We’re back! Poll shows Fianna Fáil are most popular party

Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey puts FF and leader Micheál Martin back in our good books

Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin and Michael McGrath celebrate at the general election 2016 count at the City Hall in Cork. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin and Michael McGrath celebrate at the general election 2016 count at the City Hall in Cork. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

 

And so, back to the future. Today’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll, the first since before the February general election, has one startlingly obvious headline: Fianna Fáil is back. Support for the party among likely voters jumps by a whopping nine points from the election to 33 per cent (excluding undecideds), putting the party far ahead of its rivals and restoring its old superiority over Fine Gael.

The party’s core vote – including the 16 per cent who are undecided – is at 27 per cent.

This is Fianna Fáil’s highest rating in this series of polls since the first half of 2008 – just as the financial crisis was beginning to unfold. The economic crash and the period of brutal austerity which followed remade the landscape of Irish politics. But even as the country emerges from that period, and strong economic growth returns, political change is continuing. No doubt there will be more to come.

Fianna Fáil returns as the most popular party in all regions except Dublin, where Fine Gael still leads it by 25 per cent to 24 among likely voters (Sinn Féin follows on 15 per cent, with Independents and small parties aggregated at 29 per cent). Fianna Fáil is strongest in Munster, where some 43 per cent of voters say they would vote for the party, as well as among older voters and farmers.

It beats Fine Gael among all social classes except the wealthiest AB voters (Fine Gael leads 39-27) and has a hefty lead over Sinn Féin among working-class voters.

Turnaround

Micheál Martin is the most popular party leader, his approval ratings jumping by eight points to 43 per cent since a pre-election poll in February. At first glance, it’s like the 2008-16 period never happened.

What explains this remarkable turnaround for the party, once thought decently dead atop a funeral pyre of voter anger, after leading the country into the worst financial crisis in its history? The glib answer is that Irish voters – like their counterparts everywhere – have short memories.

The truth is probably a little more complex, as it usually is. Firstly, for many lifelong Fianna Fáil supporters, the party’s purdah was only ever going to be temporary. Their commitment to the party has resumed.

Secondly, it seems Micheál Martin – despite being a member of the Ahern and Cowen administrations – has convinced many of the voting public his party has learned the lessons of past mistakes, and has changed. This has been a triumph both of substance and of spin.

The third likely reason is that the public – or at least that part of it likely to vote Fianna Fáil – approves of Micheál Martin’s post-election political strategy. His own supporters did not want him to go into Government, but they see him pulling the strings from without, and they appear to like it. The big jump in support, after all, has come since the election.

Fine Gael slides

What of the other parties?

Fine Gael support slides by two points today since the general election to 24 per cent. That’s within the margin of error of 3 per cent, but in tune with the trend of Fine Gael support since last autumn. The party is strongest with oldest voters and with the wealthiest AB voters, among whom it has 39 per cent support, but weak among young and working-class voters. The core vote is down to 20 per cent.

It’s true that Enda Kenny maintains his approval rating, and that satisfaction with the Government declines only marginally (from 33 per cent to 31 per cent). And that sampling for the poll took place at a particularly unpropitious time for Fine Gael, during Monday and Tuesday when Enda Kenny was being flayed by negative stories on a series of issues. But in the hothouse atmosphere of Leinster House, few take notice of such mitigating factors.

When you talk to Fine Gael TDs about how long Enda Kenny will remain as Taoiseach, practically every conversation comes around to the opinion polls at some stage. For all the criticism directed at them, the polls are part of the political dynamic. We might as well admit this – and that this poll will be mightily unwelcome for Fine Gael, as well as for its leader.

It warns backbenchers that what they feared might be coming true: Fianna Fáil could be the winners from the minority Government.

Labour shows no upward lift from its leadership change; the movement is in the opposite direction, down two points since February to 5 per cent. On Brendan Howlin’s first outing as leader, he scores a mediocre 26 per cent – better than Joan Burton, but only by a single point. The party is still on life support.

Sinn Féin is at 16 per cent today, two points up from its general election performance of 14 per cent. The party’s strongest base of support is among working-class and least well-off voters, where it attracts 23 per cent. Geographically, Connacht-Ulster is where the party is most popular (19 per cent), while it is at 15 per cent in Dublin.

The Independents/others support today slumps from 30 per cent on polling day to 22 per cent today. A drop in support after joining the Government isn’t unexpected, but of course it’s impossible to consider the Independents as a homogenous group. Only some of them went into government, after all.

The 22 per cent is scattered between the Greens (4 per cent), AAA-PBP (2 per cent), Social Democrats (2 per cent), Independent Alliance (2 per cent), Independents 4 Change (2 per cent), and “independent” Independents (9 per cent).

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