Satisfaction with Coalition falls


ANALYSIS:While backing for the ruling parties is holding, support for Government is down six points to 21%

THE LATEST Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows a drop in Government satisfaction – down six points to 21 per cent – while combined support for the parties of Government has survived intact.

Fine Gael has dropped just one point to 31 per cent, while Labour is up to 12 per cent, a gain of two points since our May poll.

Support for Fianna Fáil has increased significantly, up four points to 21 per cent, making it the second most popular party in today’s poll.

Sinn Féin has fallen to 20 per cent, losing four points but still enjoying a historically high level of support.

The Green Party remains on 2 per cent, while Independents/ Others are on 14 per cent, down one point.

Today’s poll findings are set against a background of very mixed reviews for the Coalition.

On the plus side, the Government appears to be making some headway on the economy. Bond yields have fallen, suggesting our reputation has been partially restored in international markets. Progress reviews from the troika confirm Ireland’s bailout programme remains on track. Time magazine recently went as far as to proclaim a Celtic comeback, putting Enda Kenny on the front cover.

Yet despite winning these battles, the Government faces an uphill struggle to win the war.

With the global economy stuttering, the Government will have to rely on cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit. With the easy wins bagged, the Government will have no option except to make some very unpopular decisions.

On the horizon are a property tax and the introduction of water charges in an effort to cut the deficit by €3.5 billion and broaden the tax base. But these changes have already been flagged and it may be other proposals that prove to be the most divisive.

The process of achieving the necessary savings appears to be damaging confidence in the Government, with satisfaction down to 21 per cent, a drop of six points since May, and approaching half the level of satisfaction achieved when the Coalition took office.

Recent disagreements, wrangling, prevarication and posturing have all taken their toll.

Fine Gael has emerged largely unscathed from the drop in Government satisfaction, drifting just one point lower, to 31 per cent support. However, the trend for Fine Gael is going in the wrong direction as less-than-committed voters defect. Support for the party and its mandate will be tested further in the coming months.

Labour appears to have been insulated from the latest fall in Government satisfaction, unlike in April when it took the brunt of the backlash from voters. It is impossible to say if Róisín Shortall’s resignation was a shot in the arm for Labour, but it is likely to have had some impact.

Interestingly, Labour now draws more support from the professional classes (17 per cent amongst ABs) than any other socio-economic group. It seems working-class voters have drifted in large numbers to Sinn Féin, outside Dublin in particular.

A simple explanation here could be the position of Labour on the Croke Park agreement, which is likely to be endorsed by professionals in the public sector, while at the same time alienating the working classes who may feel they do not enjoy the same level of protection.

It is early days yet, but today’s poll may be the first concrete sign that voters are allowing Fianna Fáil back into the game. A jump of four percentage points is statistically significant and is concentrated within the older age groups (50+), among whom Fianna Fáil still trail Fine Gael but are clear of the chasing pack. It makes sense that older voters, some of them with a tradition of voting Fianna Fáil, would be the first to switch. Younger voters may need more time.

Support for Sinn Féin has retreated from a high of 24 per cent in May to 20 per cent in our October poll. However, the party has achieved a rating in excess of 20 per cent in each poll conducted since April and amongst working-class voters Sinn Féin is the party of choice.

If Fianna Fáil is emerging as a viable option for disgruntled voters, it is just another indicator of voter disillusionment in today’s poll.

When we look more closely at the data we see that 53 per cent of combined Fine Gael/Labour voters (equating with 15 per cent of all voters) are not satisfied with the Government’s performance.

These conflicted voters either believe their party of preference is not having the influence in Government they had hoped for, or that their party is not making the right decisions but stick with them because they don’t see an alternative. It is probably a combination of both. Ultimately, voters will resolve this conflict at the next election.

The recent troika report highlighted the need for fairness to be achieved in how we manage the adjustment. Essentially, they were calling for leadership. They are asking the Government to make the right cuts, not the expedient ones.

Voters are also looking for leadership. With the exception of Eamon Ryan (up two points to 12 per cent) party leader satisfaction ratings have all dropped in recent months. Leaders’ satisfaction ratings, when combined, average just 25 per cent, comparable to the low of late 2010 when Ireland was bailed out and trust in our political leadership collapsed.

Bearing in mind the situation we find ourselves in and the pressure the Government is under, it is an achievement for Enda Kenny to be the most popular party leader (on 33 per cent amongst voters generally and 77 per cent within the Fine Gael base), but we have never had a situation before where the most popular party leader received the endorsement of just one-third of the electorate.

And when we add to this the finding that more than one-third (37 per cent) of voters are not satisfied with any leader, it is clear that voters are asking politicians to show more leadership.

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