Fianna Fáil facing fight for political survival as Martin ascendancy fails to stem tide


ANALYSIS:Rise in Enda Kenny’s satisfaction rating offers huge boost to Fine Gael campaign

THE ELECTION of Micheál Martin has failed to arrest the slide in the fortunes of Fianna Fáil and the party is now in a battle for survival as a serious political force, according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll.

The poll has good news for Fine Gael and its leader Enda Kenny who are on course to lead the next Government with substantially more seats than any other party.

The poll confirms predictions that February 25th is going to be one of the landmark elections in the history of the State, with dramatic changes in the strengths of the three biggest parties which have remained relatively constant for almost 80 years.

Fine Gael is on course to become the biggest party for the first time while Fianna Fáil will not only be dislodged from its position as the leading party but will probably be pushed back into third place. The Labour Party is set to become the second party in the State with the best result in its history while Sinn Féin is set for its best result since 1923.

When asked if they would be more or less inclined to vote for Fianna Fáil following the election of Martin last Wednesday, 24 per cent said they would be more inclined, 63 per cent said it would make no difference, 9 per cent said they would be less inclined, while 4 per cent expressed no opinion.

Committed Fianna Fáil voters constituted the only group where there was a strongly positive response with 54 per cent of them saying they would be more inclined to vote for the party as a result. While voters in Munster were marginally more inclined to say it would make a difference, there was no significant regional variation. The Fianna Fáil vote now stands at 15 per cent and the party’s defensive strategy of trying to hold one seat in each of the 43 constituencies will not be achievable on that share of the vote.

When voting intentions were broken down by those who had decided how they would vote and those who might still change their minds, some interesting differences with the overall poll data emerged.

Among voters who have definitely made up their minds Fine Gael is in an even stronger position on 35 per cent while Fianna Fáil is a little better on 16 per cent. Labour is lower on 21 per cent, Sinn Féin on 14 per cent and Independents and Others 13 per cent.

The only hint of good news for Fianna Fáil strategists is that even though the party’s national vote has dropped by two points it has made a gain of a similar size in Dublin where it is now on 13 per cent. It has moved ahead of Sinn Féin in the capital since the last poll and that will give it some hope of holding on to a handful of seats in Dublin. Things are only a little bit better in Munster, where Fianna Fáil is on 15 per cent. It is on 16 per cent in the rest of Leinster, and 16 per cent in Connacht-Ulster.

Across the age groups, Fianna Fáil’s best category by far is the over-65s, where it is on 29 per cent. As the over 65s are most likely to vote in elections this could be very significant.

The next highest support for the party is the 50 to 64 age group, where support stands at 16 per cent. In the categories aged between 25 and 49 the party is on just 10 per cent.

In terms of social categories, Fianna Fáil does best among farmers, where it is on 24 per cent. Its vote is strongest among the poorest DE social category and declines steadily up the social spectrum to the AB category in which it is weakest.

By contrast, support for Fine Gael is up significantly since the last poll across most regions, social categories and age groups. The party vote in Dublin is up to 27 per cent where it continues to make up ground on Labour.

The strongest region for the party is the leader’s home territory of Connacht-Ulster, where its vote is up to 39 per cent but it has seen a significant rise in the rest of Leinster where it is up to 37 per cent and it has improved its rating in Munster to 33 per cent. In social terms, Fine Gael is strongest among farmers where it gets 52 per cent support.

Significantly, the rise in support among the best-off AB voters has continued from the last poll and the party is now on 46 per cent in this category. Across other social classes the party vote has either increased or remained stable.

The increase in Enda Kenny’s satisfaction rating and the fact that he is ahead of Micheál Martin is another boost for Fine Gael.

The Labour vote has moved very little since the last poll and, while its chances of becoming the biggest party in the State for the first time have receded, it is still in with a very strong chance of becoming the second biggest party with its best ever result.

Labour support in Dublin is solid on 32 per cent which should be enough to put it into first place in the capital. It may have to battle hard to win coveted second seats in some of the urban constituencies, particularly given the strength of Sinn Féin, small parties and Independents.

Outside the capital Labour is on 25 per cent in the rest of Leinster and 22 per cent in Munster. In Connacht-Ulster it is on 17 per cent.

In class terms, Labour’s vote is fairly evenly spread. It is strongest among the C1 and C2 categories where it registers 29 per cent, followed by the poorest DE category, where it is on 24 per cent and the AB category where it is on 21 per cent.

In age terms, support for the party is fairly evenly spread up to the age of 50 but it declines sharply among older voters.

Support for Sinn Féin has slipped back since the last Irish Times poll but it is still on course for its best result since 1923.

In regional terms it is strongest in Connacht-Ulster, at 14 per cent. The party has dropped back to 10 per cent in Dublin, 13 per cent in Munster and 11 per cent in the rest of Leinster.

In class terms, there is a huge difference between the poorest DE group, where the party holds on to 22 per cent, and the best off AB category, where it is on just 1 per cent. The party is still more attractive to men than women.

In age terms, Sinn Féin’s strongest category is the 25 to 34-year-olds, where it gets 20 per cent, and its weakest among the over 65s where it gets 4 per cent.

Green Party support has dropped back to 1 per cent, which means that its chances of holding even one Dáil seat are slim. It does a little better in Dublin than other regions but the outlook for the party is bleak.

The level of support for Independents and Others is up significantly to 15 per cent and it looking increasingly likely that this group will be strongly represented in the next Dáil.