Tuesday 21 October 2014

FG to take some body blows but Labour will have the bloody nose

Despite tailwinds of an economic recovery, the elections will be choppy for one half of the Coalition

Paul Moran

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

Source: Sunday Independent Millward Brown poll

The results of this latest Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown opinion poll, conducted over a 10-day period up to last Tuesday, points to a divergence in fortunes between the two government parties. Ordinarily, mid-term poll results can be explained away by being exactly that; being mid-term, with no discernible litmus test on the horizon.

But this springtime we have the added spice of both local and European elections – the first time the government parties will return to the national stage since their triumph of February 2011. Both, but in particular the Labour Party, are running out of track if they want to avoid a bloody nose on May 23.

Of course, local elections in particular (and to a lesser extent European elections) have a tendency to do that – allow the electorate to blow off some steam. Notwithstanding this, Labour is at a critical stage in the life cycle of this Government. The storm clouds looming over the party continue to darken.

After a brief revival earlier in the year, when it reached the heady heights of 12pc, it has now dropped back to six per cent. Following a drop of four points in February, this latest poll sees it shed a further two points, and it is now at its lowest point in this series of polls.

Fine Gael, on the other hand, has seen its share increase two points to 29 per cent since February. Whilst neither movement in both government parties' support since February is statistically significant, the psychological significance for both is immense.

Relatively speaking, Fine Gael has led a charmed existence. Take, for example, the controversy over the whistleblower affair and the subsequent retirement of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan amid the revelations of taping of garda station calls. All happening under the watch of a Fine Gael minister.

Yet it was another Fine Gael minister who first broke ranks to articulate the unease that many of us had. The Coalition benefited from some breathing space in the Dail with the St Patrick's Day break. Upon return, the pressure had eased somewhat, and Fine Gael has increased its support (even if the public is less benign in its appraisal of Justice Minister Alan Shatter).

It seems that Fine Gael has, to a certain extent, an almost Teflon-like ability to deflect attention from controversy when delivering bad news.

Labour, on the other hand, serves as a lightning rod for the public's ire. Each time there is a stumble in government message, policy or via an unforeseen curveball, that ball seems to bounce more unkindly for Labour.

Of course, these are all relative successes. Fine Gael will probably receive a rebuke in the upcoming elections (they gained close on 35 per cent of the local election vote last time out). However, the growing consensus that the economy has definitively turned a corner will buffer it somewhat from the worst excesses.

In the short-term at least, it appears Fine Gael is benefiting from the tailwinds that economic recovery delivers, whilst Labour remains in the doldrums.

Labour's battle for the Left, or the left-of-centre vote, is being lost to Sinn Fein and a range of independents. For some, the optics seem that the Government's self-styled watchdog, as it declared itself in their general election campaign, has displayed little bite in facing down proposals put forward by its senior, centre-right coalition partner.

This is, however, a national snapshot. Labour will take solace in that it will be focusing on particular areas or pockets of strength. But in Dublin, traditionally a fertile ground for the party, it mustered just 10 per cent of the vote. No matter how these findings are interpreted, the fact remains that for Labour, it will be an uphill battle in the short-term at least.

Sinn Fein has remained remarkably consistent over the past 14 months, and is averaging 19 per cent overall (this latest snapshot sees it at 20 per cent). The local elections, in particular, will be a platform for it to cement this support. Or to gauge how surefooted this support is. As a party it will be looking to cash-in on the apparent value of its stock.

Fianna Fail has dropped one point – it would seem the apparent revival it had last year may be losing momentum. That said, Fianna Fail has had a tendency more recently to over-index on polling day – in contrast to Sinn Fein.

Turning to Mr Shatter, and his handling of the current several crises within his department, the public has had its say – over half believe he should have resigned over both the whistleblower and garda-taping revelations. When we exclude those without an opinion on these matters, confidence in him reaches 30 per cent at best.

For Fine Gael nevertheless, the mantra is clear – continue upon this steady course. For Labour, this course seems far less clear cut.

Paul Moran is an associate director with Millward Brown.

Sunday Independent

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