KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 — Pakatan Harapan (PH) still has Malaysians’ support, according to a new poll formulated by Emir Research.

However, the local think tank’s Government Satisfaction Index, which bases its findings on predicted voting attitudes, noted that the ruling coalition’s popularity was only by a narrow margin against the Opposition forces of Umno and PAS — the two Malay Muslim parties, once arch enemies, that have forged a political alliance called Muafakat Nasional.

The same index, a scientifically-tested statistic measuring public rating of Putrajaya's performance, also found potential support for independents rising at a level never seen before.

The index, which polled close to 2,000 persons through qualitative research and quantitative analysis, showed up to 17 per cent of respondents would vote for candidates or parties other than the two main political blocs.

The findings suggest that there is a growing public reception for a so-called "third force", and inversely reflect rising disillusionment with both PH and the Umno-PAS alliance, researchers behind the index said.

“The result shows PH holds sway with a 41 per cent support versus 38 per cent for Muafakat Nasional but based on the estimated margin of error of plus and minus 3 per cent the contest can only be described as neck-to-neck,” Emir Research’s report read.

“However, what is interesting here is the substantial support of 17 per cent obtained by [an] independent who could play the role of kingmaker,” it added.

“Could this also be the harbinger of the emergence of a third force movement when independents who are fed up with both PH and Muafakat Nasional decide to coalesce into a single movement?”

In a society long divided along partisan lines, voters seldom give independents serious attention even for those with ideological similarities.   

Observers believe voters often shun them for pragmatic reasons, usually on the assumption that independents have little access or leverage to sway policy decisions, unlike mainstream politicians.

Emir Research’s index showed that could change soon when up to seven million new voters as young as 18 become eligible to vote by 2023.

A volatile voting bloc, the index found younger voters to be the most open to electing independents, with up to 19 per cent of those below age 31 saying they would back a candidate who was not a member of the ruling party or the Opposition pacts.

Within the same age bracket, support for PH and Muafakat Nasional were a 42 and 40 per cent respectively.

Datuk Rais Hussin, Emir Research’s president and chief executive officer, said the index results showed a need to refrain from forming hasty judgments, adding that further study must be done to determine the causes driving the increased support for independents.

“Is this the rise of the third force? We don’t know yet,” he told reporters at the launch today.

For voters aged 31 to 51 and above, inclination towards independent candidates was less but merely around two percentage point average, which could suggest a growing sense of disenfranchisement with both PH and Muafakat Nasional among older electorates.

Overall, more than 80 per cent voters in this age group said they would support either of the two main political coalitions.

Support for PH stood at 45 per cent for those aged 31 to 40 and appeared to inch upward slightly the older the respondents are. Support was 46 per cent for those in the 41 to 50 age bracket and close to half for those aged 51 and above.

In contrast, an inverse reading was found for those backing Muafakat Nasional, with data showing those in the younger age groups favoured the Umno-PAS alliance at 39 per cent (ages 31-40), 38 per cent (ages 41-50) and 33 per cent (age 51 and above).

Within the income groups, the middle class (RM3,000 - RM5,000) were the mostly likely to support independents at 18 per cent.

But more than half also said they would back PH while 31 per cent were behind Muafakat Nasional, GSI data showed.

Emir Research’s index results were similar to findings by other pollsters that found PH to be the preferred choice among middle and upper middle-class voters, while lower income earners tend to back Umno and PAS.

Of those earning lower than RM3,000, 45 per cent said they would vote for Muafakat Nasional, although respondents who opted for PH was not far off at just 5 per cent less.

Meanwhile, 52 per cent of respondents who earn more than RM5,000 said they would vote for PH and 36 per cent for Umno-PAS.

Emir Research’s findings predicted respondents’ voting inclination based on the score extrapolated from the government satisfaction index.

The GSI divided the polls based on four key clusters — health and transport, economy, agriculture and healthcare - and tabulates respondents’ input for a quantitative score that rates public satisfaction.

The index found most respondents were just “fairly” satisfied with PH’s performance.