Election 2020: Irish voters want change but cannot decide what type, research shows

Focus groups suggest Fine Gael faces a struggle in final week of campaign

Ipsos MRBI and the Irish Times have run focus groups leading up to the last weekend of the general election to research the desire for political change with the electorate.

Undecided voters are overwhelmingly in favour of change in next week’s general election, focus group research suggests, but many are struggling to decide which party represents the type of change they want to see.

The findings suggest Fine Gael faces an uphill battle to stage a comeback in the final week of the campaign, though senior party figures remain confident that a focus on the economy and Brexit will regain ground for the party before voters go to the polls next Saturday.

The research, conducted by Ipsos MRBI for The Irish Times, finds that some voters are attracted to Sinn Féin's message of radical change, but others are nervous about some of the party's promises.

Other voters are concerned about endangering the economic progress of recent years, despite a widespread sense that Leo Varadkar’s government is out of touch and has failed to deal with issues such as health and housing.


The focus groups were conducted in Dublin and Mullingar last week among specially selected voters who are undecided or open to changing their voting intention. They are not intended as statistically representative of the electorate, or to provide data that can be extrapolated. Instead, they indicate attitudes among typical voters on a range of topics.

Dissatisfaction with government

The findings bear out and explain poll findings that identify dissatisfaction with the current government, and suggest that a comeback for Fine Gael will be a challenge.

Voters identified strongly with Sinn Féin’s message of change, and the performance of Mary Lou McDonald was cited as a positive in many of the discussions.

However, the groups also suggested that some may be attracted to other, less radical, messages of change – including from Fianna Fáil. Smaller parties are finding it hard to get their message through to voters, the focus groups suggest.

Fine Gael figures said the campaign had now entered the final and decisive phase which they said would be focused on the issues of trust, the economy and how to form a government after the election.

It is claimed that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was always prepared for a tough opening to the campaign, as happened when the opening stages were dominated by issues such as health and housing, where Fine Gael is weakest.

Senior party sources said they intended to press Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on exactly how he will form a government since he has ruled out coalition with Sinn Féin and Fine Gael.

Coalition ruled out

Mr Martin has repeatedly ruled out entering government with Ms McDonald but Fine Gael sources say the party intends to pressure him on the wider issue of government formation with an emphasis on Sinn Féin.

“That is how Micheál gets his government,” said one source. “What else has he got?”

Those in Fianna Fáil say their strategy will not change as polling day approaches. Mr Martin said he would not “trust” Mr Varadkar not to enter into a coalition deal with Sinn Féin.

Those campaigning across all parties and Independents say the rise in support for Sinn Féin in opinion polls is being reflected on the ground.

Ms McDonald on Friday said a poll on Irish unity was an “absolute necessity” for Sinn Féin as a result of Brexit.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times