The Irish Times view on the Ipsos MRBI poll: on course for a cliffhanger

Leo Varadkar will have to put up an impressive performance in the TV debates if he is to have any chance of returning as Taoiseach

There has been a substantial drop in satisfaction with Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar since October but his is still, by a small margin, the most popular party leader. Micheál Martin has also dropped since the last poll. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

There has been a substantial drop in satisfaction with Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar since October but his is still, by a small margin, the most popular party leader. Micheál Martin has also dropped since the last poll. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Election 2020 is shaping up to be a close run contest with Fianna Fáil having the advantage in the early stages, according to the first Irish Times/ Ipsos MRBI poll of the campaign. A key finding is that Fine Gael has dropped six points to 23 per cent since the last Irish Times poll in October while the Fianna Fáil vote has held solid at 25 per cent.

Another notable feature of the poll is that Sinn Féin support has jumped by seven points. Following its poor performance in last May’s local and European elections, there had been a general expectation that the party would lose ground in the general election. But the poll suggests otherwise.

The Green Party is on eight per cent overall and significantly it is on 15 per cent in Dublin where it has a realistic chance of winning a number of new seats to add to its current total of three. Labour has slipped one point to five per cent and will battle to hold its current seven seats while 18 per cent of the electorate continues to back Independents and other smaller parties.

The poll suggests that unless there is a major shift in opinion during the rest of the campaign a combination of parties will be required to form the next government and the process is likely to be lengthy and complex.

Fine Gael will have to improve its position significantly if it is to have any chance of retaining power. There has been a substantial drop in satisfaction with party leader Leo Varadkar since October but he is still, by a small margin, the most popular party leader. Micheál Martin has also dropped since the last poll while Mary Lou McDonald’s rating has improved.

Fine Gael’s problem is that it has lost ground across the State since the last poll. It has been hit particularly hard in the farming community

The televised leaders’ debates between Varadkar and Martin in the course of the campaign could yet have a crucial bearing on the outcome. The Fine Gael leader will have to put up an impressive performance if he is to have any chance of returning as Taoiseach.

Fine Gael’s problem is that it has lost ground across the State since the last poll. It has been hit particularly hard in the farming community and this is clearly related to the ongoing crisis in the beef industry. But it has also lost support among the younger voters it has assiduously targeted under Varadkar. By contrast Fianna Fáil support has changed remarkably little since October.

The big rise in Sinn Féin support has coincided in part with the decision of the party to participate in the Stormont executive after three years of suspension and, on the face of it, that move has helped the party to improve its standing. It may also have gained from the RIC commemoration controversy.Whether it can hold that level of support until polling day on February 8th is uncertain as past experience suggests its electoral performance falls short of its poll ratings.

One way or another, however, it looks as if we are in for a cliffhanger of an election.

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