Surveys converging at 10-point lead for Labour

The Labour Party’s lead over the Nationalist Party stands at an average 9.6 points based on the results of three newspaper surveys in March and April

The Labour Party’s lead over the Nationalist Party stands at an average 9.6 points based on the results of three newspaper surveys in March and April.

This translates into a 25,000-vote advantage on an average turnout of 71.3% as captured by the MaltaToday, Times of Malta and it-Torċa surveys.

The comparative exercise shows that the PL’s lead in the European election ranges between eight points in the Torca survey and 10 points in the MaltaToday and Times of Malta surveys.

In numerical terms the gap stands between 22,400 votes in the Torca survey and 28,700 in the MaltaToday survey.

The main difference between the three surveys is the expected turnout for the election.  While the Times and Torca surveys predict a turnout of 68% and 69% respectively, the latest MaltaToday survey puts the turnout at 77%, up from 63% in a survey held in January.

An average of the results of the three surveys puts the turnout at 71.3% which is slightly lower than the 73% turnout in the 2019 MEP election.

The other main difference lies in the vote garnered by third parties. While the Torca and MaltaToday surveys put their share at 5%, support for third parties increases to 8.5% in the Times survey.  An average of all three surveys puts the share of smaller parties at 6% which is slightly lower than the 7.8% who voted for small parties and independents in 2019.

In a clear sign of convergence, the differences between the three surveys are within the respective margin of error of all three surveys.

Another notable difference is that while the MaltaToday survey was carried out in March, coinciding with mounting speculation on a possible candidature by former PL party leader Joseph Muscat, both the Times and Torca surveys were carried out in the first two weeks of April when this speculation had ebbed.

How surveys will shape the campaign

All three surveys show no major shifts between the two main parties in a clear indication that voters are not deserting Labour to support the PN.

This makes the outcome of the election dependent on the strength of the bring out the vote campaign the two main parties will undertake to convince their own grassroots to vote.

At this stage the greatest fear within PN ranks is demoralisation in the face of repeated survey results confirming the substantial gap between the two major parties.

On the other hand, Labour is fearing complacency among its voters who may not feel the urgency to vote, knowing that their party is set to win big again.

In this sense the PN is likely to amplify any sign that the gap is being narrowed, while the PL is more likely to project itself as the eternal underdog of Maltese politics.   

The risk of a campaign dictated by the need to galvanise the core vote risks turning off middle of the road voters.

Both the MaltaToday and Times of Malta surveys point towards a high level of abstention or indecision among voters aged between 16 and 35.

The MaltaToday survey also reports a higher abstention rate among tertiary educated voters. This suggests that a large chunk of more educated and younger voters is still up for grabs.

Surveys suggest that a significant number of younger voters are clearly not yet in election mode.  This may change in the next weeks as the parties officially launch their campaigns on 1 May.

But in an election where the national government is not at stake, interest is bound to remain lower than that in a general election. The PN may try to capitalise on this by asking disenchanted voters to punish Labour in a mid-term election with no consequences on the country’s governance. Yet so far most of these voters are preferring abstention to voting PN.

Moreover, some PN leaning voters may well see this election as an opportunity to bring the PN to its senses by staying at home.

Therefore, one expects both major parties to widen their appeal to less partisan voters although this could conflict with efforts to mobilise older and more partisan voters.

And although support for an assortment of third parties remains at the same level as in 2019, a late surge of support for third parties among younger and more educated voters, cannot be excluded.

This could reflect greater visibility and name recognition during the campaign itself but fragmentation could itself be a stumbling block for any independent or third-party candidature to gain traction.