Coalition will struggle to hold seats, says poll
A nationwide opinion poll by Millward Brown for the Sunday Independent reveals that support is ebbing away from the Coalition partners at an alarming rate.
Responding to questions on their preferred Coalition option after a general election, voters gave the current squabbling partnership a stark thumbs down.
Astonishingly, given the scale of the Coalition's majority just 11 per cent of poll respondents said a FG/Labour Coalition would be their preferred Coalition option after the next general election.
In an indication of an ongoing rise in support for FF the other most popular options were FF/Independents, 9 per cent and FG/FF which secured the support of 7 per cent of those who were polled.
However, in what can only be viewed as a strong indicator of public distaste for politicians and the political process, the two most popular responses, at 22 per cent each, were 'Don't Know' and 'None of these/Other combinations'.
The essential rejection by 44 per cent of the electorate of all current possible political permutations is also indicative of a strong level of latent support for a new political party.
Meanwhile, increasing voter ambivalence towards a Coalition, which has been bickering incessantly over recent months, is also evident in the relatively low number of voters, 39 per cent, who believe the fractious administration will see out its full term.
The consequences of this infighting are also evident in the surprisingly low number of voters who believe Labour should stay in government.
A mere three in 10 of the voters believe Labour should stay whilst a majority of those who expressed an opinion (34 per cent) said they should pull out.
The escalating decline in support for the Government has also been confirmed by a number of recent nationwide Red C polls; the latest of which was taken last week by Paddy Power.
And intriguingly these reveal that both Coalition parties are poised to suffer heavy electoral setbacks.
To date political attention has mostly been focused on the losses Labour is expected to suffer. However the most recent Paddy Power opinion poll, which shows FG dipping below 30 per cent for the second Red C poll in a row, indicates that a third of the party's TDs are in real danger of losing their seats.
These figures represent an astonishing reversal of fortune for a government who in the wake of election 2011, with 113 seats, had the largest Dail majority in the history of the State.
However after less than two years in office, the current support levels for both parties mean they would be unable to command a majority in the Dail were there to be a snap general election.
The top political psephologist, NUI Maynooth lecturer Adrian Kavanagh, has claimed that the most recent poll ratings mean FG could be reduced to between 53 and 56 seats whilst Labour could be reduced to between 21 and 18 seats.
Such a result would mean that the current Coalition would have to go cap in hand to independents such as Shane Ross, Stephen Donnelly and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan if they wanted to form another government.
Other alternatives would consist of a union of FG and FF or a new 'left' wing alliance of FF, Labour and SF.
When it comes to likely seat losses the figures suggest the Coalition would particularly struggle in constituencies such as Cork South-East and Dublin Mid-West where they managed the astonishing political feat of winning all available seats in 2011 whilst there will be no reprise of the Coalition's feat of winning four out of five seats in the 2011 five-seat constituencies of Wicklow, Mayo and Dublin South.
The likelihood, on current figures of further heavy losses in constituencies such as Carlow-Kilkenny also means that, astonishingly after less than two years in government, at least four senior Fine Gael ministers would struggle to retain their seats.
These include the controversial Environment Minister and party leader enforcer Phil Hogan whose diminished profile cannot disguise the fact that he is in real trouble in the constituency.
One source told the Sunday Independent: "Phil is very much the number two dog in the town of Kilkenny to John McGuinness and he's the number two dog in the country to John Paul Phelan. Pat Deering has embedded himself in Carlow. It could be a very long count for Phil if he runs in the next election."
Though his age means he is unlikely to run again, should he do so the unpopular Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who barely scraped into the last seat in Dublin South in the previous election is poised to be the major casualty of the FF revival in Dublin.
James Reilly, whose unpopularity reached the unprecedented level of 30 per cent in the last Sunday Independent Millward Brown rating of Cabinet Ministers, will be another major target whilst Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald will be acutely aware of the threat posed to her by a pincer movement of FF and Sinn Fein.
Though the Labour top table is in somewhat less trouble the backlash against the party, particularly in Munster and Connacht-Ulster where the party is polling at less than 10 per cent, means a number of talented Junior Ministers such as Sean Sherlock and Alan Kelly, who are seen by insiders to be the next generation of leaders, will be in serious political trouble.
And, even if he returns to the party fold Labour's high profile enfant terrible Colm Keaveney would struggle to be re-elected.
Ultimately the latest polling data is likely to be the catalyst for even more serious unease within FG where a growing number of TDs are concerned about the long time viability of Finance Minister Michael Noonan's cautious 'one in six' strategy.
This is predicated on the belief that should FG retain the support of one in six of the voters, which roughly equates to 30 per cent of the actual vote in an election, they will become the permanent party of Government.
However FG's drop below the 30 per cent barrier means that a party, which is already poised to suffer disproportionately because of the reduced number of seats in the next election, will lose a minimum of 20 seats if these figures are repeated in the next election.