Public support for Fianna Fáil at lowest level since polling began


PUBLIC SUPPORT for the Government, the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil has collapsed to the lowest level recorded since Irish Timespolling began more than a quarter of a century ago, according to the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll.

Satisfaction with the Government has dropped to a record low of 18 per cent, a drop of 28 points since the last Irish Timespoll in June, while satisfaction with Taoiseach Brian Cowen has fallen to 26 per cent, a drop of 21 points.

The level of dissatisfaction with the Government is now a massive 76 per cent, while 61 per cent of people are dissatisfied with the way Mr Cowen is doing his job.

The precipitous slide in the Government's fortunes comes after a month of controversy over the Budget on a range of issues including medical cards for the over-70s, education cuts and the postponement of a planned cervical cancer vaccination programme.

By contrast the poll not only puts Fine Gael ahead of Fianna Fáil for the first time ever in an Irish Timespoll, but the main Opposition party has a substantial seven-point lead.

The adjusted figures for party support, compared with the last Irish Timespoll in June are: Fianna Fáil, 27 per cent (down 15 points); Fine Gael, 34 per cent (up 11 points); Labour, 14 per cent (down 1 point); Sinn Féin, 8 per cent (no change); Green Party, 4 per cent (down 1 point); and Independents/others, 13 per cent (up 6 points).

The poll was conducted last Monday and Tuesday among a representative sample of 1,000 voters in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all 43 constituencies. The margin of error is 3 per cent.

The poll was conducted as the controversy over the Budget continued along with the run-up to the Dáil vote on the decision to defer the cervical cancer vaccination programme.

The core vote for the parties compared with the last Irish Timespoll is: Fianna Fáil, 25 per cent (down 14 points); Fine Gael, 25 per cent (up 8 points); Labour, 10 per cent (down 1 point); Sinn Féin, 7 per cent (down 1 point); Greens, 3 per cent (down 1 point); Independents/others, 8 per cent (up 3 points); and undecided voters 22 per cent (up 6 points).

In terms of satisfaction ratings, the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, is ahead of Brian Cowen for the first time with a rating of 33 per cent (down 2 points), while Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is up 3 points to 38 per cent.

The Green Party leader, John Gormley, has seen a substantial dip in his satisfaction rating to 28 per cent (down 12 points) while Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is on 33 per cent (down 12 points). The satisfaction rating of all the party leaders, with the exception of Mr Gilmore, has fallen since June.

A striking feature of the poll is that the bulk of those who have deserted Fianna Fáil have gone into the Fine Gael camp, helping to make it the biggest party in an Irish Times/mrbi poll for the first time. Fine Gael is now ahead of Fianna Fáil in Dublin and the rest of Leinster.

In class terms, Fine Gael has made big inroads among middle class voters where it is now well ahead of Fianna Fáil. The party also has a substantial lead among farmers and is behind Fianna Fáil only among the less well-off voters, but it has made big gains in this category as well.

Fianna Fáil support has slumped in Dublin and it is now behind Labour as well as Fine Gael in the capital.

Fianna Fáil's worst performance is among better-off voters, where its support has more than halved since June. Despite the furore over the medical cards for the over-70s, Fianna Fáil does best among over-65s of all age categories.

The other big beneficiary of the decline in Fianna Fáil support is the Independent/other group which is up five points. This group now includes people still declaring themselves PDs since the decision to wind up the party at the weekend.

Another explanation for the increase may be the high profile of Independent TDs such as Finian McGrath and Michael Lowry during the Budget controversy.

The Labour Party drop of one point to 14 per cent represents a marginal decrease.

However, Mr Gilmore is now the most popular party leader. Labour has held almost all the ground it gained in polls this year compared with its general election vote last year of 10 per cent.

The drop in support for the Green Party to 4 per cent, accompanied by the drop of 12 per cent in satisfaction with Mr Gormley, indicates that the party is now beginning to feel the pressure of its involvement in a coalition.

It is striking that Green Party voters are much more satisfied with Mr Kenny than Mr Cowen. Some 56 per cent of them expressed dissatisfaction with the way the Taoiseach was doing his job. Sinn Féin has held its 8 per cent support level but has failed to make gains at Fianna Fáil's expense. The decline in the satisfaction rating of Mr Adams may account for that failure.