Roberta Metsola is the preferred Maltese MEP candidate so far, a Times of Malta poll indicates, with a fifth of respondents saying they will vote for her come June 8.

The star Nationalist Party candidate and current European Parliament president is poised to capture 19.9% of the vote, with Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba a close second with a 19% share. 

While Metsola and Agius Saliba are absolute lock-ins for MEP seats, other candidates are still caught in a tight race. 

Joseph Muscat, who has not even said he is running in the election, was the third-most preferred candidate, with 3.5% citing him, followed by Imperium Europa’s Norman Lowell, with 2.5%. 

The rest of the MEP candidates scored less than two per cent each in the poll, but a huge chunk of voters – almost 46% – said they had not picked a candidate yet.

ADPD barely figures, with Sandra Gauci being cited by just 0.2% of voters.

The party's former chairperson, independent candidate Arnold Cassola, did better with 1.2%. 

Maltese residents will go to the polls on June 8 to elect six representatives to sit in the European Parliament until 2029. 

Respondents were asked to indicate their preferred MEP candidate at the moment.

The respondents were not read out a list of candidates, which means that the 3.5% of respondents who mentioned Muscat did so unprompted and despite the fact that he has not officially announced a run for MEP yet.

The survey, carried out by market research firm Esprimi, 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.

It found the gap between Malta’s two major parties has widened to 13.1 per cent, translating into a roughly 33,800-vote margin.

Agius Saliba vs Metsola

39% of respondents who voted Labour in the 2022 general election said they will vote for Alex Agius Saliba in June, although almost as many say they still have not picked a candidate yet. 

3.6% of Labour voters said they intend to vote for Lowell and another 3.6% said Metsola - the rival party's star candidate - will be their number one preference.

More Labour voters said they will vote for Metsola than said they will vote for the PL’s own candidates Clint Azzopardi Flores, Claudette Abela Baldacchino, Jesmond Marshall and Steve Ellul.

Of Labour's confirmed MEP candidates, only Daniel Attard managed to match Metsola's reach among the party's own voters. So too did far-right candidate Normal Lowell. All three obtained 3.6% of Labour voters' preferences.

On the other hand, Agius Saliba does not appear to be popular among PN voters and was not cited by any respondents who said they voted for the PN in the past general election. 

59% of respondents who voted PN in the 2022 general election will vote for Metsola. Fellow MEP David Casa follows her in a distant second with 4.9%, followed by David Agius and Peter Agius at 1.6% apiece.

29% of PN voters have still not picked a candidate. 

Women for Metsola, men for Agius Saliba

Preferences for the MEP election's two headline candidates are also split along gender lines, with 25% of women saying they will vote for Metsola and 23% of men citing Agius Saliba. 

Agius Saliba is slightly more popular than the EU Parliament president among the most senior voters (26% chose him and 24% chose Metsola), and is significantly more popular than her among Gozitans (24% chose him and only 11% chose her).

Metsola's relatively poor showing in Gozo reflects her party's overall struggle to attract votes in the region, with the party less popular there than it is in Malta.

Agius Saliba is also more popular among voters who stopped formal education earlier in life, whereas Metsola surpasses him in popularity among voters with higher education levels.

Joseph Muscat also enjoys less support among voters with higher education levels.

Young voters remain undecided

Agius Saliba and Metsola are equally popular among the youngest voters (16 to 24-year-olds), with far-right candidate Norman Lowell coming in second behind them.

However, it is important to note that almost two-thirds of this demographic has not yet picked a favoured candidate, making it the demographic group with the highest level of uncertainty at this stage. 

Lowell's support appears to be skewed towards male voters, though given the relatively few people who named him as their favourite candidate, it is difficult to draw broader inferences as sample sizes shrink. 

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola is also significantly more popular in Gozo than he is in Malta. Cassola's support in Gozo matches that of Joseph Muscat and Daniel Attard, and he appears to enjoy more support than PL’s Clint Azzopardi Flores, Claudette Abela Baldacchino and Steve Ellul, PN’s Peter Agius and David Agius and ADPD’s Sandra Gauci.

Despite that, candidates from the two main parties enter the June 8 race with a significant advantage over third-party candidates and independents, given voter propensity to vote for all candidates on their favoured party's list. 

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