Global public opinion firm YouGov has ranked Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin as the most popular prime minister candidate of the various coalitions, just days before the most voters in Malaysia's history are due to cast their ballots in the 15th general election (GE15).
The latest polling from YouGov said Muhyiddin, who led Malaysia at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, appeared to hold the "best impression" among one-third (33%) of voters, compared to three other coalition leaders vying for the top office.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) chief Anwar Ibrahim was a close second, with 29%, while Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob placed third with 22% expressing positive views about him.
Meanwhile, veteran politician Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is leading Pejuang and has not ruled out a run for a third prime ministerial comeback, came in last with 14%.
Mahathir's popularity was also lower than that of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, although the latter, who is aligned with Muhyiddin, has not stated any interest in the top post.
The findings are in line with a similar survey carried out by Universiti Utara Malaysia, which placed Muhyiddin as the most trusted leader, followed closely by Anwar.
Muhyiddin served in the top office for some 17 months, before he was dislodged in August 2021 after coming under pressure from a group of Umno leaders aligned with their president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former prime minister Najib Razak.
YouGov's survey of individual voters also led it to conclude that PH could secure the largest share of votes at 35%, although it stopped short of naming the coalition as the winner. In the second place was PN with 20%, followed by BN with 17%.
"While PH is likely to perform well in urban parts of Malaysia, the substantially lower number of voters required to win a seat in rural electorates where BN and PN are likely to perform well means that the Parliament is likely to be very complex," said Campbell White, who heads YouGov's Asia Pacific division.
Malaysia's "first past the post" electoral system, coupled with its electoral map where large urban areas are still represented by a single seat in Parliament, means that the popular vote is not necessarily an indication that a party can win the majority number of seats to form the government.
Still, White said it would pose a risk to Malay-based coalitions like BN and PN, as the Malay votes would be split between the two in Peninsular Malaysia.
In terms of issues, YouGov's findings showed the cost of living topping voters' main grouses (51%), followed by government integrity, income, stability and Bumiputera rights, education and employment.
Issues such as personal freedoms, environment and crime failed to excite voters.
YouGov's survey was conducted between Nov 8 and 14, involving 2,687 Malaysian citizens. It said the numbers were based on "specific demographics" to ensure they represent the population by age, gender, ethnicity, education level and electorate.