THE SOONER a general election is called the better. Public approval for the way the State is being run has shrunk to 8 per cent while the level of dissatisfaction with the Government has ballooned to a staggering 90 per cent. Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s approval rating has shrunk to an all-time low of 14 per cent while, taken together, the Coalition parties now command a shrinking support base of 19 per cent. Such a comprehensive rejection of policies, personalities and parties should not be ignored.
The anger and volatility of the electorate has been revealed in the latest Irish Time/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll that also shows an unprecedented shift of support between the Opposition parties as uncertainty grows about the composition and policies of the next government. The findings reflect the political turmoil that beset the State as the Government sought a financial bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union; published a four-year economic plan and introduced an unpopular Budget that broadened the tax base and cut welfare payments. Sinn Féin’s noteworthy win in the Donegal South West byelection also played its part.
The uncommitted nature of the support that catapulted the Labour Party ahead of Fine Gael during the late summer months became evident as it departed in the direction of Sinn Féin. From a September high of 33 per cent, voter endorsement for the Labour Party declined to 25 per cent. Even then, a sizeable proportion of those offering to vote for the party said they might change their minds.
Having wallowed in the political doldrums, Fine Gael has regained a dominant position on the political stage, emerging with a showing of 30 per cent. Reflecting the economic circumstances, support for Fianna Fáil plummeted to a new low of 17 per cent. With a following of only 11 per cent in Dublin, it has been relegated to fourth place, behind the Labour Party, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. Sinn Féin has its strongest-ever showing at 15 per cent and appears to draw support from those disillusioned Fianna Fáil supporters who had flirted briefly with the Labour Party. Fine Gael and Sinn Féin both gained seven points while support for Fianna Fáil declined by a similar amount. Support for the Green Party is unchanged at 2 per cent.
Fine Gael may have regained a substantial lead in this opinion poll but its leader, Enda Kenny, has failed to impress. Public approval for his leadership has shrunk to an all-time low of 23 per cent, while Eamon Gilmore, a declared contender for the position of taoiseach, attracts nearly double that support. Tensions between these likely partners in government because of this factor and other policy differences are likely to intensify in the coming months. Fianna Fáil can be expected to exploit all such difficulties while attempting to re-engage with those disillusioned voters who have abandoned the party. A key finding of this poll is that one-third of voters say they may change their voting intentions by election day.