The Irish Times view on the opinion poll: public doubts on Covid-19 strategy

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have dropped back significantly since the last poll in October, but the Green Party has seen an increase in its support

When it comes to party support both Fine Gael under Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil, led by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, have dropped back significantly since the last poll in October. Photograph: Niall Carson/ AFP via Getty Images

When it comes to party support both Fine Gael under Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil, led by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, have dropped back significantly since the last poll in October. Photograph: Niall Carson/ AFP via Getty Images

 

The slide in support for the two main coalition parties revealed in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll is clearly linked to declining public confidence in the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. A majority of people now believe it is not doing a good job in dealing with the crisis, a marked contrast to the strong public support for the previous administration’s approach to the initial outbreak a year ago.

A worrying feature of the poll for the Government is that while a strong majority of Fianna Fáil supporters back its Covid strategy, Fine Gael and Green Party voters are not nearly as impressed, with almost half of them expressing the view that it is not doing a good job in dealing with the crisis. This view is mirrored in the attitude supporters of both coalition partners hold about the performance of Taoiseach Micheál Martin on the issue. Somewhat surprisingly the performance of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar inspires almost as much confidence among Fianna Fáil voters as he does among his own party supporters.

When it comes to party support both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have dropped back significantly since the last poll in October. By contrast the Green Party has seen an increase in support despite being embroiled in some recent controversies. Sinn Féin has slipped marginally but the big gainers in the poll are Independents and smaller parties, with rural Independents in particular faring best.

Given the increasingly negative views about its handling of Covid, it is hardly a surprise that confidence in the Government has slipped by five points to 43 per cent. By historic standards this is not such a bad result and the same is true of the Taoiseach’s rating of 42 per cent, which is an improvement on the last poll. Varadkar has seen a big drop in his satisfaction rating but at 52 per cent he is still the most popular of the party leaders.

As for the opposition parties, Sinn Féin is holding steady although it might have expected to capitalise more on the slippage in support for the main Government parties. Labour is still finding it difficult to make any impact; with 3 per cent support it is level with the Social Democrats. The Independents are the big winners and the poll indicates they are better positioned than any of the opposition parties to pick up support when the public loses faith in the main Government parties.

The overall message of the poll is that the coalition needs to do a better job of convincing the public that it is adopting the right strategy on Covid. It was inevitable that confidence in its approach would dip during the third lockdown but recovery will depend on a successful outcome to the current cautious strategy towards the easing of social restrictions as well as the mass vaccination of the population in the months ahead.

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