FF party faithful now turning their back on the Government


ANALYSIS:The latest poll shows the scale of the problem faced by the coalition in dealing with the crisis in the public finances, writes Stephen Collins

THE SEISMIC effect of the Budget on the political landscape is starkly illustrated by the findings of the Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll which puts Fianna Fáil at its lowest level since the company began regular polling for this newspaper in October 1982.

Taken in tandem with the lowest recorded satisfaction ratings for a Taoiseach and a Government, it shows the scale of the problem faced by the coalition in attempting to deal with the unprecedented crisis in the public finances.

The Government's paltry satisfaction rating of 18 per cent, when coupled with a dissatisfaction rating of 76 per cent, shows that it has a mountain to climb in attempting to recover public support for its policies.

Even among Fianna Fáil supporters a majority, 51 per cent, are dissatisfied, compared to 43 per cent who expressed satisfaction with the coalition.

Supporters of all other parties express overwhelming dissatisfaction, and even Green Party supporters are dissatisfied by a margin of 67 per cent to 24 per cent.

Paradoxically, given the furore over the medial cards, the highest satisfaction level recorded by the Government is among the over 65s, with 27 per cent of them satisfied.

The next most satisfied age category is the 18 to 24-year-olds who are supposed to be the victims of education cuts.

The lowest rating of all, at 13 per cent, comes from the 35 to 49-year-olds.

Women are much more unhappy with the Government than men, with just 14 per cent satisfied compared to 21 per cent of men.

There is a similar pattern when it comes to the satisfaction rating of Taoiseach Brian Cowen. The highest approval rating, at 36 per cent, comes from those over 65, with the 18 to 24-year-olds being the next most supportive category.

Only Fianna Fáil supporters give Mr Cowen a positive rating, with 56 per cent satisfied and 36 per cent dissatisfied.

Green Party voters are not as hostile as the supporters of other parties but they still express dissatisfaction with the Taoiseach at a rate of more than two to one.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny does better than Mr Cowen for the first time but he is still in negative territory, with 46 per cent dissatisfied compared to 33 per cent who are satisfied with his performance.

Among Fine Gael supporters he has a positive rating of 63 per cent to 24 per cent, but supporters of almost all other parties are more dissatisfied than satisfied with his performance. Only among the Greens does he have a marginally positive rating.

In terms of party politics, there are some fascinating changes in the core vote since the last poll in June. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are level at 25 per cent each, when the 22 per cent "undecideds" are included in the figures, but the main Government party has slumped to 15 per cent in Dublin. That represents a massive drop since June when it was on 37 per cent in the capital.

The party does better in the rest of Leinster at 24 per cent, Munster at 28 per cent and Connacht-Ulster at 33 per cent.

In class terms, Fianna Fáil's worst performances comes among the better-off AB voters where it gets just 19 per cent support, down from 39 per cent in June. The party does better among lower-income groups and farmers but in all social categories its share of the vote is less than 30 per cent.

When it comes to age groups, Fianna Fáil does best among the over 65s, 34 per cent, followed by the 50 to 64 age group when it gets 30 per cent support.

Its weakest age category is the 35 to 49-year-olds where it is on 19 per cent.

For Fine Gael the good news is that it is now the biggest party in Dublin with 20 per cent support, although the vote in the capital is fragmented. The party also leads the field in the rest of Leinster, where it attracts 29 per cent of voters. It is weaker in Munster at 23 per cent, but close behind Fianna Fáil in Connacht-Ulster at 30 per cent.

In class terms, Fine Gael has made big inroads among the AB and C1 voters where it is now well ahead of Fianna Fáil.

The party also has a substantial lead among farmers and is only behind Fianna Fáil among the less well-off voters but it has made big gains in this category as well.

The most heartening aspect of the poll from a Fine Gael point of view is that the party has picked up the bulk of the support being lost by Fianna Fáil.

Labour has done best in Dublin where it is on 16 per cent, just ahead of Fianna Fáil. The party is on a respectable 10 per cent in Munster, on 7 per cent in the rest of Leinster and 5 per cent in Connacht-Ulster.

In class terms, Labour's highest score comes from the best well-off AB voters where it gets a 14 per cent share. The party attracts 11 per cent among C1 voters, 10 per cent from the C2 category and 9 per cent among the least well-off DE category. It is well behind Fianna Fáil among the less well-off voters.

In age terms, Labour gets its strongest support from the 50 to 64 age group, and it is weakest among the 18 to 24-year-olds.

The opposite is the case for Sinn Féin, which is strongest among the 18 to 24-year-olds with 14 per cent, dropping to 3 per cent among the over-65s. In regional terms the party is strongest in Dublin on 9 per cent, with a relatively even spread of 5 per cent to 6 per cent across the rest of the country. In class terms it is weakest among the AB voters and strongest in the DE category. As in previous polls the party is more attractive to men than women.

The Green Party is strongest in Dublin at 5 per cent, but the party is now trailing its rivals in the capital. The party does best among the AB and C1 voters and worst among farmers where it attracts no support at all.

The number of independents/others is up significantly in the poll, particularly in Dublin where the figure is 11 per cent. This may be due to two factors. One is the winding up of the PDs, whose supporters may have drifted to this category, and the other is the high profile of some independent TDs during the political crisis sparked by the Budget.