Fall in Labour support will raise uncomfortable questions about leadership and direction
Last time a low of 6 % was recorded was in 1987
There is absolutely no doubt about the figure that stands out in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos mrbi opinion poll like a sore thumb.
It is the 6 per cent figure of voter support for the Labour Party and all the bleak conclusions it entails for the party leadership, its parliamentarians and its membership. Support for the party among voters has slumped since it reached a historically high 19 per cent of the popular vote in the general election in 2011. The latest poll finding reflects a downward trend that has been evident since the beginning of 2012.
A fall of three points to 6 per cent brings the party’s support level to worryingly low levels, a distant fourth behind the other three main parties, all of which have the backing of over 20 per cent .
You have to go back more than a political generation to discover similarly abysmal figures for the party in an Irish Times poll. The last time a figure of 6 per cent was recorded was November 1987, some nine months after the Labour Party had left a coalition government with Fine Gael, that had ran almost a full term.
In the general election that year, Labour won some 6.9 per cent of the vote and was considered very lucky to have salvaged 12 Dáil seats, having gone into the election with 16 seats. If the results of this poll were to be repeated in an election, Labour could be looking at its haul of 37 Dáil seats from 2011 plummeting into single figures. The downward trend is particularly evident in Dublin, where the party’s support has fallen to 9 per cent, from 29.3 per cent in the general election. On those figures, it would struggle to retain many of its 18 seats in the capital.
While political parties dismiss opinion polls in public – and there is always a danger of overanalysing a single poll – they themselves are huge adherents of them. It is expected that support for the Government parties would drop in mid-term – especially in the wake of two difficult budgets – but that does not explain the disproportionate drop in Labour support compared to Fine Gael.
The findings will raise fresh questions about Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s leadership and also about the direction, and influence, of the party in government.
The most immediate concern for the party after this month’s budget will be the local and European elections next year. Unless the figures improve, there is the prospect of a repeat in both elections of the dispiriting performance in the Meath East byelection earlier this year, when the party finished a distant fourth to the other main parties. The repercussion of a similar collapse in support would mean the party would not win a single seat in the EU parliamentary elections and could also see it losing scores of council seats, especially in Dublin.