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Irish Times/Ipsos poll: Public under pressure and worried about the future

Uncertainty about what is to come underpins attitudes to housing, cost of living and refugees

The findings of today’s poll display contradictory attitudes to protection of refugees and response to the increases in the cost of living, reflecting a public under pressure and concerned about the future.

Uncertainty about the future pervades the poll data as the rising cost of living, housing shortage and volatile international political and economic situation take a toll on Ireland.

The public overwhelmingly backs the idea that Ireland should live up to its legal obligations under international agreements — 82 per cent of people agree, with just 13 per cent disagreeing. Support for this idea is strong across all age groups and voters of all parties, though Sinn Féin voters are less likely to support the proposition than supporters of the other large parties.

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However, the poll also demonstrates considerable levels of public concern about the State’s capacity to deal with the numbers of asylum seekers and refugees who may arrive here.

Poll_Immigration

Although putting a cap on refugee numbers could conflict with Ireland’s obligations to help refugees who qualify for protection by the State, almost three-quarters of respondents (73 per cent) said there should be a cap on the number of Ukrainians arriving here.

Furthermore, 60 per cent of people agreed with the statement, “I am concerned that too many asylum seekers and refugees might come to Ireland” and 84 per cent agreed that “there is a limit to the number of asylum seekers and refugees that Ireland can cope with”.

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At a time when the State’s capacity to accommodate refugees appears to have reached at least temporary short-term constraints, it is clear that there is a delicate task facing the Government if it is to manage the refugee issue while maintaining the broad public support that has been evident so far. There is considerable concern in Government at present on the issue, and the poll suggests Ministers and senior officials are right to be concerned.

It’s hard to separate this from the concerns the public has about housing and the cost of living, evident again in today’s poll.

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A huge 84 per cent say they are “personally affected by the cost of living” — an indication of just how pervasive an issue it is. The responses also explain its potency as a political issue — a majority of respondents (56 per cent) disagree that the “cost of living is largely out of the Government’s hands”, with only 38 per cent agreeing. Asked if they agree that the Government “is responsible”, 54 per cent agree.

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Action now

Indeed, there is a degree of fear that the Government could make things worse — 64 per cent of people fear that “Government action could make inflation worse”. At the same time, they want Government action now (63 per cent) rather than waiting for the budget (32 per cent).

There is some element of stoicism evident. Half of voters agree they will just have to “put up with cost increases for now” and this view is much more prevalent among older voters and better-off voters. That doesn’t, of course, mean that they’re happy about it.

On housing, there is impatience with supply constraints, with 84 per cent of people agreeing that the Government should build more social houses even if there are local objections, and 89 per cent wanting the supply to increase “even if it means house prices were to fall”.

Despite the prevalence of housing as a political issue, just over a quarter of people (27 per cent) say they are “personally affected”; only a similar number say the Government is “making progress”. Even a majority of Fianna Fáil voters (52 per cent) don’t believe the Government is making progress.

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On one reading of the data, one could be forgiven for wondering if voters know what they want — a cap on refugees, or living up to Ireland’s international obligations? For the Government to act now on the cost of living, or hold off for fear of making things worse? But taken together, the picture the poll paints is of a public that is impatient but apprehensive. People are concerned for refugees yet fearful Ireland won’t be able to cope. They want the Government to act but wonder if that won’t make things worse.

In yesterday’s poll, the desire for political change was clear. But working out what sort of change voters want is not straightforward. It’s a confused reaction to complicated and uncertain times.