‘Irish Times’/Ipsos MRBI poll: Voters move to the centre ground

The lesson is that the voters will ultimately judge a leader on performance rather than promise but, from Varadkar’s point of view, so far so good

 

Leo Varadkar will be happy with the latest Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times poll, which shows that he is easily the most popular party leader just four months after he was elected the country’s youngest Taoiseach. His predecessor in the office, Enda Kenny, frequently struggled to achieve ratings over 30 per cent, but 49 per cent of voters are satisfied with Varadkar’s performance and just 31 per cent dissatisfied.

The Taoiseach will get further encouragement from the fact that 82 per cent of Fine Gael voters are satisfied and just 11 per cent dissatisfied. That rating certainly answers questions about whether party supporters would take to their new leader. Before he gets carried away, however, Varadkar should reflect on the fact that the first Irish Times poll after Brian Cowen succeeded Bertie Ahern in the summer of 2008 showed the new taoiseach with a similarly high standing. Less than three years later he had slumped to the lowest ratings ever achieved by a party leader.

The lesson is that the voters will ultimately judge a leader on performance rather than promise but, from Varadkar’s point of view, so far so good. Despite criticism from political opponents in the Dáil about his communications strategy, his approach is clearly going down well with the public. He should also be pleased with the performance of Fine Gael. The party is up marginally since the last poll in May and has maintained a slight lead over Fianna Fáil.

The next election is clearly going to be a contest between the two old established parties and whichever of them emerges with most seats will be in pole position to form the next government. They have been neck and neck since the election of February 2016 and a lot will depend on which of them wages the best campaign next time around. An interesting feature of the poll is that the combined support for the two biggest parties is now at 60 per cent. In last year’s election they had less than 50 per cent between them, so the much-maligned “new politics” has clearly benefited both parties, with a perceptible shift among voters to the centre ground.

The Labour Party on just 4 per cent is still showing no signs of recovery and it faces a daunting uphill struggle to get back into the reckoning as a serious political force.

Sinn Féin has slipped marginally in the latest poll but 19 per cent is still a very respectable performance and if the party is able to get that level of support at the next election it will make further significant gains.

The level of support for smaller parties and Independents has slipped again, to 17 per cent, a significant drop from the 30 per cent achieved in the 2016 election. It appears voters may be open to shifting from the excitement of change to the attractions of stability.

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