Our first Millward Brown opinion poll of the new year, and our first conducted in a post-bailout environment, offers solace for both government parties.
With many economic indicators on the up and up (exiting the bailout, reduced unemployment, Moody's upgrade and a property market out of intensive care), both Fine Gael and Labour will feel that the tide is finally turning, both economically and politically.
At 30 per cent, Fine Gael registers its highest rating in this series of polls, while Labour has also improved by three points to 12 per cent. Both parties are a long way off their general election showing, but at this stage of the electoral cycle they will be quietly confident that their strategy of playing the long game towards 2016 is beginning to take shape.
Satisfaction with the Government's performance overall is also up. Although with just 23 per cent happy, the public's endorsement is still, at best, underwhelming.
Those most satisfied with the Government's performance are unsurprisingly Fine Gael supporters (68 per cent of whom are happy), those from a higher socio-economic background (32 per cent of ABs are approving), or those living in Dublin (31 per cent). It is instructive to note that among Labour supporters, just 26 per cent are satisfied with the current performance of the administration. Labour has often been the fall guy within the Coalition, much more so than its senior partner, and has acted like a lightning rod in attracting the public's ire.
It is perhaps more useful to focus on the levels of dissatisfaction. For the first time, dissatisfaction has dipped below the 70 per cent mark – a significant decrease. It seems our sense of disgruntlement is waning somewhat.
One swallow, however, doesn't make a summer. Still expect some bloody noses come the local and European elections for this administration in May. Damage limitation may well be the key.
Looking at the opposition parties, Fianna Fail will be relatively happy with 26 per cent, especially with the Government amplifying all positive economic indicators.
Independents have dipped, and attract 15 per cent of the vote. Given the disparate nature of this group, their support has a tendency to oscillate somewhat.
The main casualty in this poll is Sinn Fein – it has dropped back five points, and now stand at 16 per cent. The party has been growing and consolidating its support base during the term of this Dail so far, so to fall back by a significant margin will serve as a rude awakening for them. It may temper any complacency they may have had in the run-up to the local elections.
This will come as a disappointment to them particularly in light of some strong performances recently, especially by Mary Lou McDonald. However, there is an argument that being a party of protest without offering the electorate a compelling alternative will unravel very quickly as the public becomes more focused.
Another hypothesis for the dip in Sinn Fein's support is that Gerry Adams is not connecting with the electorate. His satisfaction ratings have been on a downward path since the late summer; in August, 25 per cent were happy with his performance. Support for his leadership now stands at 19 per cent.
Looking at Sinn Fein's own supporters, we have seen consistently throughout these polls that they are the most enthusiastic in terms of support for their leader. Two-thirds (67 per cent) still are, but this loyalty has become increasingly tarnished; in September, satisfaction with their leader among Sinn Fein supporters was 82 per cent, falling to 75 per cent in October and 71 per cent in November.
Let's step away from the current political menu on offer. Is there a desire for an alternative political party? Apparently not as much as we may have thought. Appetite for such a development is tepid at best (down 11 points to 35 per cent). The proportion of the electorate who want to keep the status quo (whatever that will be) is at its highest level (40 per cent) since we started tracking this issue.
It seems that the tone of the Reform Alliance does not suit everybody's palate (just 28 per cent think they should form a political party). Something else may be necessary to re-invigorate politics in Ireland. The question is – is there such a silver bullet?
Paul Moran is an Associate Director with Millward Brown