The Labour Party would win an election by some 44,500 votes if an election were held tomorrow, though a fifth of the electorate remains non-committal, a survey commissioned by Times of Malta has found.

A total of 56.2% of the electorate would vote for Labour while 42.4% would opt for the Nationalist Party, according to survey results by market research firm Esprimi.

Just 1.4% said they will vote for the smaller parties.

The current gap between the two main parties is a roughly 3% percentage point increase for Labour over the commanding victory it achieved in the 2017 general election.

Some 21% of the survey’s respondents did not say who they would be voting for, down from 27% in the last survey. 

Data scientists Lobeslab, Esprimi’s sister company, applied machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence together with weighting measures to predict voting intentions with near statistical certainty. 

The analysis’s used the same approach to accurately predict the 2017 election result using data from present-day respondents.

However, just one week into a 33-day long campaign, the gap could change closer to polling day. 

Fieldwork for the survey ran between February 14 and February 24. The margin of error is 4%. The survey started just before the election was called and into the first days of the campaign when four PN MPs said they will not contest the election, sparking warnings of unrest.

The survey is based on data collected from 600 respondents aged 16 and over, since the upcoming general election will be the first time that 16-year-olds are allowed to cast their ballot.

All interviews were carried out over the phone using random digital dialling and included a mix of landline and mobile numbers. 

Times of Malta last published a political survey in November which predicted Labour would win by a larger gap of around 47,000 votes. The first political survey commissioned by the newspaper this legislature, in July 2021, had found Labour were ahead by more than 50,000 votes.  

Who should be prime minister? 

Robert Abela enjoys the largest share of support, with 55% saying they prefer him as prime minister over his main political rival. 

Bernard Grech is the preferred candidate of a significantly smaller 17% of respondents.  

Seventeen per cent said they prefer neither candidate while a further 10% preferred not to comment. This means more than a quarter of respondents did not pick from the two options available. 

When respondents’ age is factored in, the picture changes somewhat. Grech’s support is strongest among those aged 55 to 64, with 27% saying he is their preferred candidate for prime minister. 

However, even in this age category, Abela still enjoys 55% support.

Younger voters prefer Abela

A look at younger voters’ preference shows Abela enjoys the strongest support among those aged 16 to 24 with 60% preferring him and just 14% saying they prefer Grech. 

Support for the two leaders also changes depending on which locality respondents are from. 

Gozo is still open for discussion with around a third of respondents there not picking either of the two candidates.

Some 42% of Gozitans backed Abela with the remaining 26% on Grech’s side.

Cross the channel over to the north of Malta and support for Abela climbs to 55% while Grech’s dips to 18%. 

Abela is a man’s man, but women are more split

Abela is the preferred prime minister of 62% of male survey respondents. 

On the other hand, 14% of men say they prefer Grech in Castille.  A further 24% did not express themselves. 

Women voters have a more nuanced position. 

The survey found that 49% of female voters say they prefer Abela.

Meanwhile, 21% prefer Grech and nearly a third (31%) are either undecided or preferred not to give a response. 

Past voting and future intentions

The survey also looks at how people will be voting on March 26, based on how they voted when Joseph Muscat ran against Simon Busuttil in 2017. 

Respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with the two leaders between one and 10. 

The survey found historic Labour voters are happier with their current leader than those who voted PN are with theirs.

Those who voted PN in the last election gave Grech a six while those who voted Labour gave Abela eight.

The survey found that 61% of those who voted PN in 2017 prefer Grech while 17% say they prefer Abela. Some 19% said they preferred neither of the two, while the remaining 4% refused to say. 

Those who voted Labour in 2017 remained far more party loyal with nearly four fifths (83%) saying they believe Abela is prime minister material. Just 6% of historically Labour voters prefer Grech with a further 8% preferring neither of the two. 

Is it time for a change in government?

This question gives a snapshot of what the electorate are thinking heading into the polling booths next month. 

Some 55% of respondents say it is not time to kick the Labour Party out of office. Meanwhile, 33% think they need to be shown the door and told to leave Castille. 

However, 12% did not express themselves on the subject. 

While these are the global figures, the picture does not change to drastically when different demographics are factored in. 

At least 50% of respondents say they want to keep Labour in office across all age groups. 

Those aged 35 to 44 are most likely to think it is time for a Nationalist administration, with 38% ticking this option.  However, even in this age category, 50% still back Labour.   

On the other hand, there is a concentration of people who want Labour out of office. This is in the north harbour region, where 46% want a change in government. This is the only part of Malta where more people want a change than those who say they do not.

However, the margin is quite fine - 42% in this region say they want to stick with Labour. 

Again, support for the Labour Party in office is strongest in the party’s traditional heartland of the south harbour region.

Here, 67% say they do not want a change in government and just 23% want a fresh start with a PN administration. 

All to fight for in north harbour region

The so-called north harbour region, which includes densely populated localities like Sliema also has a lot of undecided voters, with 32% preferring not to identify which of the two candidates they are backing. 

Abela enjoys 45% of the remaining voters here, while Grech can count on the other 22%. 

As expected the south-eastern part of Malta remains deeply red. Here Labour’s Abela commands 67% of the votes with Grech currently securing just 10%. 

Just under a quarter of voters in this district did not express themselves. 

Again, in the so-called southern harbour region, another traditionally Labour leaning part of Malta, Abela has a comfortable 64% of the voters.

Grech on the other hand has some 15% on his side.

A fifth of respondents here say they did not pick either candidate yet.

In the sixth and final district, the west region, Abela has just over half of the votes. Grech has 17%, with the remaining 30% remaining undecided making this one of the closest regions.

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