The Coalition parties can take some satisfaction from the findings of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos poll which show a rise in support for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens and a marginal drop in support for Sinn Féin. Satisfaction with the Government is also up significantly.
The improvement in the sentiment towards the Government parties should probably not come as a huge surprise, given the massive €11 billion budget giveaway last month, but shows that a significant proportion of the electorate is open to being won over by policy choices.
Fine Gael will be happiest at the poll findings which show the party gaining four points to 22 per cent. This is up from an exceptionally low rating in July, but it is a boost ahead of the handover of the taoiseach’s office to Leo Varadkar in December. Varadkar’s own rating has improved by eight points since the last poll and, after a difficult year, that should help restore his confidence in advance of the switch.
The more modest increase in support for Fianna Fáil should also serve as a morale boost for the Coalition. This is the sixth consecutive Irish Times poll in which the party has received the support of 20 per cent or more of the electorate and while it remains very weak in Dublin it appears to be in good shape outside the capital.
The Greens can take some consolation from their modest recovery to 4 per cent. The party has endured a great deal of criticism over the past year and while it will need to recover more ground before the next election to have any chance of holding its 12 seats, the poll shows that some recovery is possible.
Together the three Government parties are on 47 per cent and the Government satisfaction is up nine points since the last poll. All in all it is a reasonably good position to be in as the Coalition comes up to the half way mark in its term of office.
While Sinn Féin has dropped by one point since the last poll, its rating of 35 per cent still gives it a commanding lead over its rivals. The party has been in or around this figure for the past year so the question is whether it can make further gains, or whether it has reached a ceiling at this level.
There is not much solace in the poll for the Labour Party, which has slipped to just 3 per cent, the same rating as the Social Democrats. Support for Independents has dropped four points to 10 per cent since the last poll while the number of undecided voters has increased to 23 per cent.
The fate of all the parties in the next election will hinge on their ability to convince those undecided voters they have the answers to the country’s problems. The battle will see the Government parties argue that they can maintain stability, while the Opposition, particularly Sinn Féin, will say that they can deliver in key areas, particularly housing, where progress has been slow.