly different question: Xarabank asked who is “trusted to run the country” while MaltaToday simply asks “who do you trust the most” – but the difference remains within the 4-point margin of error.

Xarabank placed Joseph Muscat three points higher than MaltaToday’s 37% rating, and Simon Busuttil was 3 points lower than MaltaToday’s 33% rating. Again, the differences fall squarely within the margin of error.

Xarabank found the PN at 6 points stronger than Busuttil, while in MaltaToday they are equally strong; this week the trend was for PN voters to express trust in Busuttil as much as in the party.

The other crucial difference is that MaltaToday’s was held between Monday and Wednesday, while Xarabank’s was held between Monday and Thursday.

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