Cowen suffers poll slump but Kenny fails to cash in
Support for Labour Party surges by 16pc
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was badly damaged by his disastrous radio interview but Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is failing miserably to capitalise on his woes, a new opinion poll showed last night.
The Labour Party surged by a massive 16pc, making it the country's most popular party and giving leader Eamon Gilmore a huge boost, according to the TV3 poll carried out by Millward Brown Lansdowne.
Mr Cowen lost credibility with seven out of 10 voters after his 'Morning Ireland' performance last week, but only one in 10 said the interview would influence how they vote.
Compared with the last poll by the same company, published in the Irish Independent in February, Fianna Fail is down five points to 22pc, Fine Gael is down four points to 30pc, and Labour has shot up 16 points to 35pc.
The Green Party is unchanged at 2pc, Sinn Fein is down 4pc to 4pc, and Independents are down 2pc to 8pc.
Since the last general election, Labour Party support has rocketed by 25pc. Labour strategists now believe voters see the General Election as a three-horse race and Mr Gilmore's ambition to become Taoiseach is gaining traction.
"People are genuinely in the mood for real change. They are not just saying we will switch from one party to another, from Fianna Fail to Fine Gael," a party source said.
"It's an opportunity for the Labour Party -- not a certainty."
But question marks are again being raised in Fine Gael over Mr Kenny's leadership, despite a failed party heave three months ago when a similar poll finding emerged.
"Unless the Fine Gael leadership does something about Enda Kenny, we are looking at a Labour Taoiseach," a party TD said.
But other critics of Mr Kenny admitted it was probably too late to do anything.
Fine Gael said the recent months represented a "difficult period for the party" -- a reference to the heave -- but the party would now build on its 30pc support base.
The poll gave Mr Cowen the first snapshot of public reaction to his interview debacle.
While 71pc said Mr Cowen had lost credibility through the affair, 56pc said the controversy over last week's interview did not matter and 88pc said it would not change their voting intentions.
One thousand voters nationwide were questioned on Tuesday and Wednesday by telephone for the poll, which contains a 3pc margin of error.
A majority of 52pc said Mr Cowen should not continue as Taoiseach, while 40pc said he should remain as FF leader.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is the overwhelming favourite among voters to replace Mr Cowen, if there were a vacancy.
Mr Lenihan was the preferred successor with 46pc of those polled, three times the support level for Micheal Martin on 15pc, with Mary Hanafin on 4pc, Dermot Ahern on 2pc and Noel Dempsey on nothing.
Significantly, Mr Lenihan enjoys strong cross-party appeal, with supporters of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour all favouring him as the next party leader.
Mr Cowen remains the most unpopular party leader on 18pc, albeit followed closely by his coalition colleague, Green Party leader John Gormley.
Mr Kenny is down to 24pc and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is down to 30pc.
Mr Gilmore remains way out in front as the most popular party leader on 58pc -- and still rising. The Labour leader is also the most popular choice for next Taoiseach on 36pc -- almost twice the support level for Mr Cowen.
Within Fianna Fail, there was a sense last night that the poll was bad across the board for the party and Mr Cowen, but not bad enough to reignite the leadership rumblings surrounding the Taoiseach earlier this week.
And almost three-quarters of Fianna Fail supporters want him to continue as party leader.
Mr Cowen will hope the opinion poll results will quell the speculation of a leadership heave within Fianna Fail, but his coalition still faces a difficult run-in to Christmas.