Friday’s results from The Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll covers three distinct topics — on housing, the cost of living and refugees from the war in Ukraine. On all three, there are nuanced answers which require some interpreting.
There are contrasting views on Ukraine — continuing strong public support for country even if there are energy shortages as a result of the war, but there is also concern at numbers of refugees arriving in Ireland.
On the cost of living, there is some easing of concerns since the summer, and a strong belief that last month’s Budget will help — but the issue remains one of acute concern for very many people.
On housing, there is overwhelming support for more housing, even if prices fall and even if there are local objections and there is also a small increase in the numbers of those who believe that the Government is making progress.
The response on Ukraine suggest that people are entertaining two competing thoughts — a strong desire to support Ukraine, but also an awareness that Ireland’s limited capacities are now stretched to breaking point. Almost three-quarters of people believe that Ireland and the EU should continue to support Ukraine, even at the cost of energy shortages.
But 61 per cent of respondents said they are concerned that too many refugees are coming here, while a smaller — but still clear — majority (56 per cent) disagree with the statement “Ireland should continue to accept refugees from Ukraine, no matter how many arrive here”. The clear implication of all this is that there is public support for halting — at some point — the arrival of refugees here, or capping the numbers. The Government has said it will not do that.
There is also widespread fear (72 per cent) that the war could escalate into a confrontation between Russia and Nato.
The cost-of-living responses offer the background to the increased support for the Government parties that was evident in the poll results reported on Thursday. Simply put, people are a bit less freaked out by increases in the cost of living than they were in July and they are little less inclined to blame the Government for them.
Are they still worried? You bet. Nearly everyone is finding it more difficult to manage, though the numbers of those who are finding it “a lot more difficult” have fallen a bit. There are still fears that inflation will get worse. And remember, in the real world, mortgage rates are going up, something that will clobber the homeowners of middle Ireland. But for now, fewer of them are holding the Government responsible and almost two-thirds (65 per cent) believe the budget will be beneficial.
These movements are not huge game-changers — but they are remarkably consistent. The political message ministers will take from all this is that further cost-of-living supports next year are important for their political survival. It is noticeable that among pensioners and those in the lower C2DE income bracket — ie, those most likely to rely on welfare payments from the State — support for both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael grew in comparison to the July poll results. Fine Gael, in particular, has been selling the budget hard in recent weeks. It has paid off.
Housing is the issue that voters regularly put at the top of their agenda and voters say they are overwhelmingly in favour of more housing supply (even if house prices fall) and more social housing (even if there are local objections).
How sincere these wishes are is debatable — certainly in many localities, local and national politicians have managed to pull off the trick of being in favour of more housing generally, but against the specific plans for their neighbourhood. It may be that politicians are reflecting the ambiguous feelings of their constituents on the issue. What is certainly interesting is that for many people, housing remains an almost altruistic concern — just 28 per cent of people say they are “personally affected” by the housing crisis.
It remains true that making tangible progress on housing is essential for the Government if it is to make and sustain a political recovery before the next election. This poll will offer some encouragement to the Coalition; and the housing results suggest there has been a small increase in the number of people (31 per cent, up four from July) who say the Government is “making progress”.
But that leaves 61 per cent who say the Coalition is not making progress. However much Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens might have been tempted to breathe a sigh of relief at these poll results, they would be very unwise to get carried away.