MaltaToday Survey | Muscat regains trust but majority want Mizzi and Schembri out

MaltaToday survey suggests Joseph Muscat has managed to widen the gap between him and Simon Busuttil but PL leading PN by only 2 points• Fewer than a third of respondents want to keep Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri in their respective official posts

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

MaltaToday’s survey for Apri – carried out in the week since a motion of no confidence was filed by the Opposition, which the government carried – suggests that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has managed to widen the gap between himself and Simon Busuttil from four points last month to seven months now, which is slightly lower than the gap between the two leaders registered in February. The survey also shows that a majority of respondents want Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and PM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri to resign.

The fluctuations between the two surveys are also within the survey’s margin of error.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has strengthened himself among core Labour voters. In fact the survey shows that 92% of respondents who voted Labour in 2008 trust Muscat more than Busuttil, up from 86% last month. Compared to last month the percentage of PL voters in 2008 who now trust neither leader has declined from 9% to 5%. 

This suggests that the motion of no confidence presented by the PN in parliament on Monday may well have had the unforeseen effect of boosting Muscat’s standing among Labour’s core vote. 

The survey shows that the PM has largely emerged unscathed from a no-confidence vote presented by the opposition last Monday, with his trust rating increasing by nearly six points over last month. In an indication of the worsening polarised climate Busuttil has also seen his rating rise by two points. The increase in trust in both leaders comes in the wake of a 12-point drop of respondents who were undecided when choosing between the two leaders last month. The percentage who trust neither leader has also gone up by five points.

Both leaders registered an increase in support among voters of their respective parties. Muscat’s trust rating increased from 78% to 83% among PL voters while Busuttil’s trust rating increased from 87% to 89% of PN voters.

While the survey shows Muscat leading Busuttil by seven points (up from four points last month) the PN is trailing the PL by just two points (up from one point last month).

But the survey still shows that 40% of switchers trust neither leader while a third trust Muscat. Only 17% of switchers trust Busuttil more than Muscat. 

Busuttil has also improved his trust rating among PN voters but at a lower rate than Muscat did among his own supporters. Among PN voters in 2013 Busuttil has seen the percentage of those who trust him over Muscat increase from 87% to 89%.

Despite the wider gap in Muscat’s favour, the survey shows Simon Busuttil registering his highest ever trust rating in a MaltaToday survey. It also shows Muscat gaining his highest trust rating since January 2015. But rather than reflecting a surge of popularity for either leader, these results must be seen in a context of worsening political polarisation, which has made people more willing to express their trust in either of the two leaders.

But respondents remained lukewarm when asked which party they would vote for. In fact both leaders are more popular than their party. While Busuttil is three points more popular than the PN, Muscat is eight points more popular than his own party. But this suggests that the PL, which is leading by just two points, has greater room to grow among the larger percentage of respondents who trust Muscat more than Busuttil, than the PN does among those who trust Busuttil more than Muscat. 

PL leads by 2 points

The two-point gap between the two big political parties remains within the survey’s +/-4.3 point margin of error which means that either of the two parties could be leading. 

The survey shows the PN losing 2% of its 2013 voters to the PL and the PL losing 5% of its 2013 voters to the PN. This suggests that the PN is still making inroads among different categories of Labour voters. One fifth of switchers (20%) are now intent on voting PN while a slightly higher percentage (23%) will vote PL again. But the PN is also attracting a small but strategic number of traditional Labour voters. The survey shows 3% of Labour voters in the 2008 general election would vote for the PN. The PN makes significant inroads among non-voters in the 2013 election. While none of these voters would now vote PL, 16% would vote PN.

Majority want Mizzi and Schembri out

Fewer than a third of respondents want to keep Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri in their respective official posts of Minister for Energy and Health, and Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, following revelations that they had formed companies in Panama while in office.

The MaltaToday survey shows that an absolute majority of respondents of 51% want Mizzi to resign while 30% would keep him in office. The percentage who want Schembri out is slightly lower (49%) while 31% would keep him in office. 

The survey also shows that one in five Labourites and two thirds of switchers (respondents who voted PN in 2008 and PL in 2013) want the two close collaborators of the Prime Minister to resign from office. 

Respondents did not make any distinction between Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri when they were separately asked whether the two should resign or not.

A greater percentage of respondents favour the resignation of Mizzi and Schembri than was the case with former home affairs minister Manuel Mallia in 2014. A survey in November 2014 had shown that only 39% wanted Mallia to resign after an incident during which his security driver shot at a motorist who nicked the ministerial vehicle. That survey had also shown that 33% wanted Mallia to stay on while 25% were undecided.

The survey also shows that the majority of Labour voters (over 63% in the case of Mizzi and 62% in the case of Schembri) want the two close collaborators of the PM to stay in their respective post. But nearly one fifth of Labour voters want the resignation of both officials. Another fifth are undecided.

PN voters are equivocal in demanding the resignation of the two officials. Only 1% of PN voters want Mizzi to remain in office while 3% are against Schembri’s resignation. Two thirds of switchers, that category of Labour voters who voted PN in the 2008 general election, also want the two officials to resign. This suggests that although a majority of PL voters want Mizzi and Schembri to stay, the vast majority of former Nationalists who shifted to Labour in the last general election do not share this opinion. This scenario creates a problem for Muscat; for while ditching Mizzi and Schembri is not popular among PL voters, keeping them could alienate those switchers who want them out.

Methodology

The survey was held between Tuesday 19 and Thursday 21 April. The results were weighed to reflect the age and gender balance of the population. 803 respondents were contacted. 500 respondents accepted to participate in the survey. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.3 points.

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