Good news for the coalition
The Government will take heart from the findings of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll that show a slow but persistent growth in the level of public satisfaction with its performance. The last 10 months has brought an increase of eight points in its satisfaction rating, which now stands at 26 per cent. The enormity of the task it faces is, however, sharply delineated by a dissatisfaction rating of 66 per cent.
While Coalition party support has lagged that of the Government, the latest figures show Fine Gael rising four points to 30 per cent since September, while the Labour Party has added three points to 9 per cent.
The figures reflect growing public confidence that the worst of the recession may have passed. The creation of an additional 58,000 jobs within the past year; strong growth in exports and for the tourism sector; a revival in construction and a projected increase in farm incomes have all contributed to positive sentiment. Exit from the IMF-EU bailout programme this weekend is likely to reinforce that growing confidence.
Dissatisfaction with the Government is most pronounced in Dublin and particularly within low-income groups. It was here that the Labour Party secured much of its support in the last general election.
But three difficult budgets halved its urban voter base. Much of that support gravitated to Sinn Féin and to Independent candidates but, as the economic gloom continues to lift, the electorate may revise its attitudes.
Micheál Martin has seen support for Fianna Fáil slide by four points during the year, despite continuing Government unpopularity. Negative publicity arising from the release of banking tapes was identified as the cause.
The party can expect further buffeting on that front when the Government appoints an inquiry into circumstances surrounding the banking guarantee, next year. In the meantime, grumblings within Fianna Fáil over Mr Martin’s leadership style are likely to continue.
Media attention on Gerry Adams, concerning IRA membership and child sexual abuse, caused his satisfaction rating to fall slightly while support for Sinn Féin also declined. Despite such unease, Sinn Féin remains the clear party of choice for low-income voters, with ambitions to become the largest party in Dublin.
Fine Gael has done particularly well. Not only does Taoiseach Enda Kenny head the satisfaction rating for party leaders, at 33 per cent, but the party gained four points to put it comfortable ahead of both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, at 22 and 21 per cent respectively.
With the local and European elections due next year and one-third of the electorate undecided on how to vote, all of the parties have the capacity to establish strong platforms for the subsequent general election.