Fine Gael budget safely to hold on to pole position
Eight-point lead over Fianna Fáil a significant advantage
Fine Gael Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue on budget day at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Last week’s budget was described as an election budget without being a giveaway budget. Today’s poll findings suggest voters agree with this analysis. The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows support for Fine Gael has increased, up two points to 33 per cent.
Fianna Fáil is on 25 per cent, down one point. Sinn Féin registers 24 per cent support, up two points since April and up five points since the start of the year. For Independents/Others the slide continues, losing another two points having dropped to just 14 per cent combined support in this latest poll.
Fieldwork for today’s poll took place between Wednesday and Friday of last week among a nationally representative sample of 1,200 eligible voters. Interviewing was conducted face-to-face, in-home, across all 40 constituencies.
We can assume voter reaction to the budget is captured in this latest poll because fieldwork took place after the budget was announced.
Fallout, if any, from the resignation of Denis Naughten is partly reflected in today’s poll, with some interviews taking place before and some after his resignation.
This latest poll comes at a very interesting phase in the current political cycle. With the confidence-and-supply arrangement due to lapse shortly, there is the very real possibility of a general election this year. So what does this poll tell us about how the parties are positioned in the event of a snap election?
Fine Gael won the most seats at the last election and today’s poll indicates they are well situated to repeat this performance. A gap of eight points over Fianna Fail is most definitely statistically significant. That said, Fine Gael enjoyed a seven-point advantage immediately prior to the 2016 General Election, which narrowed to only a one-point margin on election day. In short, Fine Gael’s advantage is significant but not necessarily sufficient to win out over Fianna Fáil.
A key focus for Fine Gael remains non-managerial, working voters and their families where the party scores just 21 per cent and is easily outpolled by Sinn Féin (32 per cent) and Fianna Fáil (28 per cent).
Fine Gael have enjoyed some of their highest ratings with Leo Varadkar as leader. On 51 per cent, his personal satisfaction rating remains high, but the trend is downward having peaked at 60 per cent in January.
While Fianna Fáil may be trailing Fine Gael, the party is trending a few points higher than prior to the 2016 General Election. In Dublin, the party is on 19 per cent, an improvement on 2016 but still below the party’s national standing.
Fianna Fáil party leader Micheál Martin has also upped his satisfaction rating since the last election, from 35 per cent then to 39 per cent now. But everything is relative: in 2016 he was more popular than Enda Kenny whereas today he is less popular than Leo Varadkar.
The past decade has seen very dramatic swings in the fortunes of most parties. In contrast, the rise of Sinn Féin has been steady, with the party increasing its vote in every election since 2002. With 24 per cent support in this latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, another seat gain for Sinn Féin is probable, notwithstanding the tendency for the party to lose supporters as election day draws near.
Sinn Féin’s supporter profile remains skewed towards working-class voters (a cohort that tends to be less motivated to vote), so translating voter appeal into actual votes will remain a challenge for the party.
Satisfaction with party leader Mary Lou McDonald is at 40 per cent, one point higher than in April. Among Sinn Féin voters her rating climbs to 85 per cent.
Currently, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin all poll higher than they did at the last election. Their gains have been at the expense of Independents/Others for whom support has more than halved, from 30 per cent in General Election 2016 to just 14 per cent today.
In much the same way as Labour and the Green Party paid a price for being the minority party in Government, it seems Independents are being renounced, not rewarded, for their participation.
Support for Labour is at 4 per cent (down one point). Satisfaction with Brendan Howlin’s leadership, at 18 per cent, is unchanged. It goes without saying that these are very low measures (of party support and leader satisfaction) for Labour in the context of how the party has polled over the last 30 years.
In recent polls there has been a high degree of consistency in the findings. Fine Gael have maintained their lead over Fianna Fáil, while Sinn Féin have established themselves as the third force in Irish politics. Smaller parties have struggled to gain traction.
Unless the consistency we are observing is disturbed quite dramatically, we are looking at confidence-and-supply agreements for many years to come. How soon an election is called is unlikely to change this reality.