Controversies take toll on Coalition as FG suffers five-point reversal

Labour support down as party endures collateral damage

Fine Gael lags behind Fianna Fáil in each region outside Dublin, but never falls below 20 per cent support.

Fine Gael lags behind Fianna Fáil in each region outside Dublin, but never falls below 20 per cent support.

Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 01:01

The latest Irish Times /Ipsos MRBI poll shows support for the Government has been punctured, most likely by its handling of recent controversies surrounding An Garda Síochána.

Fine Gael registers a drop of five points, down to 25 per cent and on a par with Fianna Fáil who have gained three points since the beginning of the year.

Labour remains stuck in single digits, on 8 per cent, a marginal drop of one point.

On 21 per cent, Sinn Féin have not gained from the loss in support suffered by the Government.

Independents/Others have gained three points, capturing 21 per cent of voting intentions.

Since our last poll in December 2013 – conducted on the eve of our exit from the EU-IMF bailout – the normal business of politics has resumed, with the Government lurching from crisis to crisis while the Opposition attempts to exploit every vulnerability.

Today’s Irish Times /Ipsos MRBI poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, in the wake of various Garda controversies involving whistleblowers, GSOC, the former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

Motion of no confidence
During interviewing for this poll,

the Garda and Government were once again pushed into the spotlight: another chapter in the Garda taping story was opened with the news that calls between prisoners and their legal representatives had been recorded. Interviewing ended for the poll just as the Dáil voted on a motion of no confidence in Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

With so many blows landed, it was inevitable that confidence in the Coalition would be damaged and satisfaction has indeed fallen to 22 per cent, a loss of four points.

In the ordinary course of events, growing consumer confidence and this week’s encouraging economic update delivered by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan would lift satisfaction with the Government. But positive momentum fuelled by economic recovery, much needed by Fine Gael and Labour in advance of local and European elections in May , has failed to materialise. Drowned out, no doubt, by questions on who knew what and when.

Fine Gael have taken the biggest hit in this latest poll. A poll rating of 25 per cent is not new territory – the party was scoring in the mid-20s for most of 2013 – but it signals the end of their post-bailout honeymoon. The party will be hoping that their economic legacy will count for more with voters once the Garda smoke clears.

Kenny approval rating
Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s personal satisfaction rating has also suffered, declining three points to 30 per cent approval.

Intriguingly, it is mainly voters aged 50 or older, and/or rural voters who have turned away from Fine Gael recently. This profile is more consistent with the type of voter opposed to same-sex marriage or pylons in their backyard than the type of voter who may be disgruntled with the performance of the Garda. The explanation for Fine Gael’s poll performance may be more nuanced than appears at first glance.

Labour traction
Labour continue to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The

“disgusting” episode in the Garda controversy was yet another political cul-de-sac for Labour. With nowhere to go without threatening the Government’s stability, Labour went nowhere.

Since the 2011 general election, Labour have been denied the oxygen of Opposition and the distinction of leadership. As a result, support has ebbed. In this poll, Labour attract 8 per cent support, scant reward for participating in a Government that has achieved much, even if our economic recovery remains fragile.

On a more positive note, satisfaction with Eamon Gilmore has moved ahead slightly, up to 20 per cent , a gain of one point.

The Opposition has sought to exploit the Government’s misfortune and missteps, and have succeeded. Fianna Fáil, who tabled the no confidence motion in the Minister for Justice, have moved up to 25 per cent , a gain of three points. And FF leader Micheál Martin (on 31 per cent) is now ahead of the Taoiseach on the leaderboard, albeit with the narrowest of margins.

The fact that Fianna Fáil were in Government while most of the Garda recording was taking place has been lost on voters.

Gerry Adams had the biggest increase in satisfaction ratings of any leader, going up six points to 33 per cent.

Daly and Wallace Independents/Others have also benefited (up three points to 21 per cent ), while Sinn Fé

in have not made any ground (unchanged on 21 per cent). It is highly likely that the central role played by Mick Wallace and Clare Daly in exposing penalty point irregularities enhanced the profile and, probably, the poll performance of Independents.

There is a temptation to read more into these poll findings than is justified. Fine Gael have lost ground, but no more than the ground they were granted as a reward for exiting the bailout. Fianna Fáil have gained, but in 2013 they managed to actually nudge ahead without the wind of the Garda controversy at their backs. Support levels for Sinn Féin and Independents/Others, while historically strong, are within expectations based on recent trends.

Longer term, there is an argument that it will be the “economy, stupid” and there is time for the Government parties to convince the electorate of their achievements before 2016.

More pressing are the local and European elections, and while the sample stratification and sample size employed for this poll do not lend themselves to making any conclusions on the outcome of these elections, the regional support numbers are instructive.

Labour are stronger in Dublin (on 11 per cent ) than outside, but still rank only number four behind Fine Gael (26 per cent ), Sinn Féin (20 per cent ) and Fianna Fáil (14 per cent ).

Outside Dublin, Fianna Fáil register at least 27 per cent support in each region, putting the party in a strong position to win European seats.

Fine Gael lag behind Fianna Fáil in each region outside Dublin, but never fall below 20 per cent support.

Sinn Féin have a relatively balanced regional profile, strongest in rest of Leinster (25 per cent ) and weakest in Munster (18 per cent ).

This represents a solid platform from which to target a seat in each European election constituency.

In our poll next month, the focus will be on the European elections and our sample stratification and sample size will provide for a robust analysis of the prospects for each party and candidate.

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