New political force may take advantage of increasing polarisation
‘Irish Times’/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll shows rise in support for Independents
Independents such as Lucinda Creighton do not speak with one voice but represent ideas the mainstream parties have not developed, says Damian Loscher of Ipsos MRBI.
Bunched behind Fine Gael are Sinn Féin on 23 per cent (up two points), Fianna Fáil on 22 per cent (down four points) and Independents/Others on 21 per cent (up three points).
Interviewing for today’s poll was conducted on Friday and Saturday last week among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults. Interviews were conducted in-home, at 100 sampling points covering every constituency.
With a referendum and a budget on the near horizon – both potential lightning rods for voter dissatisfaction – Fine Gael will take some satisfaction from today’s positive poll result, especially when we consider that TDs expelled during the summer are no longer included in the Fine Gael number.
Fine Gael’s stance on the referendum is broadly in tune with public opinion. While it is viewed as cynical and populist by some, the majority of voters back the proposal to abolish the Seanad (62 per cent in favour). Overwhelmingly, Fine Gael voters (77 per cent) are intending to vote Yes.
Short sharp shock
By design or otherwise, Fine Gael may also have engineered the ideal pre-budget scenario, with attention focused on the level of adjustment, and without any of the kite-flying we have come to expect. There has been hardly any mention of cuts and taxes in the media. A short sharp shock approach must be less damaging than death by a thousand leaks.
Labour’s participation in Government has firmly established Sinn Féin as the anti-establishment and anti-austerity party. They register 23 per cent support in today’s poll, a gain of two points, and are especially strong among those aged 18-34 (32 per cent support), where they are the party of choice by some distance.
In contrast, Labour have slumped further, down three points to 6 per cent support. The decline has been broadly based, with the party registering in the single digits across all demographic groups, except for the 10 per cent recorded among 18- to 24-year-olds.
Fianna Fáil have not taken advantage of the upcoming Seanad referendum or budget to articulate a distinctive point of view. Their recovery has stalled, with today’s poll putting the party back to 22 per cent, a drop of four points. To use a mountaineering analogy, Fianna Fáil have reached base camp, where they are acclimatising and waiting for conditions to improve.
The drop in support for Fianna Fáil since June is concentrated among those aged 18-49, among whom Fianna Fáil has made only modest gains since 2011. At the other end of the spectrum, among those over- 65, its vote is remarkably healthy at 38 per cent and ahead of Fine Gael. Pensioners still view Fianna Fáil through a different lens.
With Sinn Féin on the rise and Labour in decline, the signs are that politics in Ireland has further polarised along austerity lines. Labour and, to a lesser extent, Fianna Fáil are too conflicted on austerity to be able to lead on the issue.
When you can go in only one direction – austerity – it can be difficult to show real leadership. No surprise, therefore, that party leader satisfaction levels are uninspiring. In trend terms, they are bumping along the bottom. Enda Kenny (on 31 per cent) pips Gerry Adams (on 29 per cent) for top spot, followed closely by Micheál Martin (on 27 per cent). Eamon Gilmore (on 15 per cent) and Eamon Ryan (on 10 per cent) follow up the rear. The order of priority for party support and leader satisfaction is the same. Nothing to see here.
Realistically, austerity will be with us for some time to come, but as it fades, space will be created for another political dimension to emerge. The Greens (on 2 per cent in today’s poll) will hope environmental responsibility takes centre stage, as it should judging by last week’s report on climate change.
Will a new political force start to emerge? Independents/Others have risen to 21 per cent (up three points), their highest ever showing in an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, helped no doubt by an injection of former Fine Gael TDs.
Noticeably, the jump in support for Independents has been confined to Dublin (lifting from 20 per cent in June to 29 per cent in this latest poll) where Fine Gael have removed the whip from Lucinda Creighton, Peter Mathews and Terence Flanagan. While Independents do not speak with one voice, they collectively represent ideas and ambitions which the mainstream parties have not developed. There is a large, vacant site on the political landscape.
Damian Loscher is managing director of Ipsos MRBI