The scale of the drop in support for the Coalition parties since October, as revealed in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, is likely to prompt some serious soul-searching.
The Labour Party first touched rock bottom over a year ago but Fine Gael is now in the same position with only a year or so left in the lifetime of the Government. At just 19 per cent, Fine Gael has hit its lowest level since 2003 when Enda Kenny was in the initial stages of building the party back from its dreadful 2002 general election performance.
The drop in the party’s vote comes in tandem with a fall in Kenny’s personal satisfaction rating to just 19 per cent.
Slump in support
Fine Gael voters are the only group who express satisfaction at his performance but even among them 31 per cent are dissatisfied. What will seriously worry Fine Gael strategists is that the slump in support came after a determined fightback against Government critics last week by the Taoiseach and senior Ministers such as
. The poll shows that AB voters and farmers are the only social categories where the party is still ahead of its rivals with 33 per cent of the vote. That drops to 21 per cent among C1 voters, 15 per cent among C2 and 10 per cent in the DE category.
In regional terms, Fine Gael is still performing reasonably well in Dublin where it is on 20 per cent but it is only 15 per cent in the rest of Leinster and 19 per cent in Munster. Connacht-Ulster is better with 24 per cent but Fianna Fáil has now pulled ahead of it in its old western heartland.
In age terms, the party’s worst score is among 25- to 34-year-olds and it is now distinctly less popular among women than men. The same gender imbalance is evidenced in Kenny’s satisfaction rating.
The poll has equally bad news for Labour after a mini-bounce in October which gave some grounds for hope that new leader Joan Burton might be able to turn things around. Instead the party's share of the vote has dropped three points to 6 per cent.
A real worry will be that it just gets this 6 per cent share in Dublin where it will have a real battle to hold any of its seats if it cannot do significantly better in the next election. The party does a little better in the rest of Leinster with 8 per cent, dropping back to 5 per cent in Munster and 4 per cent in Connacht-Ulster.
The initial strong satisfaction rating for Burton has also faltered and she has dropped back to 25 per cent. She has strong positive ratings among supporters of both Government parties but is in negative territory with all other voters.
Sinn Féin has dropped two points since the last poll but 22 per cent is still a strong performance, putting the party marginally ahead of Fianna Fáil and three points ahead of Fine Gael.
Sinn Féin remains strong in Dublin where it is on 21 per cent and is stronger again in the rest of Leinster where it gets 25 per cent, dropping back to 23 per cent in Munster and 18 per cent in Connacht-Ulster.
Poorest DE voters
In class terms the party is strongest among the poorest DE voters where it wins 36 per cent support and it gets 28 per cent among C2s giving it a very strong presence in urban working class areas.
Across the age groups Sinn Féin does best among the 25-to 34-year-olds, where it is easily the strongest party, falling back among the older age groups.
The poll will come as good news for Fianna Fáil following a sudden drop in the October survey. At 21 per cent the party is neck and neck with Sinn Féin and is regaining ground in its old heartland of Connacht-Ulster where it is the biggest party.
There is also a bit of an improvement in Dublin with Fianna Fáil moving up to 15 per cent. If it can improve another few points it could have a realistic hope of gaining a number of seats in the capital where it currently has no Dáil representation.
A positive note for the party is that while Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin lost support to Independents and smaller parties, it held on to its support. This indicates that it has a solid base of around 20 per cent while the others fluctuate up and down. The really big gainers in the poll are the Independents and smaller parties with almost a third of the electorate saying they would vote for them. This category is strongest in Dublin, with 37 per cent support, much bigger than any of the established parties.
The rest of Leinster comes next followed by Munster and Connacht-Ulster.
Support is relatively even across the social classes, apart from farmers who are less enthusiastic about Independents.
Across the age groups the 18- to 24-year-olds are the least supportive but there is strong backing in all other categories.