Dissatisfaction with leaders remains at an all-time high
The latest poll shows that the restoration of public trust in political parties is vital, says Roger Jupp
THE latest of our opinion-poll series shows that, politically, Ireland remains a fundamentally dissatisfied place. We continue to record historically high public dissatisfaction with the leaders of all of the major political parties in the country. This indicates, quite simply, that we have lost trust not only in the current leaders of parties in Government, but also in the leaders of the alternative parties currently in opposition. The democratic deficit is wide and shows no imminent sign of being bridged.
Our poll shows that Sinn Fein has registered its strongest ever poll performance, reaching 24pc and in touching distance of Fine Gael's 25pc - one of its poorest scores since early 2013. Fianna Fail is also likely to be disappointed by its 20pc first-preference score, after excluding 'don't knows'. The remarkably high 23pc of the electorate who would give their first preference to an Independent (or a member of one of the other political parties) could be viewed as a rejection of the existing leading parties. Independents' support is common to all classes and age groups.
This poll was taken not long after the emergence of Joan Burton as the new leader of the Labour party and the unveiling of the new team of Ministers. Labour might have hoped for a bounce in their polling fortunes, but this is not statistically significant in moving from 6pc to 7pc.
Joan Burton's satisfaction rating is up a full 11pc on Eamonn Gilmore's last rating of 16pc. Yet, we should recall that Joan Burton's satisfaction rating is still as low as the other party leaders' and is indicative of the broad political-leadership malaise. We should also note that one-third of the electorate do not yet know what to make of her performance in this role. She is being given some chance to make her impact - as can be seen from the minority belief that she will have an impact on mitigating the Government's austerity policy. What is clear, however, is that Labour supporters are firmly behind her - 80pc of them express satisfaction with her performance. This vindicates the lengthy selection process.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this poll is the obvious public enthusiasm for a greater role for women in top political positions. Nearly half of the general public would have liked more women promoted in the recent Cabinet reshuffle; over a quarter felt that the number of women was just right and only 6pc felt that fewer women should have been promoted.
The austerity policies of the past number of years have certainly not endeared Labour or Fine Gael to the electorate. The level of satisfaction with the Government (23pc) is on a par with 2003 figures, but is well above the abysmal 3pc satisfaction recorded by the Cowen-led Government in its final throes. Nevertheless, this government satisfaction rating is hardly a reassuring prospect for TDs from Government parties as they take their summer holidays - you can almost hear the cries of something has to give, or, rather, be given.
So, after the mid-term local and European elections, what can we expect in the remaining part of the Government's term of office? First, expectations of a full term are again held by half of the electorate, up from June's figures and probably reflecting the new Labour leadership and the Cabinet reshuffle. Secondly, under a quarter of the public feel that a €2bn adjustment should be applied in the next Budget; it is time to loosen the tourniquet. Thirdly, any loosening needs to consider that the public continues to worry about living standards - 4 in 10 feel worse off than last year and 1 in 3 expect to be worse off over the next 12 months. These perceptions are broadly held but slightly more pronounced among working-class voters. Water charges and their application will be a particular case in point - and we only need to think back to the medical-card review process to realise how dangerous such decisions can be. We should, however, note that this poll shows more people feeling that the last 12 months have left them the same economically (43pc) than feel worse off (41pc) - for the first time since 2009. Similarly, more people expect to be the same economically(41pc) rather than worse off (33pc) over the next 12 months.
It is also worth noting that Ireland may well be in the midst of a movement from civil-war politics to left/right politics. Support for none of the parties now runs smoothly across all classes.
Fine Gael is most popular among white-collar and farming households.
Sinn Fein is markedly stronger among blue-collar households.
Far from its demise as predicted by some pundits, Fianna Fail stands in third place in the polls at present; its twin concerns are the agedness of its support (strongest among the over 65s) and Sinn Fein's edge among its working-class support base.
Labour is clearly about to embark on a process of self-redefinition and will be very keen to find meaningful differences from Sinn Fein, People before Profit, the United Left Alliance and other left-leaning alternatives. How this plays out will determine how Labour performs at the next general election.
The next few months will be crucial for the Government's mapping of the next stretch of the carriageway and for the opposition parties to pick out the potholes in the new road map. The restoration of public trust in political parties will require significant and sustained effort from all parties if the electorate is not to fall into a permanent state of austerity exhaustion and political despair.
Roger Jupp is the chairman of Millward Brown Ireland