Election 2016: Return of Government in current form almost impossible
Voting strategically to ensure stable Government appears to have gained no traction
Enda Kenny’s satisfaction rating is unchanged at 32%. Photograph: The Irish Times
The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, conducted on Friday and Saturday, shows Fine Gael unchanged (on 28 per cent), with Labour down one (to 6 per cent). The lack of a surge for Fine Gael or a recovery for Labour makes returning the Government in its current form almost impossible at this stage.
Independents/Others have gained three points (to 28 per cent) and are on track to record their strongest general election performance.
What appears to be gaining no traction is the concept of voting strategically to ensure a stable government. Independents and smaller parties, rather than fading as the election nears, have gained momentum, while at the same time the party most likely to lead a government – Fine Gael – has made no progress.
Fianna Fáil (up 2 per cent to 23 per cent) has narrowed the gap on Fine Gael, while Sinn Féin (down 4 per cent to 15per cent) has lost significant ground in the 2½ weeks since our first campaign poll.
Who says debates don’t matter? Today’s Irish Times/ Ipsos MRBI poll was conducted not long after the RTÉ leaders’ debate last Monday. That debate’s fingerprints are all over these poll findings.
Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin did not land too many punches, but neither did they find themselves on the ropes. Joan Burton did not make the breakthrough Labour had hoped for. Gerry Adams appeared flustered at times.
Martin seems to have gained the upper hand on Kenny when all debate performances are taken into consideration.
It would be a strange coincidence if these performances played no part in the notable rise in support for Independents and smaller parties, or the decline in support for Sinn Féin.
For Fine Gael, a ceiling has descended, trapping the party’s vote at or below 30 per cent in recent polls. But if the adage “it’s the economy, stupid” still holds true, how do we explain the failure of Fine Gael to grow its support in recent months?
Firstly, only 18 per cent of voters feel better off as a consequence of how the economy has been managed, according to a recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll. The benefits of the recovery are trickling down to Irish households, except most were hoping for, or expecting, more than a trickle.
The same poll tells us voters do not believe the Government is largely responsible for the recovery, with only 24 per cent agreeing it can take all or most of the credit. It’s the global economy, stupid.
And lastly, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil fish in largely the same pond, so Fianna Fáil’s rise in the polls will naturally act as a drag on Fine Gael’s vote, especially if some of that vote was just borrowed from Fianna Fáil.
The message from today’s poll is a familiar one for Labour. Voters on the right are swapping between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, while those looking for an alternative appear to be moving between Sinn Féin and Independents/Others. This leaves Labour hemmed in on both sides.
Labour, on 6 per cent in today’s poll, is unlikely to drift any lower, having reached what looks like a core level of support.
It goes without saying that a lot can happen in the days ahead. After all, a lot has changed since our last poll, and leaders of the main parties still have one more televised debate to endure.
It is tempting to predict the election’s outcome on the basis of today’s findings – in 2007 and 2011 the final Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll was almost a mirror image of the election result. It would also be foolish to assume the die has been cast and to not entertain the possibility that there could be one final act.
It has never been too late for voters to change their minds. In 2007, a vote to “continue the prosperity” boosted support for Fianna Fáil in the dying days of the campaign. Luckily, the final Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll was late enough in field to register the lift. Fine Gael’s “continue the recovery” message is more suited to the end of a campaign than the start, so there may be time still for it to resonate.
Or will Fianna Fáil keep gaining ground? The party has been closing the gap on Fine Gael in recent polls and it is conceivable it will continue to add support. This trend was last observed in the run-in to the 2014 local elections, with Fianna Fáil narrowly winning the day. Granted these were local elections; but all politics is local.
Damian Loscher is managing director of Ipsos MRBI