[WATCH] Looking back at 2019 | Does Labour face a slow decline?

The European Parliament election victory in May gave the Labour Party another historic win and caused mayhem in the Nationalist Party. Here’s how the MaltaToday surveys showed a changed landscape.

Throughout 2019, the PL could bank on a growth potential as a result of Joseph Muscat’s superior trust rating
Throughout 2019, the PL could bank on a growth potential as a result of Joseph Muscat’s superior trust rating
Does Labour face a slow decline?

Elections remain the ultimate litmus test for political parties and the European Parliament election last May confirmed the primacy of the Labour Party.

Two years into its second mandate, which it won on the back of a historic victory in June 2017, the PL did not suffer from the mid-term blues that often afflict parties in government.

The PL registered 54.3% and an advantage of almost 43,000 votes over a floundering Nationalist Party, as it secured four of the six seats up for grabs.

The election result was confirmed in the round of local elections held on the same day, with the PL winning localities like Valletta that had always returned a Nationalist majority.

The election results confirmed the trend that had been captured in the previous months by the MaltaToday surveys that were consistently giving the PL a very comfortable advantage.

After the May elections, the next set of polling by MaltaToday started in October. The results pretty much followed the pre-election trend line with the PL scoring above 40% and the PN unable to go beyond 28%.

MaltaToday has held four surveys since October, which have shown a four-point decline for the PL and a six-point climb for the PN
MaltaToday has held four surveys since October, which have shown a four-point decline for the PL and a six-point climb for the PN

However, a cautious analysis of the results indicates that the PL may have started a slow decline since October. The PL lost just over two points between October and the first week of December, while the PN gained almost five points. That downward trend persisted in a second survey held in the middle of December, taking the PL’s losses to almost four points in three months and the PN’s gains to just over six points.

The second December result (41.5%) is the lowest the party scored throughout 2019, apart from the May survey that preceded the European Parliament election.

Analysing the eight polls undertaken this year by MaltaToday shows that the PL’s December result (second survey) is more than a point below the average the party obtained throughout 2019.

However, the numbers have to be read with caution because the PL’s four-point decline since October is within the margin of error of the surveys.

The increase in the PN’s share of support is more significant and the second December result (29.5%) is almost three points higher than the average obtained by the party throughout the year. It also is the highest result the PN has achieved since May 2018.

For a party that has suffered internal division, the upward trend line since October signals some form of consolidation within the PN.

The difference between the parties is still massive but it remains to be seen whether this pattern observed in the last three months of the year is a momentary blip or the beginning of a sustained trend.

The PL has suffered a dip as a result of the political turmoil that hit Castille when Keith Schembri (pictured) was implicated in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia by a suspect
The PL has suffered a dip as a result of the political turmoil that hit Castille when Keith Schembri (pictured) was implicated in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia by a suspect

A four-point loss may be dismissed by the PL given that the government had to contend with the backlash caused by the migrant riot in Hal Far last October, and then by the political turmoil that hit Castille when a suspect in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder pointed a finger at the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri.

The losses could have been worse but the number crunchers at Labour HQ in Hamrun are very likely to keep an eye on the trend line, now that the party will get a new leader in January.

Throughout 2019, the PL could bank on a growth potential as a result of Joseph Muscat’s superior trust rating. The outgoing Prime Minister consistently polled higher than his own party as he trounced Opposition leader Adrian Delia.

This could change with a new leader, although the first indications suggest this may not be the case – a trust barometer polling prospective PL leadership candidates against Delia has shown that all of them beat Delia, scoring almost as well as Muscat, with Chris Fearne doing even better.

Any political strategist would tell you that the aftermath of a leadership race could be characterised by wounds that take time to heal. Delia knows this well enough as he faced, and continues to face, flak from his own MPs and support base.

Throughout 2019 Adrian Delia's trust rating continued to be hampered by a large cohort of people who voted for the PN in 2017 but who now trust no one
Throughout 2019 Adrian Delia's trust rating continued to be hampered by a large cohort of people who voted for the PN in 2017 but who now trust no one

The Opposition leader’s trust rating continued to be hampered by a large cohort of people who voted for the Nationalist Party in the last general election but who now trust no one. Contrary to Muscat, Delia consistently scored lower than his own party, which means the PN had less potential to grow.

Whether the same will happen in the PL still has to be seen but the trust barometer held in the first week of December shows that both Chris Fearne and Robert Abela retained 92.7% and 88.7% respectively of the 2017 Labour vote.

The overall trust rating gave Fearne 60.6% - the highest ever trust rating for any leader – and Abela 49.3%.

With the political landscape in constant flux, partly as a result of ongoing court cases linked to the Caruana Galizia murder, predicting the trajectory of survey results will be difficult.

So far, the PL, its current leader and its prospective leaders remain solidly in front but as the story of the past few weeks has shown us, nothing can be taken for granted.

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