Labour and Gilmore enjoy significant gains in popularity

Fri, Jun 11, 2010, 01:00

ANALYSIS:TODAY’S IRISH Times/Ipsos MRBI poll reveals a surge in support for Labour, up eight points to 32 per cent, the party’s highest poll performance to date. Labour is the most popular political party in Ireland today.

In recent polls, Fine Gael has struggled to hold the gains it made in 2008/2009 when the public finances were in freefall and satisfaction with the Government was plummeting.

In this latest poll, support for Fine Gael has retreated further, down four points to 28 per cent, still ahead of Fianna Fáil but behind Labour for the first time since polling began in 1982.

Support for Fianna Fáil has slipped to 17 per cent, a drop of five points, returning the party to a historic low. The Green Party is unchanged on 3 per cent.

Low ratings for each of the Coalition parties are likely driven by the drop in satisfaction with the Government’s performance, down to just 12 per cent, a drop of seven points since the beginning of the year.

Sinn Féin’s poll performance has been relatively consistent throughout the crisis. Currently 9 per cent of voters say they would support Sinn Féin in a general election, up one point since our last poll. Independents/Others remain on 11 per cent.

It is impossible to discern which recent events have propelled Labour into pole position.

It may have been the recent HSE miscarriage misdiagnosis revelations, which were prominent in the media when interviewing for this latest poll last Tuesday and Wednesday, or perhaps talk of cuts in the old-age pension and other welfare benefits has thrown voters into the arms of Labour.

What is clear, however, is that the electorate has a significant appetite for change.

An examination of how the parties perform among the various demographic cohorts also highlights the changes in party loyalty in recent years.

Labour dominates in urban areas, specifically Dublin, while Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue to poll stronger than Labour in Connacht/Ulster and in rural areas generally.

Critically, 35-to-49-year-olds (a large and growing group comprising a high proportion of floating voters) have moved away from Fianna Fáil, opting instead for Labour or Fine Gael. Bearing in mind that it was this voter segment that swung the 2007 election for Fianna Fáil, there may be a feeling of disillusionment among this group that Fianna Fáil will find difficult to dispel.

The changes in satisfaction with the party leaders have been equally as dramatic as the changes in party loyalty.

Trends in leader satisfaction and party support do not always mirror one another, but in today’s poll the parallels are unavoidable.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore remains the most popular leader (unchanged at 46 per cent) by some distance, Enda Kenny is down seven points to 24 per cent and Brian Cowen is down eight points to 18 per cent.

Satisfaction with Gerry Adams is unchanged at 31 per cent, while John Gormley has drifted lower, to 21 per cent, down three points.

This begs the question: will the next election be more presidential in style, where the appeal of the leader is more important than attractiveness of the party’s policies? A popularity contest is very likely if policy debates are avoided because voters are turned off by talk of cuts and taxes, however necessary.

According to Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, in the recent British election, voters were affording politicians and policies equal consideration when making up their minds, for the first time since Ipsos MORI began polling.

Policy was irrelevant to the point that the leaders debate was referred to by some as the Don’t- Talk-About-The-Deficit show.

In Britain, voter disgruntlement with how the economy had been managed opened the door to a non-establishment leader with a message of hope and change.

The same may be happening in Ireland, with Gilmore enjoying a significant popularity advantage over other party leaders. If the British election experience is repeated here, though, there will be a drift back to the establishment parties on the eve of the election as hope gives way to uncertainty.

The “change” vote by its nature is volatile and can float away from a party as easily as it gravitates towards it.

THIS SURVEY in the Republic of Ireland was conducted exclusively on behalf of The Irish Timesby Ipsos MRBI, among a national quota sample of 1,000 representative of the circa 3.2 million adults aged 18 and upwards, covering 100 sampling points throughout all constituencies in the Republic.

Personal in-home interviewing took place on 8th and 9th June 2010, and the accuracy level is estimated to be approximately plus or minus 3 per cent.

In all respects, the survey was conducted within the guidelines laid down by The Marketing Society of Ireland, and by ESOMAR.

Extracts from the report may be quoted or published on condition that due acknowledgement is given to: The Irish Timesand Ipsos MRBI.