A pattern of alienation


GROWING DISILLUSIONMENT with the Government and extreme volatility in voting intentions mark the findings of the latest Irish Times/IpsosMRBI opinion poll.

Sinn Féin has secured its best-ever result of 21 per cent; Fine Gael is holding relatively steady at 33 per cent; Fianna Fáil has plumbed a new low of 14 per cent, while the Labour Party has fallen to fourth position at 13 per cent. Support for Independents has risen to 17 per cent. The Labour Party will be particularly concerned by these findings in view of the fact that the sampling took place within days of its annual conference when attendant publicity might have been expected to raise its profile. A support base of 13 per cent, excluding “don’t knows”, returns the party to 2009 levels of approval and would threaten many of the seats it won in the general election. Fianna Fáil will also be worried by the slow erosion of its base, from 17 to 14 per cent, since the election and by the rapid advances being made by Sinn Féin.

Unhappiness with the effects of economic recession and particularly, in relation to plans for property, water and septic tank charges have had a toxic effect on the Government’s approval rating. Satisfaction levels have fallen by 14 points during the past six months, to 23 per cent. Ministerial timidity, Cabinet disagreements and the bungling of a household charge, along with high unemployment and spending reductions, have provided fertile ground for their critics.

Sinn Féin has been the main beneficiary from this surge in public dissatisfaction. Having “normalised” its political credentials with voters during the course of last year’s presidential election, the party has aggressively opposed Government policy and more than doubled the support it received in the general election. Most of that gain has been at the expense of the Labour Party. Ominously for Fianna Fáil, however, a gap of seven points has opened up between the parties as Sinn Féin strives for the leadership of moderate republicans in the South.

This Sinn Féin advantage is reflected in all regions and across all demographic groups with the exception of farmers, top income earners and those over 65 years old.

Any complacency within Fine Gael would be misplaced. A 3 per cent fall in support since the election may suggest a solid party performance. In the past nine months, however, the Government’s satisfaction rating dropped by one-third; Enda Kenny’s approval rating fell 11 points to 42 per cent and one-third of Fine Gael’s supporters remain undecided on the fiscal treaty. All party leaders have experienced voter antipathy to some degree. Eamon Gilmore of the Labour Party was worst affected, dropping 17 points to 27 per cent.

He was followed by Micheál Martin, who shed 13 points to 23 per cent. Gerry Adams was least affected, losing two points to 29 per cent.

The degree of voter disillusionment differed, but the pattern of alienation remained constant. It is a worrying message that requires attention.