A Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll today lays bare the extent of disillusionment with politics among voters hit hardest by the economic crisis. Labour, in particular, bears the brunt of public anger.
Often referred to as the 'Lost Generation', those aged 18-45 dominate what has become a phenomenon whereby more than one-third of the electorate has turned its back on the mainstream – and specifically on the party led by Eamon Gilmore.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) recently identified those in their twenties, thirties and forties as disproportionately affected by unemployment, mortgage arrears and negative equity.
Today's poll shows that this cohort – especially angry young women – are apathetic at best but are more likely to be disillusioned at the manner in which the country is run.
With 95,000 mortgages now in arrears for more than 90 days, the failure of the banks – which have received €64bn in bailout funds from the State – to deal with the social blight of mortgage arrears and negative equity has been met with a furious response from the overwhelming majority.
In what amounts to a resounding rejection of Finance Minister Michael Noonan's strategy, the poll finds that almost three in four (72 per cent) believe the banks are not acting fairly towards distressed homeowners.
Opinion is more nuanced on whether the banks should write off debt, but almost half (49 per cent) say they should.
This rises to 55 per cent among those aged 35-44 and 66 per cent among voters in Leinster, while 34 per cent say that debt should not be written off.
The poll also reveals widespread scepticism that the banks will increase lending to small businesses this year. Forty per cent say the banks will lend less, 30 per cent say they will lend the same but just 15 per cent believe they will lend more.
While the political parties tend to fixate on relatively minor fluctuations in party support, the real story of these polls remains the huge – and consistent – 33 per cent of voters who are referred to as "undecided".
Excluding the undecideds, the current state of the parties is: Fianna Fail, 27 per cent (up one point); Fine Gael, 27 per cent (up four points); Sinn Fein, 17 per cent, (down two points); Labour, 11 per cent (down one point); independents/others, 17 per cent (down one point).
"The elephant in the room is the continuing swathe of undecideds," according to Paul Moran, associate director of Millward Brown, writing in the Sunday Independent today.
In particular, this group seems to have taken out its anger on Labour, which is now down eight points on its result in the General Election of February 2011.
Overall, less than one in five are satisfied with the way the Government is running the country. A massive 74 per cent are dissatisfied, up one point since the last poll in early May.
Each of the party leaders has suffered a drop in support in a month and all have registered dissatisfaction ratings of over 50 per cent.
However, the Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, at just 15 per cent – down four points in a month that has been dominated by the Alan Shatter affair – is by far the most unpopular leader.
In fact, uniquely for the party leaders, Mr Gilmore has more detractors than supporters among Labour voters: 46 per cent are dissatisfied and just 44 per cent of his own party's supporters are satisfied with his leadership.
Analysis of the undecideds shows that they are more likely to be younger, with more than half (51 per cent) of 18- to 24-year-olds in this category.
These younger voters are far from alone, however. Of the over-45s, who have traditionally been considered to be more in tune with politics, one in four are undecided as to who they would vote for.
Similarly, females are more likely not to know which way to turn, with nearly four in 10 (37 per cent) uncommitted.
Of these, a sizeable minority (40 per cent) are on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder – that is, in unskilled jobs or reliant on State assistance – but more than a third (33 per cent) are on the highest rung.
A further breakdown shows that those living in Leinster (40 per cent) and Connacht/Ulster (36 per cent) are more likely to be unsure of which political party to support.
Mr Moran writes: "It would seem that for many of these groups, both the current administration and the alternatives on offer are equally distasteful."
According to the ESRI study, the impact of the financial crisis on those in their twenties, thirties and forties has been "disproportionate". Younger householders have had to cut their spending by far more than is usual.
Increased taxes and a lack of access to credit – due to being in arrears or unemployed – have meant that savings have been squeezed, forcing those under 45 to "dramatically reduce" their spending.
They have been unable get access to loans as banks will not lend to people in arrears or where the adult householders are unemployed. This means spending has to be cut back more than usual in an economic crash.
Younger people are more likely to have lost their jobs, compared with older and more experienced people. And those under the age of 45 are suffering the most from mortgage arrears as they bought at the top of the market.
The people most likely to be in negative equity – where the outstanding mortgage is greater than the value of the home – are those under the age of 30. Those in this age group are most likely to have bought an apartment and be unable to continue to move up the housing chain because of the property crash.
People between the ages of 30 and 39 are the next mostly likely group to find themselves in negative equity.
The report, which is largely based on Central Statistics Office data, shows that the average disposable income of householders where the parents are under 45 has declined sharply.