As the bailout comes to a close, poll figures reveal shifting patterns of public sentiment
The politics of austerity has had a dramatic impact on the fortunes of all parties
The tide of positive sentiment appears to have benefited the leaders of the establishment parties, with the satisfaction rating for Enda Kenny up two to 33 per cent. Photograph: Alan Betson
An important chapter in Ireland’s economic history closes later this week with our exit from the EU-IMF bailout programme.
The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday of this week, reflects a growing optimism that the worst may be over, with Government satisfaction up six points to 26 per cent and each of the Government parties registering gains. Fine Gael has climbed to 30 per cent (up four points), while Labour has moved up to 9 per cent, a gain of three points. At last a return on their investment.
Fianna Fáil, who led the government at the commencement of the programme, is on 22 per cent, unchanged. Sinn Féin (21 per cent, down two points) and Independents/Others (18 per cent, down five points) have each drifted lower since our September poll.
While Fine Gael remain eight points below its peak of 38 per cent, recorded in July 2011, a gain of four points in this latest poll is significant and can reasonably be interpreted as a reward for steering the economy through very turbulent waters over the past 2½ years.
Meeting the conditions of the bailout programme has come at a cost. For some, the price was worth paying. Others, especially the less affluent in society, are not convinced, as reflected in today’s poll ratings for Fine Gael.
Among middle-class voters, Fine Gael registers 38 per cent support, which contrasts with a relatively poor 20 per cent among the working classes. While it has always drawn disproportionately on the professional classes for support, the class gap is wider now than it has ever been.
Sinn Féin vote
The doubts some voters hold over the appropriateness of austerity and/or how austerity has been imposed have fed the Sinn Féin vote, which has doubled since the programme began.
The poll shows Sinn Féin with 21 per cent support, down two points – yet now familiar territory for a party that struggled until recently to break into the teens.
In much the same way as Fine Gael is unchallenged for the affluent vote, Sinn Féin is by some distance the preferred party among less affluent voters. With 34 per cent support among the working classes, Sinn Féin enjoys a comfortable margin over both Fianna Fáil (21 per cent) and Fine Gael (20 per cent). If this level of support is maintained until the next general election, the party can be confident of winning a seat in the majority of working-class constituencies.
From a low of 14 per cent in April 2012, Fianna Fáil has recovered some of the ground lost since 2008, although the step back recorded in September has been confirmed in this December poll. The party still relies heavily on older rural voters. A broadening of its base, to include younger voters, is needed to sustain the recovery.