Poll: FG and SF will fight to lead government as FF, Independents fade
Exclusive files reveal FF survival plan but 'oblivion' beckons
Fine Gael and Sinn Fein have decisively moved ahead in the race to lead the next government, according to the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll.
Both parties have benefited from a sharp drop in support for Independents and have now emerged as the clear frontrunners to lead a new coalition.
The poll has also found that support for the formation of a new political party continues to fall and that coalitions led by either Enda Kenny's Fine Gael or Gerry Adams's Sinn Fein are most favoured.
In other findings, a majority (62pc) believe same-sex marriage should be constitutionally recognised, but more than one-in-five (22pc) are undecided.
And over half (56pc), unchanged, are in favour of repealing the eighth amendment in relation to abortion, but uncertainty has increased among those opposed since December.
The poll also finds that two-in-five (40pc) intend to pay water charges and 30pc do not, while 10pc say it depends; 10pc don't know and charges are not applicable for 10pc.
There has been a dramatic fall in support for Independents/others (23pc), down nine points since a comparable poll at the height of the water charges protests in December.
The poll was conducted nationwide among 1,019 voters between January 29 and February 9.
Fine Gael (25pc), up three points, and Sinn Fein (26pc), up five points, have benefited most from the fall in support for Independents/others and are now neck-and-neck to lead the next government.
The poll will come as a blow to Fianna Fail (19pc), up one point, and still within the margin of error of its meltdown result in the last General Election.
Also, today, the Sunday Independent publishes an internal Fianna Fail document - the party's blueprint for recovery - which was drawn up in the aftermath of the 2011 election.
It outlines a four-year plan to restore the party's fortunes but on the evidence of today's opinion poll the strategy has failed. "We're facing oblivion," a frontbench TD said yesterday.
The document identified six areas that the party needed to address, including "core values" and "policy development".
It says Fianna Fail needs to "define what it stands for"; what its "vision" is; embark on a "renewal agenda" and "embrace change" to "become relevant".
It also says the party needs to "create a real policy development process" and identify "key new areas of policy".
Today's poll is likely to lead to recriminations within the Fianna Fail parliamentary party and cause much soul-searching at senior level.
There will also be renewed disquiet in Labour (6pc), up one point, but a massive 13 points short of its General Election result.
However, the poll finds satisfaction with the Government (23pc), up four points, has recovered somewhat with dissatisfaction (68pc), down three points.
Government satisfaction is now at the level it was when the country emerged from the Troika bailout in January last year.
Satisfaction with each party leader has improved but remains low: Enda Kenny (24pc), up three points; Joan Burton (23pc), up one point; Micheal Martin (29pc), up five points and Gerry Adams (29pc), up six points.
Support for the formation of a new political party (38pc), down two points, is now 12 points lower than in December 2012.
Shane Ross (16pc) and Lucinda Creighton (13pc) remain favourites to lead such a party, ahead of Michael Fitzmaurice (4pc) and Stephen Donnelly (4pc).
Asked their preferred coalition options after the election, those polled said Fine Gael/Labour (11pc) and Sinn Fein/Independents (11pc) ahead of Sinn Fein/another party (10pc); Fine Gael/Fianna Fail (7pc); Fianna Fail/ Independents (7pc) and Fianna Fail/Sinn Fein (6pc).
A clear majority (62pc) want same-sex marriage to be recognised in the Constitution but 22pc don't know and 16pc are against, a finding which indicates the referendum in May is not a foregone conclusion.
The poll also finds that 30pc are "soft" yes and 33pc are "soft" no.
Asked their views in relation to repealing the eighth amendment, 56pc were in favour, unchanged since a comparable poll last December; 13pc were against, down six points and 31pc did not know, up six points.