Varadkar and Government buoyed by Brexit stance on Border

Government satisfaction levels at 41%, the highest since June 2008

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving for the the Brexit press conference at Government Buildings on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving for the the Brexit press conference at Government Buildings on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The findings from today’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll reveal a jump in support for Fine Gael (up five points to 36 per cent), who have opened up a significant gap on Fianna Fáil (down four points to 25 per cent).

Elsewhere, the political landscape is largely unchanged with Sinn Féin still on 19 per cent and Labour stuck on 4 per cent. Independents/Others are down just one point (to 16 per cent).

Today’s poll proves that timing is everything. Early last week, the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil almost collapsed in the wake of the Frances Fitzgerald controversy. This week, the Government and Opposition parties are united in their stance on the Border and all is right with Irish politics once again.

While the outcome was unfortunate, the Government has been credited with approaching the negotiations with clarity and determination

Satisfaction with the Government now stands at 41 per cent, the highest level achieved by any government since June 2008 and up five points since our last poll in October.

Interviewing for today’s poll took place on Monday and Tuesday of this week against the backdrop of Brexit negotiations which led to an agreement on the Border being reached on Monday, only to be withdrawn hours later. While the outcome was unfortunate, the Government has been credited with approaching the negotiations with clarity and determination.

Support for Fine Gael has climbed to 36 per cent, an increase of five points. Support has increased across the board but most noticeably among lower socio-economic groups (DEs), which includes those on a State pension and the unemployed. Among this group, support for Fine Gael has almost doubled from 15 per cent to 28 per cent. The fact that our polling coincided with payment of the Christmas bonus to welfare recipients and pensioners may have benefited Fine Gael among this population cohort.

Support for Sinn Féin has increased in Dublin by six points to 20 per cent and, coincidentally or otherwise, Dublin is the home of Sinn Féin’s leader-in-waiting, Mary Lou McDonald

Fine Gael’s gain has been at the expense of Fianna Fáil. Support for Fianna Fáil has declined by four points to 25 per cent, and while this is slightly better than the 24 per cent achieved in the last General Election it means the party is 11 points behind Fine Gael. In Dublin, Fianna Fáil register a drop of eight points (to 14 per cent), positioning the party behind both Fine Gael (34 per cent) and Sinn Féin (20 per cent) in the capital. In contrast, Fianna Fáil lead in Munster on 32 per cent, albeit marginally by one point.

Sinn Féin have not managed to improve on their October performance of 19 per cent, so no boost yet from the promise of a new party leader. That said, support for Sinn Féin has increased in Dublin by six points to 20 per cent and, coincidentally or otherwise, Dublin is the home of Sinn Féin’s leader-in-waiting, Mary Lou McDonald.

Support for the Labour Party is unchanged at 4 per cent, consistent with the levels recorded for the party over the course of our polling in 2017.

Independents/Others are on 16 per cent support in this latest poll. While support has slipped by just one point, it continues a trend which has seen Independents/Others fall from a high of 30 per cent achieved in the 2016 General Election. The economy is improving and water charges have been abolished. This leaves Independents/Others without a high-profile issue for anti-establishment voters to rally around, with the result that this grouping has reverted to trend and retreated to a core level of support.

Our poll brings good news for both Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin, in terms of the trajectory of their satisfaction ratings at least, with both recording significant increases. The Taoiseach’s demonstration of his ability to take a strong position on the Border appears to have been well received among voters and his satisfaction rating has increased by four points, to 53 per cent, equalling the highest level achieved by his predecessor Enda Kenny.

Satisfaction with Martin as leader of Fianna Fáil has increased by six points to 43 per cent. Martin’s hard line on Frances Fitzgerald was ultimately vindicated, an outcome that quite probably helped lift his satisfaction rating.

Having announced that he will not contest the next General Election, satisfaction with Gerry Adams as leader of Sinn Féin has slipped marginally, by one point to 29 per cent. Satisfaction with Brendan Howlin is now at 19 per cent, marking a one-point decline since our last poll.

Our final poll of the year consolidates a number of the trends observed over the past two years. The shift towards the centre ground continues; support for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil combined is now at 61 per cent, up from a low of 40 per cent in 2014. Sinn Féin are firmly established as the third force in Irish politics, with the party consistently attracting support from about one in five voters.

Independents/Others reached 30 per cent during for the 2016 General Election and have been drifting lower ever since. Labour are anchored in single digits, having only registered above 5 per cent in one poll since the 2016 election.

The pattern of voting preferences that has established itself since the beginning of last year suggests it will be quite a while before we escape from a confidence and supply style Government arrangement.

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