Tide continues to go out on Government parties as Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin gain in popularity
Support for the Government has fallen two points since February
It was a scrappy few weeks leading up to this week’s poll, full of spats and skirmishes, firstly involving Minister for Justice Alan Shatter (above) and recently Deputy John McGuinness of Fianna Fáil
There was no sunshine for Fine Gael and Labour in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll. Conducted on Monday and Tuesday of this week as the weather turned, it shows combined support for the Government two points lower when compared with our February poll.
Fine Gael has dropped one point, to 24 per cent, while Labour is also one point lower with 9 per cent support.
Satisfaction with the Government’s performance is up three points to 21 per cent, strangely as a result of fewer Fine Gael and Labour voters being dissatisfied with how their parties are performing.
The latest poll confirms Fianna Fáil as the number one party in Ireland, attracting 26 per cent of the vote. The party continues to climb steadily, having bottomed out in 2012.
Also showing positively is Sinn Féin, increasing to 21 per cent, a gain of three points.
Independents/Others are down two points to 18 per cent, with the Green Party on 2 per cent, up one point.
It was a scrappy few weeks leading up to this week’s poll, full of spats and skirmishes, firstly involving Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and recently Deputy John McGuinness of Fianna Fáil.
The Government will surely not want to be dragged into hand-to-hand combat with the Opposition while more serious matters need to be addressed, such as getting the country back on a stable economic footing. On the other hand, some political brawling may help distract the public’s attention from the Government’s more intractable problems, namely legislating for the X case and tackling the mortgage arrears crisis.
Prior to taking the reins the Government may have hoped support to drop in the first two years while the heavy lifting is being done, then to level off, and finally to climb in the run-up to the 2016 election. More than two years in, there are some signs that the Government vote is beginning to stabilise, if for no other reason than Fine Gael and Labour have fallen almost as far as can be expected based on polling trend data.
Fine Gael may have a little further to fall if pressure stays on the Government and the economy fails to recover in the short term. The Fine Gael vote dipped as low as 20 per cent on a number of occasions between 2003 and 2008, so the floor may be a few points away still.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has signalled the need for continued austerity so we are not out of the woods yet.
While the numbers are only indicative, the latest data shows the most noticeable drop in support (from 36 per cent to 31 per cent) for Fine Gael is among voters aged 65 or older. This same demographic is also the most likely to be opposed to legislating for the X case so there is the possibility of further slippage.
Arguably Labour, on 9 per cent, should not fall much further bearing in mind the party has not polled below 9 per cent in the past decade.
It is interesting that the relative popularity of Joan Burton and her achievements in the Department of Social Protection have not endeared her party to working-class voters who give Labour just 7 per cent of their vote. Instead Labour relies heavily on Dubliners (where Labour is on 15 per cent), the public sector (15 per cent) and the middle classes (12 per cent).
Fianna Fáil has again emerged the most popular party, on 26 per cent, consolidating gains made in our February poll.
In the past five years we have been offered a unique perspective on the Fianna Fáil vote. When the tide went out in 2010 we were able, for the first time, to gauge the depth of the party’s foundations, measuring somewhere between 14 per cent and 18 per cent of voters.
In the past year we have been watching the replenishment of the Fianna Fáil ranks with previously loyal voters who feel enough water has passed under the bridge. When the drift back to Fianna Fáil has slowed to a trickle, a more reliable baseline level of support will be revealed.
When Fianna Fáil starts snagging the floating voter its renaissance will be complete, although these voters will be harder won because they have no default allegiance to the party. A higher profile will be needed. Is the electorate ready for New Fianna Fáil?
Since the 2011 election Sinn Féin has spiked twice, and on each occasion the party has managed to lock in some of these new voters on the way down. A case of two steps forward and one step back. Currently on 21 per cent, Sinn Féin is three points off the party’s peak in May 2012.
Independents/Others also appear to have banked some post-election gains. While two points lower (down to 18 per cent) in this poll, support for this opposition grouping remains above trend.
Consistent with no seismic shifts in party support, leader satisfaction ratings are broadly in line with the previous poll.
Micheál Martin is up two points to 31 per ccent, Enda Kenny is up one to 30 per cent, Eamon Gilmore is down one to 16per cent and Eamonn Ryan is up one to 10 per cent. The biggest mover is Gerry Adams (up six to 33 per cent).
Taking a more strategic look at recent polls, there is evidence that the earthquake of economic collapse has shifted the political ground in a fundamental way, forcing a more even distribution of votes across all political groupings.
Prior to 2008, combined support for parties on the right (Fianna Fáil and Fianna Gael) was between 60 per cent and 70 per cent on a very consistent basis. For the past two years combined support has hovered around 50 per cent. For as long as this phenomenon endures, which may be for as long as the economy stagnates, we can expect Fianna Fáil’s gains to be at Fine Gael’s expense and vice versa. The fortunes of Sinn Féin and Labour may be similarly entwined.
The battle lines for the 2016 election are being drawn. The scrappiness of recent weeks may be a sign of things to come.
Damian Loscher is managing director of Ipsos MRBI