Economic crash may be causing seismic shift in Irish politics


ANALYSIS:Fine Gael and Labour look set to poll strongly in the European and local elections in June, writes STEPHEN COLLINS

THE ASTONISHING slide in the Fianna Fáil vote revealed in The Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll is the strongest indication yet that a seismic shift in Irish politics may be under way in response to the deepening economic crisis.

The last Irish Timespoll in November showed Fine Gael pulling ahead of Fianna Fáil for the first time and one of the most striking feature of the current poll is a surge in support for the Labour Party that has pushed it ahead of the main Government party for the first time.

Dublin is the worst region of the country for Fianna Fáil with the level of support for the party now just 13 per cent. On that share of the vote Fianna Fáil will have difficulty retaining its sole European Parliament seat in the capital and it faces a wipeout in the local elections in June.

The party does a bit better in Munster where it is on 18 per cent and it gets a more respectable 25 per cent in the Rest of Leinster and 26 per cent in Connacht-Ulster.

Across the age groups Fianna Fáil does worst among the 35 to 49 category where it gets 17 per cent and is marginally better among the 25 to 34 group where it is on 19 per cent. Its strongest support comes from the over 50s with 22 per cent and among the 18 to 24-year-olds where it is on 21 per cent.

In terms of social class Fianna Fáil gets 18 per cent among from the better-off AB and C1 groups and among the least well off DE category. It does marginally better among skilled working-class C2 voters with 21 per cent and best among farmers with 28 per cent.

Fine Gael has held its position as the top party in Dublin with 23 per cent and has also passed out Fianna Fáil in Munster with 25 per cent of the vote. It is level in the rest of Leinster and marginally behind in Connacht-Ulster.

In age terms Fine Gael does best among the 18 to 24 group and among the over-65s but it has even support across all age categories. The party is strongest among the best-off AB social category but it beats Fianna Fáil in every social category apart from the C2s.

If Fine Gael can maintain its new-found position as the most popular party in the country it will be in a strong position to retain its four seats in the European Parliament, remaining the biggest Irish party in that body, as well as putting it in with a strong chance of overtaking Fianna Fáil in terms of county council seats.

The surge in Labour support has pushed it close to Fine Gael and well ahead of Fianna Fáil in Dublin where it gets 22 per cent. The party gets 18 per cent in Munster, 15 per cent in the Rest of Leinster and 10 per cent in Connacht-Ulster.

In age terms Labour is weakest among the youngest 18 to 24-year-old category. Support increases up the age groups and is strongest among those over 50. In class terms the party’s strongest support comes from the best-off AB voters and is weakest among the poorest DE voters.

The rise in party support across the country to significant levels should help the party hold on to its European Parliament seat in Dublin and put it in with a chance of a gain in Ireland South and possibly in East as well. If the support is maintained until June it will make significant gains in the local elections.

The Green Party support is spread evenly across the regions. It does best in the Rest of Leinster and worst in Connacht Ulster but the party will be worried at a rating of just 3 per cent in Dublin where it would expect to have concentrated support. The party has lost its attraction for younger voters but in class terms it is still strongest among the best-off AB category.

The danger for the Greens is that it is following the same trend that marked the Progressive Democrats in their final years with support being spread too thinly across the country to deliver a significant number of Dáil seats.

Sinn Féin support is also spread evenly across the country but its vote is at a more viable level at 8 per cent in Dublin and the Rest of Leinster, 9 per cent in Connacht-Ulster and 7 per cent in Munster. While this will make it difficult for the party to retain its euro seat in Dublin, and win the targeted gain in Ireland West, it should result in a good local election performance, particularly given its clear lead over the Greens and other small parties who can deliver vital transfers.

The satisfaction rating of the Government at just 14 per cent with a dissatisfaction rating of 82 per cent is one of the most shocking features of the poll. The trend goes across the country, being marginally worse in Dublin and marginally better in Connacht-Ulster.

In class terms the most wealthy AB voters are the most negative and the poorest DE voters the most supportive but the difference is not very significant. It is also striking that the don’t know figure on this question has come down to just 4 per cent.

The real surprise is that even Fianna Fáil voters are dissatisfied with the Government’s performance by a margin of 55 per cent to 40 per cent. Green Party voters are far more unhappy with 85 per cent of them expressing dissatisfaction and just 15 per cent satisfaction.

A slightly higher proportion of over 90 per cent of Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin supporters express dissatisfaction with the Government.

When it comes to the Taoiseach, voters in Dublin are the most critical with just 15 per cent satisfied and 78 per cent dissatisfied. He does best in the Rest of Leinster and Connacht-Ulster but is still in negative territory.

In class terms satisfaction with Mr Cowen is lowest among the better-off AB voters and highest among poorer DE voters and farmers.

A similar pattern applies to Enda Kenny whose best rating comes from farmers, followed by working-class voters, with the best-off AB voters the most negative in their response to him.

By contrast satisfaction with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is highest among the best-off AB voters and lowest among the least well-off DE social category. In regional terms Mr Gilmore is strongest in Dublin but his rating across the rest of the country is only slightly lower and is well ahead of his party’s standing in all parts of the country.