MaltaToday Survey | Dent in ‘Teflon’ Muscat’s trust as PM loses 2.6 points

MaltaToday’s latest survey shows that Labour is losing switchers to PN, but Muscat retains a redoutable 13-point trust lead.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat enjoys a significant strong 13-point lead over Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat enjoys a significant strong 13-point lead over Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat enjoys a significant strong 13-point lead over Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, only two points down from the last trust barometer in March.

The survey was held soon after the controversial Gaffarena compensation saga, with data showing a shift of switcher-voters to the PN, and widespread dissatisfaction with government on environmental and transparency issues.

However Labour has registered a high level of satisfaction with the government’s economic performance.

The survey also registers the narrowest trust gap between the two leaders since June 2013, but it is clear that Busuttil has not made any gains since March of this year.

While Muscat has lost nearly three points in the trust barometer since March, Busuttil retained the same level of trust he had then.

However, the PN has reduced its rating gap with the PL from eight to five points, with Labour losing three points over March and the PN staying put. This suggests that the government has lost some ground during the past weeks that saw controversy over the proposed university campus at Zonqor Point and the expropriation of property owned by Marco Gaffarena in Valletta.

For the first time, the PN registers a small but significant shift of 6.5% of Labour voters in 2013 who said they would vote for the PN; while only 2.1% of PN voters would vote for Labour. But the PN also loses 2.1% of its voters to Alternattiva Demokratika.

Altogether, the survey suggests that the gap between the two parties has been narrowed from 35,000 to around 21,000 voters – with one-third of switchers, those who voted PN in 2008 and Labour in 2013, now intending to vote again for the PN.

MALTATODAY’S latest survey has shown that only 40% of respondents are now giving a positive rating to Joseph Muscat’s performance as Prime Minister, a drop of two points since March 2015 and the lowest registered since the general elections which installed Muscat as Prime Minister.

And while 52% give the Labour government a positive rating on the way it is running the economy of the country, only 29% give the government a positive judgement on environmental issues, while 30% judge it positively on transparency.

Good on economy, bad on environment and transparency

An absolute majority, 52%, gives Labour a positive rating on the way it is running the economy. Only 8% rate it negatively while 27% give a ‘so-so’ rating.

Significantly, more than one in every four of PN voters in 2013 judged economic performance positively, while fewer than half said it was negative. Unsurprisingly, 81% of PL voters said the economy was positive.

But satisfaction on the government’s economic performance falls to 46% among switchers – 38% of whom judge it as ‘so-so’.

While clearly perceived positively on economic issues, the government is facing clear signs of disgruntlement on environmental and transparency issues.

Dissatisfaction over both issues is particularly high among switchers – only 21% of switchers gave the government a positive rating on the environment, and 25% on transparency.

52% of Labour voters gave the government a positive rating on the environment and 63% said it was positive on transparency. On the other hand it’s PN voters who are least positive on transparency issues. While 53% of PN voters rate the government negatively on the environment, the percentage rises to 59% on transparency issues.

40% approve Muscat’s performance

Muscat is still rated positively as Prime Minister by a relative majority of respondents, albeit two points fewer than in March. But his approval rating is now at its lowest ebb since the 2013 election, when he started with a high 57% approval rate.

At 40%, Muscat’s approval rating remains higher than that ever registered by Lawrence Gonzi between 2008 and 2013.

Only 15% judged his performance as Prime Minister negatively – up three points from March – while 35% expressed a ‘so-so’ judgement.

Similarly as in March, 10% of PN voters in 2013 expressed a positive judgement on Muscat. But PN voters

are then more likely to judge Muscat negatively, going up from 33% in March to 42%.

And among switchers, those who judge Muscat’s performance as PM as ‘so-so’ rose from 41% to 58%.

Muscat retains strong lead

Despite the latest difficulties faced by the government, Joseph Muscat still enjoys a strong trust lead over Simon Busuttil. He loses nearly 3 points over March, while Busuttil registers no gains.

Busuttil does manage to improve his rating among switchers: in March only 9% of these voters preferred Busuttil to Muscat, but now 29% prefer him to Muscat.

And among Labour voters the percentage that prefers Busuttil to Muscat increased from 4.1% to 6.6%, while Busuttil’s rating goes up slightly from 72% to 74% among PN voters.

But of these PN voters, 15% say they don’t trust either leader, up from 9% in March. And only 3% prefer Muscat to Busuttil, down from 8% in March.

Busuttil fares badly among those respondents who did not declare their vote in the 2013 general election. 20% of these respondents expressed a preference for Muscat, only 8% trust Busuttil more. In March Muscat only enjoyed a slight lead in this category.

Moreover Muscat now enjoys a higher rating among PL voters thanks to a decrease in undecided voters: 87% up from 83% in March. This higher trust rating from PL voters and those who did not disclose their 2013 vote explains why Busuttil remains at the same level despite making significant gains among switchers.

First shift to the PN

For the first time the survey registers a small but significant shift in favour of the PN.

6.5% of PL voters in the 2013 general election intend voting PN, when only 2.1% of PN voters would vote PL. But the PN then loses a further 2.1% of its voters to AD.

This would suggest that Labour has lost nearly 11,000 of its 2013 voters to the PN, which is itself losing 2,800 to the PL and 2,800 to AD. The PN also gains 600 votes from AD.

Then again, the survey shows one-third of those switchers – respondents who voted PN in 2008, and PL in 2013 – now intending to vote PN, up from only 12% in March.

So the gap between the two parties would have been narrowed from 35,000 to around 21,000 voters. This calculation takes into account the flows between the three political parties and is being done without taking account of new voters who are not sufficiently represented in the survey to constitute an adequate sample. Significantly, the PN has staunched the haemorrhage of votes towards the PL. This is the first time since 2008 that the PN does not lose more than 5% of its voters in the previous election to the PL. In March, 6% of PN voters in 2013 were still intent on voting Labour; now only 2.1% would shift allegiance.

But Muscat still commands a stronger following than his party. 39% trust Muscat more than Busuttil, when only 31% say they will vote Labour if an election is held now. On the other hand, the PN is as popular as its leader (26%). 
Moreover, while 88% of PL voters in  the 2013 general election prefer Muscat to Busuttil, only 79% of these voters will again vote Labour.

And while 74% of PN voters in 2013 prefer Busuttil to Muscat, 81% of PN voters will vote PN again.

This suggests that while Muscat is presently more trusted than his party among 2013 Labour voters, Busuttil is less popular than his own party among 2013 Nationalist voters.

The Greens retain a 2% vote share, similar to the percentage they had in the last general election.

Methodology Survey held between Monday 15 and Thursday, 18 June. 731 respondents contacted and survey stopped after 500- quota sample reached. Margin of error +/-4.4 percentage points. 37.1% of respondents said they voted PL in 2013, while 27.1% said they voted PN – tallying with the gap between both parties in the last general election.