The sharp decline in support for the leaders of the three major Dáil parties, as revealed in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll, indicates that the public has become disillusioned with the kind of political leadership now on offer.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suffered the biggest decline in satisfaction, dropping eight points since the last poll in October, although he remains the most popular party leader in the country.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald suffered an almost equally dramatic slump in satisfaction and is down seven points since the last poll. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin fared better, suffering a drop of four points, but the decline for all three party leaders is a poor reflection on the nature of the debate that dominates political exchanges.
The drop in satisfaction with the party leaders is reflected in a fall in support for the three major parties with Fine Gael and Sinn Féin down three points. Fianna Fáil is also down but only by a point.
The decline in Fine Gael support must to some extent be a reflection of public disquiet at the massive overrun in the cost of building the new national children’s hospital. The party may take some consolation from the fact that it is still six points ahead of Fianna Fáil but that is the kind of lead that could be eroded in the course of a general election campaign.
Fianna Fáil and its leader will take heart from the fact that they suffered smaller declines than their main rivals but the party faithful will wonder what they need to do to recover the status of being the biggest party in the country, a status they held for so long.
For McDonald and Sinn Féin the decline is hardly surprising given the setback suffered in the presidential election, but the party will still be a force to be reckoned with.
Labour is the only party to get a boost from the poll and while a rating of six per cent is still modest, it is a move in the right direction and will give it grounds for hope that further gains can be made in the period ahead.
The drop in support for the big parties has been accompanied by an increase for Independents and smaller parties, but at 19 per cent this group is still far off the 30 per cent it obtained at the last election.
It is notable that the number of undecided voters has risen by five points and now accounts for a quarter of the electorate. This group of voters is clearly not enamoured with any of the parties, big or small, and is there to be won over. The outcome of the European and local elections on May 23rd should give a good indication of where these voters will go when the next general election comes around.