Coalition is getting the blame for the price increase chaos caused by Russia’s war
The Government is taking a hammering on the issue of the cost of living — which is overwhelming everything else in the public’s preoccupation.
Asked which two of 17 issues should be the Government’s most important priorities, the public points to the cost of living (68pc), up six points in a month, and housing (49pc), down two.
Compare that to a resurgent Covid (4pc), for example, and you begin to get the picture.
When it comes to the central cause of the cost-of-living crisis, however — Russia’s war in Ukraine — the public shows less concern or interest in such context: as an issue of priority, only 5pc cite the war, down two points in the same period.
The apparent disconnect between the cost of living and the war in the public’s mind neatly encapsulates the Government’s difficult position.
In a week in which a major utility company signalled its intention to again significantly raise the cost of electricity and gas for consumers from next month, blame for not doing enough to help is vested in the Government — not in the war which is fuelling energy-price inflation, and which is beyond the Coalition’s control.
The political consequences of the cost of living — or, if you prefer, the war — are also becoming more evident, and where you might expect too.
Sinn Féin (36pc), which is demanding an emergency budget three months ahead of schedule, has achieved a record high in this series of Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks polls.
Interestingly, Fine Gael (22pc), with its support base firmly rooted among the better-off middle class, is also up by two points, perhaps bolstered by those who regard themselves among those who “get up early in the morning”, as opposed to so many feckless others who must lie in bed all day.
It is Fianna Fáil (15pc), with its base among the hard-pressed skilled-working and lower-middle classes, which is bearing the brunt of the crisis — down a further two points in a month, support which is seemingly leaching away to Sinn Féin by the day.
In the round, though, the cost-of-living crisis is directly hitting the Government as a whole.
In a forced choice between the two most apparent options, a Sinn Féin-led government including Labour, the Social Democrats and Greens (45pc) has opened up a noticeable five-point lead over the current Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Greens Coalition (40pc). Only a few months ago, the incumbent Government was still marginally the preferred choice.
While the cost-of-living crisis is driving public momentum away from the Government to a Sinn Féin-led alternative, there are wider forces also at play.
Almost half (49pc) just want “change” when a reason for their support for Sinn Féin is probed — well ahead of, say, the party’s policies (12pc), the strength of spokespeople (12pc), the leadership of Mary Lou McDonald (4pc), or, perish the thought, a united Ireland (2pc).
Although there is another issue at play which political parties, and polling firms, like to measure. It’s what you might call the ‘bread and butter’ of politics: connecting with people.
A significant factor (19pc) influencing support for Sinn Féin, behind only the desire for change, is the public’s belief that the party “stands up for people like me”, against a quarter (25pc) who believe Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not.
No doubt Sinn Féin’s repeated calls for an emergency budget resonates with people who feel the party better understands them.
A significant minority (39pc) wants the budget now, with a further 38pc of the view it should be brought forward a number of weeks to September and one fifth (21pc) who believe it should be announced as planned in October.
The Government has signalled that it intends to throw the kitchen sink at the cost of living in the budget — as it says it will be even more needed coming into autumn and winter — and also that it will be constructed in a manner that will not further exacerbate inflation.
One wonders, however, whether such subtleties are resonating widely enough with the public.
With significant increases in the cost of food (93pc), electricity (85pc), transport (85pc) and home heating (82pc) most noticed by the public, the question of targeted measures, or a response which will not lead to further spiralling inflation, seems to be lost on the public.
Asked what the Government should prioritise in the budget, the public want another credit for household utility/energy bills (33pc) and tax cuts (26pc), ahead of targeted welfare increases (22pc) or addressing the cost of childcare (11pc).
Against such headwinds, it is not difficult to imagine the Government believing it is damned if it does, and damned if it does not.
Nor does the public expect things to get any better for the scheduled lifetime of the administration. In fact, 74pc expect their household financial position to get a lot or a little worse over the next 12 months; 46pc believe the crisis is going to last another year (with a further 45pc of the view it will last more than two years); and 78pc think there will be a recession in the next 12 months, up eight points in a month.
When it comes to public-sector pay rises, more than half (56pc) are in favour, with just a third (33pc) opposed — the majority perhaps influenced by support for nurses post-Covid, or motivated by the momentum such a pay increase would generate for the wider workforce.
All in all, this poll provides ample evidence that the Government is facing a losing battle on the cost of living.
And even if the kitchen sink being thrown at this cost-of-living budget (whenever it occurs) fails to meaningfully impact on people’s pockets... well, the public seems increasingly sick and tired of this lot anyway.
You wonder if, when the next election eventually comes around, the public will lay the blame where it more deservedly should be laid, at the feet of Vladimir Putin, rather than at Micheál Martin or Leo Varadkar? At this remove, it would seem not.
The only question is whether Sinn Féin will continue to gain support to form a new government without Fianna Fáil (or Fine Gael).
Increasingly, you would have to say that is looking more possible than ever before.