Sinn Féin is neck-and-neck with Fine Gael in popular support for the first time, according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll.
The poll also shows that Labour has benefited from a modest bounce since the summer Cabinet reshuffle with new Tánaiste Joan Burton now the most popular party leader.
And it appears that the controversy over John McNulty’s Seanad nomination has had no impact on Fine Gael support since the last poll in May.
However, Fianna Fáil has dropped five points since then, while Independents/Others are down one point.
When people were asked who they would vote for if an election were held tomorrow, party support – when undecideds are excluded – compared with the last Irish Times poll in May was: Fine Gael, 24 per cent (no change); Labour, 9 per cent (up two points); Fianna Fáil, 20 per cent (down five points); Sinn Féin, 24 per cent (up four points); and Independents/ Others, 23 per cent (down one point).
The survey was undertaken on Monday and Tuesday of this week 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.
The core vote for the parties – before undecideds are excluded – compared with the last poll was: Fine Gael, 19 per cent (up one point); Labour, 7 per cent (up two); Fianna Fáil, 16 per cent (down three); Sinn Féin, 18 per cent (up three); Independents/Others, 17 per cent (down one) and undecided voters, 23 per cent (down two).
In terms of satisfaction ratings, Joan Burton is the most popular party leader in the first Irish Times poll since she was elected to the post in July.
Gerry Adams has gained two points but Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin are both down.
Satisfaction with the Government has increased by one point to 23 per cent despite recent controversies.
The rise in Sinn Féin support since the local elections in May augurs well for the party’s chances in the Dublin South West and Roscommon-South Leitrim byelections tomorrow.
The party has moved into first place in Dublin, where it has 26 per cent of the vote. If it can retain that in the next general election it stands to win a significant number of seats in the capital.
Sinn Féin support is heavily concentrated in working-class areas and it is on 39 per cent among the poorest social category. The party also does very well among young voters but support declines steadily with age and higher income. It is also significantly more attractive to men than women.
The other party to gain is Labour. The increase to 9 per cent still leaves it far behind the levels it attracted in opposition but, when coupled with Ms Burton’s satisfaction rating and a rise in support in Dublin, there is some good news for the party.
Fine Gael will be relieved to have retained the same level of support it had in May, despite the prolonged controversy over Mr McNulty.
On the other hand further gains might have been expected in light of the improving economy had it not been for those events.
This is borne out in the response to another question. Asked if they were more or less likely to vote for Fine Gael as a result of the McNulty affair 37 per cent said less likely.
However, among Fine Gael supporters, 60 per cent said it made no difference while 15 per cent said they were more likely to vote for the party as a result and 14 per cent said less likely.
When voters were asked about the impact of the change of Labour leader there were also mixed signals but among Labour supporters a significant majority said they were now more likely to vote for the party.
The poll also shows continuing support for Independents/ Others with a national figure of 23 per cent, down marginally on the last poll.
They are strongest in Dublin, where their support outstrips even Sinn Féin.