The public is equally divided as to whether Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny or Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin should be taoiseach after the election, according to the latest Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll.
Asked which of the four main party leaders they would prefer to see as taoiseach, 24 per cent opted for Mr Kenny, with precisely the same number going for Mr Martin.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was supported by 12 per cent, while 4 per cent preferred Labour leader Joan Burton.
Mr Martin’s equal standing with the outgoing Taoiseach is a reflection of his success in the election campaign to date and particularly his performance in the television debates.
The final three days of campaigning before voters go to the polls on Friday have now assumed critical importance for all the party leaders.
Both Mr Kenny and Mr Martin will take confidence from the fact they have strong backing from their own supporters, with 72 per cent of Fine Gael voters opting for Mr Kenny and 71 per cent of Fianna Fáil supporters backing Mr Martin.
There are significant differences in the appeal of each leader with Mr Kenny ahead by almost two to one among the better-off AB voters and farmers while Mr Martin was ahead among poorer C2 and DE voters.
It indicates Mr Martin has been successful in his effort to reposition Fianna Fáil as a slightly left-of-centre party with the main focus on improving public services rather than delivering tax cuts.
Crumb of comfort
The survey was conducted last Friday and Saturday among a representative sample of 1,200 voters aged 18 and over in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all constituencies. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 per cent.
One crumb of comfort for Fine Gael in the poll is that on the question of which party would be best at delivering a successful economy over the next five years, it is in the lead.
A total of 29 per cent of voters said Fine Gael was best on the economy, followed by Fianna Fáil on 19 per cent, Sinn Féin on 11 per cent and Labour on just 4 per cent.
The Fine Gael lead was strongest among middle class and older voters who traditionally tend to vote in bigger numbers than other categories.
In contrast, Fianna Fáil was regarded by poorer and younger voters as strongest on the economy, probably reflecting the party’s emphasis on fairness.
Another potentially significant finding was that 64 per cent of people said it would be bad for the economy if no clear government emerges after the election.
Not surprisingly, Fine Gael voters were strongest in the belief that an indecisive result would be bad for the economy, while Sinn Féin voters were least inclined to believe it.
In class terms, the best-off took the view that an indecisive result would be bad, with the least well-off not as strongly of that view.
Asked about the issue of abortion, a substantial majority favoured the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives equal rights to the mother and the unborn child, in certain circumstances.
The question put to the voters sampled read: “The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution gives equal rights to the mother and to the unborn child. Are you in favour of repealing this amendment so that terminations in, for example, the case of rape or fatal foetal abnormality could be made legal, or are you in favour of keeping the amendment?”
Some 64 per cent of those polled said they were in favour of repealing the amendment, 25 per cent were in favour of keeping it and 11 per cent had no opinion.
A big majority of supporters of all the political parties said they were in favour of repealing the amendment.
Labour is the only major party to make the repeal of the amendment a condition for entering government after the election, but the pledge has not reversed the slide in its support.
The poll came ahead of Tuesday night’s final televised debate of the campaign which will feature Mr Kenny, Mr Martin, Ms Burton and Mr Adams making a final push to swing voters.