FINE Gael faces a challenge to recover before next year's local and European elections as the latest opinion poll shows its support dropping to its lowest level since going into Government.
The party suffered a delayed Budget backlash with its rating falling four points to 25pc in the latest Paddy Power/Red C opinion poll.
It has also been at the centre of controversy over the payment of next year's property tax, while Environment Minister Phil Hogan has also been on the back foot over water shortages in Dublin.
It marks a setback for Fine Gael, which at first appeared to have survived the Budget unscathed.
The party had an unchanged rating in the last Red C opinion poll two weeks ago but its 25pc rating in the latest poll is the lowest since it went into government in March 2011.
A Fine Gael spokesman said that the opinion poll was only a snapshot in time. He said the party was preparing for next year's local and European elections, as well as the 2016 General Election.
"It's people's opinions at those times we are interested in," he said.
The big winners in the latest poll are Independents, who have gone up by four points to 26pc.
Labour remains on just 9pc, which would result in over half the party's TDs losing their seats if it was replicated in the next general election. Meanwhile, Fianna Fail has continued its recovery with its support rising to 24pc.
Sinn Fein has seen its support drop by 1pc to 16pc. Its leader, Gerry Adams, has come under further pressure due to a documentary about the 'disappeared' – people secretly murdered and buried by the IRA.
His support rating among voters has dropped from 26pc to 24pc since the last Red C poll on party leaders in June. However, all the other party leaders have also seen their support rating drop.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is down from 41pc to 36pc, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is down from 36pc to 35pc and the least popular leader among the main parties is still Labour's Eamon Gilmore. His rating has dropped from 23pc to 18pc.
Mr Gilmore insisted in the Dail yesterday that the Government was now at the point of exiting the bailout on December 15.
"We are looking at an economy which is growing again, although the growth is modest. We are seeing employment being created in the country at the rate of about 3,000 new jobs per month," he said.
The Green Party's level of support remained unchanged at 2pc.
The latest telephone poll of 1,000 adults was carried out over two days this week.