Thursday 27 October 2016

Fall in support for Independents, while main parties benefit

Most people believe the Government will last two years, but Brexit fallout could prolong its life, writes Paul Moran

Paul Moran

Published 03/07/2016 | 02:30

'Sinn Fein is a party that often flatters to deceive when there is no election.' Photo: Tom Burke
'Sinn Fein is a party that often flatters to deceive when there is no election.' Photo: Tom Burke

This Millward Brown Poll, conducted over 12 days up until last Thursday, is our first since the General Election. It is therefore our first measurement of public opinion since the tortuous period of government formation.

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Interviewing also coincided with the lead-up and aftermath of the UK Brexit referendum - a result that undoubtedly has huge ramifications for Ireland, and this poll identifies some of them.

First off, the state of the parties. Compared with the General Election result, there has been some movement of late. Fine Gael will be relieved to see some momentum upwards in support since its disastrous General Election performance. It now stands at 30pc, up four points from February's national vote. Fianna Fail has also improved its position since then, albeit by a more modest 2pc to 26pc.

The election of Brendan Howlin as leader has done little to resuscitate Labour's drift towards obscurity; just 7pc opt for the party.

What is more fascinating is the contrasting fortunes of Sinn Fein and Others/Independents.

On paper, it would seem that Sinn Fein has seen a dramatic boost in its fortunes. But Sinn Fein is a party that often flatters to deceive when there is no general election on the immediate horizon - the value of its stock can be often overpriced, as its inability to get its supporters to vote on the day is well documented. In addition, the hard left will continue to nibble at its flanks.

There is, however, potentially a more important development. Whilst parties such as AAA, the Greens and Social Democrats have maintained their support, the proportion of the electorate opting for Independent candidates has dropped back significantly.

It may well be that following the huge groundswell of support for them in February, the public has realised that creating such a fractured parliament isn't necessarily a good thing - taking 63 days to form a Government tends to fray the nerves somewhat (not that they were the only ones to blame).

In addition, there are now Independents sitting around the Cabinet table, batting for Government policy; the voting public may have assumed they were electing them to bowl.

This new Government's satisfaction levels remain similar to the previous administration - a rather underwhelming 28pc are happy with their performance so far. Of course, these are early days, but three in five are unhappy. With such an eclectic mix of characters propping up this Government, this will be one metric to watch closely in the coming months.

Looking at Party Toxicity (that is, which grouping people would NOT vote for), results have remained relatively stable. Of the main parties, Sinn Fein, followed by Fine Gael and Labour, remain the most likely to alienate. As before, Fianna Fail are the least toxic of them (although one in four would not consider it). This measure provides an important yardstick to understand where Dail seats will go, given the complexity of the Irish electoral system.

Reflecting this to a certain extent is that Micheal Martin is by far the party leader attracting most satisfaction - 43pc are happy with his performance - up 16 points since the last comparable poll (although at 31pc, Gerry Adams is second most effective). Enda Kenny and Brendan Howlin bring up the rear at 27pc respectively. It would seem that Martin's statesman-like decision to support the Government (in some circumstances) is paying dividends. Of course, focusing on the domestic political scene in a vacuum this weekend is rather pointless. The impact of Brex it has cast, and will continue to cast, a long shadow over the political and economic fortunes of this country for some time to come. This poll highlights this in perfect clarity.

From the outset, the Irish population was firmly in favour of Britain remaining within the EU. A pan-European Poll, conducted by Millward Brown in Ireland, and our TNS Colleagues across Europe earlier in June, found that 70pc of Irish people wanted the UK to remain, second only to Germany (79pc). With Britain leaving, the narrative has changed utterly. From Enda Kenny's point of view, this is a political nightmare. He is now stuck between protecting the interests of Anglo- Irish trade and cross-border relationships, and appeasing the EU. This will be a very fine tightrope to walk.

The problem for Kenny is that for him to negotiate with Europe on a special deal for Ireland will potentially expose his perceived weakness - to stand up to Europe. An unforgiving Europe may be in no mood to offer anything in terms of appeasement to the UK.

A hawkish attitude has already been signalled by Jean- Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, Francois Hollande of France and his Belgian and Spanish counterparts. Of course, they have their own motives (both national and European) to do so, but it means that Kenny will be very much fighting off the back foot. In addition, he will not have his traditional ally, the UK, to back him up.

Under any circumstances this would be extremely difficult, but Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan have additional baggage - they are still haunted, and taunted, by the perceived ineffectiveness of the last time they played hardball with Europe - their "seismic shift" in European Policy on debt last time out was anything but.

Ironically however, the instability that Brexit causes may well prolong the life of this Government. There is a general consensus that this is a transitional administration - over seven in ten (72pc) believe it will last no more than two years.

Yet an analysis of interviews conducted before the Brexit result announcement versus the post-result announcement suggests that people are drifting towards the upper end of that time scale; those believing the Government will last 18 months to two years shifted from 29pc to 38pc. It may well be that stability in the short term at least is the most sensible option.

There is no doubt that Brexit has spooked the nation. One of our longer term tracking questions asks if people believe they will be financially better off, worse off or about the same this time next year. When we asked this last in February, it measured a positive result for the first time since the crash (more said they would be better off than worse off). This has regressed more recently. We are equally as likely to have a positive or negative outlook (22pc each). What is of note, however, is that positivity was trending at 27pc up until the Friday of the Brexit announcement, and slipped to 19pc once the announcement was made.

It illustrates that the Irish electorate are observant of the world around them and the implications that certain decisions can have.

Looking at the political turmoil across the water, it seems that for some of them, this trait was sadly lacking. 

Paul Moran is an Associate Director of Millward Bown

Sunday Independent

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