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Gilmore wins battle of leaders but party can't match success

Labour's popularity is being driven by Dublin voters, with 29pc in the capital giving it first preference

HE'S still the most popular leader by a country mile -- but his own party has not been able to match his momentum.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is clearly the people's favourite, and his approval ratings of 54pc are more than double those of Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. Mr Cowen's approval ratings are at 22pc and Mr Kenny's at 26pc.

But Labour Party support has dropped slightly since the last Irish Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll, with the party down 3pc on its figures from February 2009.

However, its current standing of 19pc is still a full 9pc ahead of the results of the last general election. It is down from a high last February of 22pc, but this poll is also a full five points above Labour's result in the local elections last June, when they won 116 council seats nationwide.

Despite the drop in party support, Mr Gilmore's approval ratings have actually increased from this time last year. The Dun Laoghaire TD has seen his ratings rise from 52pc up to 54pc.

He is yet again the only leader with a higher satisfaction rating than dissatisfaction rating, with 28pc of respondents saying they were unhappy with his performance and 18pc saying they didn't know how to evaluate him.

The figures will be seen as an indication that Mr Gilmore's relentless focus on jobs and the banks continues to reap rewards. His perceived decisive leadership is also chiming with the public.

Last September, he was the only political leader who capitalised on mounting public anger over former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue's extravagant expenses claims.

Mr Gilmore dramatically told Mr O'Donoghue in the Dail that his position was no longer tenable and a resignation swiftly followed.

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His popularity is also bound to reflect badly on Mr Kenny, who is still failing to make the same connection with voters, despite his own party's high approval ratings.

Labour's popularity is being driven by Dublin voters, with 29pc in the capital giving it first preference, just 1pc behind Fine Gael and 13pc ahead of Fianna Fail.

Labour, while holding on to almost all of its support from the last general election, is now picking up middle-class voters -- the people who have been battered by the effects of recession.

The party support is weakest among the very young, those aged between 18 and 24, and those over 65.