Who could replace Joseph Muscat as Labour leader? Robert Abela has pipped Miriam Dalli

Robert Abela is the preferred choice among voters to succeed Joseph Muscat as Labour Party leader but only just ahead of Labour MEP Miriam Dalli 

Robert Abela pips Miriam Dalli as the people’s choice to succeed Joseph Muscat, although an overwhelming majority are still undecided, a MaltaToday survey has found.

The Labour MP and son of former president George Abela scored 10% when people were asked who should succeed Muscat at the helm of the party.

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli came in a close second with 8.5%, while Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne came third with 6.6%. Transport Minister Ian Borg came in fourth with 4.9%.

Abela emerged as a clear favourite among those who voted PL in the last election, obtaining the support of 16%. Second-placed Dalli won the support of 9.3% of those who voted PL in June last year.

This gives Abela an important advantage in a leadership race that will be determined by PL members.

However, Dalli may have a trump card up her sleeve as she emerges stronger among those who voted PN in 2017. She got the support of 8% of 2017 PN voters, coming ahead of Fearne (4.9%) and Abela (4.2%).

While unhelpful to get her elected leader, Dalli’s appeal to non-Labour voters is something that could come in handy in a general election.

Still an open race

The survey was conducted last week and the names of possible candidates were not prompted.

An assortment of other names cropped up but none of the individuals went beyond the 1% mark. Collectively, the rest of the pack accounted for 7.4% of choices.

However, the results are overshadowed by the 62.6% who said they did not know who should succeed Muscat.

Although it appears that people have an idea of the top four candidates they believe are best-placed to become leader, there is no clear-cut successor yet.

The uncertainty may also be the result of the fact that no Labour exponent has publicly expressed an interest in the top post, especially since Muscat has made it clear that he will lead the party, at least until next year’s European Parliament election.

The race is still very much open and one that could depend on many factors, such as leading candidates deciding not to contest and throwing their weight behind someone else.

Abela strong among men, young people

A deeper analysis of the results shows Abela coming out strongly among men while sharing the top spot with Dalli among women.

Abela’s support among men stood at 13.2%. He was followed by Dalli with 9.9% and Fearne with 6.5%.

There was a more equitable result among women with Abela and Dalli each getting 7.1% and Fearne coming in close after them with 6.7%

Abela is also the preferred choice among the young (ages 18-35) where he garnered the support of 8.5%, ahead of Dalli, who captured 7.7% of support.

Abela also topped the list among those aged between 51 and 65, where he scored 14.9% to overcome Dalli’s challenge (8.2%).

However, the female MEP emerged on top among middle-aged (36-50) voters, where she scored 11%, putting her marginally ahead of Abela, who managed 10.7%.

With 6.9%, Dalli also came out on top among those aged over 65 where she beat Borg’s challenge (5.8%).

Abela dominant in harbour towns

A regional breakdown of the data shows that Abela enjoyed the strongest support in the two regions around the Valletta harbours and Gozo.

In the Northern Harbour region, Abela got 11.4% of support, coming ahead of Dalli, who scored 7.1%. This region includes the traditional PN strongholds of Sliema, Swieqi and St Julian’s but it also stretches to include Abela’s hometown of Qormi.

In the Southern Harbour region, which coincides with traditional deep red territory, including the Three Cities, Abela received the support of 12.3%, followed by Dalli with 10.5%.

It has to be noted that Abela is married to Lydia Abela, the PL executive secretary, who hails from the politically influential Zerafa family in Bormla.

In Gozo, Abela managed 11.2% against Dalli’s 7.6%. In this region, which coincides perfectly with the electoral district, Fearne crashed at 1.6%, which is probably indicative of Gozitan anger at the lack of progress on the new general hospital under the public-private partnership with Vitals.

In this analysis, Dalli emerged strongly ahead in the Northern region, which includes her hometown Mosta, with 14% of support. This is the only region in which Borg came in second place at 8.8%.

Fearne beat Abela to the top spot in the South Eastern and Western regions. In the south east, which roughly coincides with the Third and Fourth electoral districts from where he was elected strongly in the last election, Fearne received the support of 10.9%, putting him ahead of Abela, who got 10.4%. Dalli came in third at 7.6%.

In the Western region, Fearne got 10% support, putting him in front of Abela, who garnered 8.9%. Borg, who has an electoral base in localities that fall within this region, came in a distant third with 5% of support.

To believe or not to believe Joseph Muscat

Only a relative majority believe Joseph Muscat will live up to his promise and relinquish the reins of the Labour Party before the next general election.

The MaltaToday survey found that 39.2% believe the Prime Minister’s pledge against 31.9%, who do not. A significant 28.9% were undecided on the matter.

Labour voters in the 2017 election tend to believe the Prime Minister more. Of those who voted PL last June, 48.8% believe Muscat will go as opposed to 28.4% who do not.

PN voters were more dismissive of Muscat’s pledge. Among those who voted PN in 2017, 38.1% do not believe Muscat will go, while 34% were unsure.

The results show that if you are a man from the Western region, aged between 18 and 35 and voted PL in the last election, you are more inclined to believe Muscat’s intentions about his own future.

If you are a woman, older than 65, voted PN and live in the south east, you are most likely not to believe Muscat when he says that he will not be PL leader for the next general election.

Methodological note:

The survey was conducted between 26 February and 1 March. A total of 501 respondents participated in the survey. Respondents were chosen using stratified random sampling based on age, region and gender. Moreover, multiple imputation by chained equations for missing data or non-answers by respondents was invoked. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2% for a confidence interval of 95%.