With less than ninety days to go before the European Parliament election, the gap between Malta’s two major parties has widened to 13.1%, a Times of Malta poll indicates.

Just 39% of voters say they intend to vote for the Nationalist Party come June, versus the 52% that say they will vote Labour. The gap would translate into a roughly 33,800-vote margin.

This is despite PN’s star candidate Roberta Metsola ranking as the most popular MEP candidate among all candidates from all parties. However, a massive 46% of respondents said they still do not have a preferred candidate.

The Opposition party appears to be on track for another electoral drubbing, punished in large part by the likelihood of many voters opting to stay at home and a significant chunk likely to vote for independent or third party candidates, which between them would amass 8.3% of votes.

When Times of Malta last published a poll in October 2023, the gap between the two parties stood at just 5%. However, it is difficult to compare the two results, as in that case respondents were asked about their vote in a general election, rather than a European Parliament one.  

This was the first Times of Malta survey that asked respondents specifically about their voting intentions in the upcoming EU Parliament and local council elections in June.

The poll, carried out by market research firm Esprimi, gathered responses from 600 people aged 16 and over between February 27 and last Tuesday.

Several candidates’ campaigns were already in full swing at this time, as speculation continued to grow over Joseph Muscat’s potential run for MEP. The period was also marked by the publication of the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry, which found the state and several public entities were responsible for oversight failures at the collapsed Corradino construction site that killed a 20-year-old 15 months ago.

Apart from asking respondents about their MEP election intentions, pollsters also asked voters who said they are undecided or do not intend to vote whether a Muscat bid for MEP would change their minds. 

Respondents were also asked to name their favourite candidates, which Times of Malta will be revealing on Monday. 

The survey suggests a staggering 33% are likely to not vote at this stage, though this figure is likely to decrease significantly closer to the election.

Esprimi analysts use machine learning to predict how undecided respondents will likely vote – a technique that managed to predict the 2022 election result almost perfectly.

When voters last voted in European Parliament elections back in 2019, Labour obtained 54.3% of the vote versus the PN’s 38%. That gap translated to 42,656 votes and meant Labour secured four out of six MEP seats for the first time.

The PL’s predicted strong majority in the June election, however, does not automatically mean that the party will retain that fourth MEP seat. That will depend on voter turnout, the amount of cross party voting and whether voters vote for all candidates on a party’s list.

PN gains a fraction of Labour voters

Although Labour appears on track to secure a solid victory, a deeper analysis of the data suggests some of its voters are dissatisfied.

Twice as many Labour as PN voters say they do not intend to vote, and just 66% of respondents who voted Labour in 2022 say they intend to do so again come June, versus 73% of PN voters who say they will stick with the party.

Swing voters remain in a distinct minority, polling data suggests, though those numbers favour the PN. Just 2.3% of PN voters in 2022 say they will vote Labour, versus a slightly larger 3.2% of Labour voters who say they will vote for the PN this time round.

Almost 3% of Labour voters now intend to vote for far-right party Imperium Europa, versus less than 1% of PN voters. 

Young people are the most unsure about their vote

Almost 40% of young people aged 25 to 34 remain undecided about where to cast their EP vote, though the PN appears to be struggling to sell its message to that demographic.

Only 14% of voters in that age group said they intend to vote PN, versus the almost 23% who said they will vote Labour.

On the other hand, support for Labour appears to be inversely proportional to education levels.

While 43% of respondents who stopped formal education after secondary school said they will vote Labour, that figure drops to 28% when assessing respondents with a post-secondary education and just 9% among those with more than one university degree.

Women value MEP elections more than men

Women believe in MEP elections and their importance more than men do, the survey indicates. Almost 58% of women said the EU election is as important as the general election – something just 39% of men believe.

PN voters also value MEP elections more than their Labour counterparts, the data suggests.

Almost 60% of PN voters said MEP elections are as important as the general elections, but only 40% of Labour voters shared that sentiment.

Fighting for Malta

The overwhelming majority of voters expect MEPs to primarily fight for Maltese interests. More than 30% said the primary role of an MEP is to make sure EU legislation affects Malta positively and another 24% said it was to promote Malta’s interests.

Only 11% believe MEPs’ primary role is to promote legislation for the benefit of all EU member states, while 16% expect their MEPs to encourage the EU to scrutinise the Maltese government.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a large proportion of those who voted PN in the 2022 general election – 35.9% - highlighted MEPs’ role in scrutinising the government. Conversely, most Labour voters emphasise MEPs’ role in promoting Maltese interests as their primary role.

Respondents across almost all ages and demographics said the EU’s main priority should be migration, followed by climate change, social justice and equality and economic policies. 

Migration appears to be a particularly important topic to voters aged 35-64. 

Almost half of all respondents said the EU has had a positive or very positive impact on Malta.

Over a tenth of respondents, however, said the impact has been generally negative or very negative. Disillusionment among Gozitans is the highest, with a significant fifth of them being Eurosceptic.

PN voters are far more likely to be avowedly pro-EU than Labour ones: a third of those who voted PN in 2022 said the EU has had a very positive impact on Malta, versus just 11% of Labour voters having the same view. 

Malta will vote for its MEPs, mayors and local councillors on June 8.

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