Steward stuns Labour and Abela in worst polls ever

MaltaToday survey | Labour crashes to its worst result ever as PN closes gap in wake of hospitals scandal

The March survey comes after a momentous court judgment that annulled the Steward hospitals concession agreement because of fraud
The March survey comes after a momentous court judgment that annulled the Steward hospitals concession agreement because of fraud

Voters have punished the Labour Party over the Steward hospitals scandal as it crashes to its worst ever result, according to MaltaToday’s March 2023 survey.

The survey shows support for the PL at 30.8%, an eight-point decline since February, and just two points ahead of the Nationalist Party. This is the lowest result ever obtained by the PL.

Support for the PN now stands at 28.4%, an increase of almost six points since February.

The gap between the parties now stands at 8,500 votes without attributing any voting intention to those who are uncertain or will not vote. Significantly, the difference between the parties is within the margin of error, something not seen for years.

Non-voters now stand at 24.8%, a one-point increase, while support for ADPD stands at 2.1%, up 1.4 points. Other small parties registered 2.6%, an increase of 0.6 points.

The survey was held between 3 and 10 March in the aftermath of a court judgment that annulled the Steward hospitals contract.

Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale struck down the concession agreement on 24 February, attributing fraudulent intent to Steward.

He also ordered that the Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals be returned to the government.

In the aftermath of the court ruling, parliament held an emergency debate on the matter and the PN organised two protests.

The deal that saw the transfer of the three public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare, an obscure private company, was struck in 2015. It was a flagship project of the Joseph Muscat administration but in 2018, the concession was transferred to Steward Healthcare after VGH failed to live up to its commitments.

Steward also failed to fulfil its contractual obligations, which included the construction of a new state-of-the-art general hospital in Gozo and the refurbishment of St Luke’s to be used for medical tourism.

In 2018, then Opposition leader Adrian Delia filed a court case to have the contract rescinded and judgment was delivered last month. The court decision is not yet final pending appeal proceedings, which the government has said it wants to be heard with urgency.

Nothing can be taken for granted

The survey findings suggest that the Labour government has suffered backlash from the court ruling and helped consolidate support for the PN, which put up a united front.

Contrary to past surveys the PN has managed to claw back invaluable ground with various cohorts of voters.

The survey is a snapshot of the current situation and it remains to be seen whether these findings develop into a trend over the coming months.

The PL did suffer a setback, albeit less pronounced, two years ago at the height of the pandemic but recovered afterwards.

For the PL, much will depend on how the government reacts to the court decision – from ensuring that justice is served in all its forms to what will happen to the unfulfilled promises linked to the concession. But what the numbers definitely suggest, is that the PL’s rock-solid majority cannot be taken for granted.

Concurrently, the PN’s renewed unity remains crucial for the party to put up a solid alternative but in doing so it cannot ignore the recent past and understand that voter transition is not automatic.

With a quarter of voters adamant on not voting, the cohort of disgruntled voters remains big. Much will depend on how the PN articulates its alternative vision for government that goes beyond being anti-Labour.

PN ahead among young voters

The PN beats the PL among women voters (31.2% vs 29.6%), while male voters give the PL a relative majority over the PN (31.9% vs 25.9%).

For the first time in many months, the PN edges the PL among young voters. Support for the Opposition party among those aged between 16 and 35 now stands at 22.6%, against the PL’s 21.6%.

The PL enjoys a healthy lead over its rival among those aged between 36 and 50. The government party has the support of 28% of voters in this age cohort, against the PN’s 16.6%.

The PN gains an edge among those aged between 51 and 65, while the PL edges ahead among pensioners aged 65 and over.

Gozo strikes back at PL

On a geographical basis, each party wins three regions. The PN’s best performance is in Gozo where it scores 42.5% against the PL’s 24.3%. The Steward case has particular relevance in Gozo because the promised new hospital was never built.

The PN also triumphs in the Northern Harbour region, scoring 39.6% over the PL’s 24.2%, and the Western region where it edges ahead with 29.9% against the PL’s 29%.

The PL’s best performance is in the Southern Harbour, where it scores 48.6% against the PN’s 15.5%. The PL also wins comfortably in the South-Eastern region with 37.3% against the PN’s 15.8%, and comes out in front in the Northern region with 24% versus the PN’s 20.4%.

The numbers within these subgroups have to be treated with caution, given that they carry a higher margin of error than the overall result but they do give an indication of voter sentiment.

Labour suffers loss in voter retention

Analysing the results by political allegiance shows a sharp drop in voter retention by the PL when compared to previous surveys.

The PL retains 65.9% of people who voted for it in the 2022 general election, down from the 77.9% registered in the February survey.

Additionally, 13% and 15.1% of PL voters respectively say they are uncertain or will not vote, while 3.3% say they will vote PN if an election is held now.

The PN retains 76.3% of voters that voted for it in the last general election, up from 67.3% in the February survey.

Of those who voted PN in March 2022, 6.6% are uncertain what to do now and 11% will not vote, while 1.9% will vote Labour.

The numbers show that there is a slight shift of voters from the PL to the PN. Additionally, the PN gains more than the PL among those who did not vote in the 2022 general election.

Significantly, three-quarters of non-voters in 2022 (which include those who had a right to vote but did not cast their ballot and new voters who turned 16 since then) remain steadfast in choosing not to vote if an election is held now.

Trust barometer | Abela hit by massive 11-point trust fall

Robert Abela’s trust rating has suffered its biggest fall in a month with the Prime Minister now scoring 34.3%, his lowest ever result, a MaltaToday survey shows.

Abela’s trust rating declines by almost 11 points in the March survey when compared to February as his party is punished by voters over the Steward hospitals scandal.

His rival Bernard Grech registers an increase of six points to reach 26.1%, closing the trust gap to eight points.

Abela remains more popular than his party, while Grech still trails the PN.

Significantly, the survey shows a sharp increase of eight points among those who say they trust none of the two leaders. This cohort of voters now stands at 35.8%.

The Prime Minister’s fall comes in the wake of the court decision that annulled the hospitals concession over fraud and unfulfilled contractual obligations. The project was a flagship of the Joseph Muscat administration.

Abela strong among under-50s

Contrary to the results obtained by the parties, Abela beats Grech among men and women and across all age groups.

Among young voters (16-35) and those aged between 36 and 50, Grech trails badly behind Abela. The PL leader scores 24.8% among young voters against the PN leader’s 16.3%, while among the 36-50 cohort Abela hits 30.1% against Grech’s 16.3%.

On a geographical basis, Grech beats Abela in Gozo and the Northern Harbour regions but fails to maintain his own party’s winning streak in the Western region. Abela triumphs in the other four regions.

Grech’s strongest performance is in Gozo where he scores a trust rating of 41.8% against the PL leader’s 29%. Abela’s strongest performance is in the Southern Harbour region, where he obtains 49.9% against the PN leader’s 12.5%.

Abela retains the trust of 70.9% of those who voted for the Labour Party in the 2022 general election, while Grech retains the trust of 68.3% of Nationalist voters.

The survey shows that 3.3% of Labour voters trust Grech, while 3.7% of Nationalist voters trust Abela. Each leader has to contend with a quarter of voters for their respective parties who trust neither of them.

Among non-voters in 2022, 79.1% trust no one, while Abela enjoys a slight edge over his rival – 6.5% of non-voters trust the Prime Minister while 5.6% trust the Opposition leader.

The findings suggest that although voters have punished Abela over the hospitals scandal, he remains the PL’s best asset. It remains to be seen whether the Prime Minister can recover from this pummelling over the coming months but the numbers so far suggest that he retains an advantage over his rival, who still struggles to make inroads among voters under 50 and in the south.


The survey was carried out between Friday 3 March 2023 and Friday 10 March 2023. 574 respondents opted to complete the survey. Stratified random sampling based on region, age and gender was used to replicate the Maltese demographic. The estimated margin of error is 4.8% for a confidence interval of 95% for the overall results. Demographic and sub-group breakdowns have significantly larger margins of error.