A disenchanted electorate

Thu, Oct 18, 2012, 01:00

PUBLIC SUPPORT for the Government and its leaders continues to decline, according to the latest Irish Times/IpsosMRBI opinion poll, as the economy remains in the doldrums, austerity measures are implemented and pre-election commitments made by Fine Gael and the Labour Party remain unfulfilled.

The Government’s satisfaction rating has fallen by 40 per cent within the past year as unemployment edged upwards, mortgage difficulties increased and Ministers attempted to curb spending and raise new taxes. Speculation on the taxes/cuts mix for the forthcoming budget has done little to comfort a voting public growing tired of relentless austerity and lingering uncertainty.

As the Government prepares for that extremely difficult December budget, the message from the electorate is one of growing disenchantment, particularly among low-income families. Support remains strongest, at 31 per cent, among professional and business people and farmers. But, for a majority of voters, a belief in economic revival and political competence has worn thin where Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore are concerned.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will greet the results of this poll with relief. Following a year in which the party trailed Sinn Féin in the opinion polls, support has risen by six points since May. Fianna Fáil has now moved into second place, at 21 per cent, behind Fine Gael. The lead over Sinn Féin is statistically insignificant at 1 per cent but, in psychological terms, it may provide the tonic necessary to reinvigorate the organisation.

Support for Fine Gael has continued its incremental decline, at 31 per cent, while the Labour Party has shown some slight resilience and regained two points to 12 per cent, well short of its election performance. All the party leaders, with the exception of Eamon Ryan of the Green Party, experienced a decline in personal satisfaction ratings. This was most pronounced in the case of Gerry Adams who dropped eight points to 29 per cent. Despite that, Mr Adams attracts the second highest satisfaction rating, behind Mr Kenny at 33 per cent.

The findings of this poll will make for uncomfortable reading at Cabinet. Many of the seats won by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the general election could be swept away if a fresh contest took place. At the same time, their overwhelming Dáil majority has the capacity to weaken Coalition discipline and encourage worried backbenchers to adopt confrontational positions. Friction on issues such as the Croke Park deal, healthcare, taxation and welfare payments has already surfaced and is likely to increase in coming months.

The message for the Government is clear: the electorate is seeking dramatic action and outcomes, not piecemeal change. Unemployment remains the single greatest challenge. This threat to social stability must be tackled with increased resources and greater urgency. Banks should be directed to lend to small businesses and address mortgage problems, through legislation if necessary. Time is not on the Government’s side. Long-term unemployment fosters social disintegration. Job creation and economic reform are not optional extras.

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