INDEPENDENT Senator David Norris leads the presidential election race as most voters do not think the controversy over his comments on paedophilia has any impact on his suitability for the job, a new Irish Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll reveals.
The first survey of voters' intentions for the forthcoming election also reveals that MEP Mairead McGuinness has pushed ahead of her three rivals in the race to secure the Fine Gael party nomination.
According to the poll, Mr Norris is on 21pc, followed closely by Labour Party candidate Michael D Higgins on 19pc.
Of the Fine Gael candidates fighting to win the party's nomination, Ms McGuinness is on 10pc, Pat Cox is on 7pc, while Avril Doyle and Gay Mitchell are on 3pc and 2pc respectively.
Of the remaining Independents, 'Dragons' Den' TV star and businessman Sean Gallagher is on 6pc, Mary Davis is on 4pc and Niall O'Dowd is on 3pc.
Coincidentally, Mr Higgins has the exact same percentage vote as the Labour Party nationally. The poll was taken as the former arts minister secured the Labour presidential nomination.
On a separate question of which Fine Gael candidate would be best positioned to win the Presidency, Ms McGuinness came out on top four months into the campaign proper.
The Ireland East MEP came ahead of her rivals with 26pc, followed by Pat Cox on 19pc, Gay Mitchell on 14pc and Avril Doyle on 9pc.
The remaining three in 10 people questioned either opted for none of them or did not know.
One in four of those polled said the recent controversy over Mr Norris's past comments on paedophilia had a negative impact on their view of him.
But more than three in five voters said the affair had no impact on them at all.
A total of 24pc said the controversy had a negative impact on their view of Mr Norris, while 7pc said it had a positive impact. But 63pc were not bothered either way by the saga.
However, Mr Norris still faces an uphill battle to secure a nomination and get on to the ticket for the election.
Mr Norris is among a number of Independents who are chasing a nomination to get into the race for the Aras.
But he will be boosted by a finding in the poll that 85pc believe Independents should be allowed to run in the election.
Candidates for the Presidency need to be nominated by 20 Oireachtas members or four councils.
The nominees of the main parties will easily have their names put on the ballot paper once they win the internal battle, but Independent candidates are finding it much tougher.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has instructed his councillors not to nominate any Independents, thereby currently blocking their entry into the race through a large number of councils.
Mr Norris has gotten the backing of one council, while Mr Gallagher appears to have secured two councils.
Nonetheless, it will still be extremely difficult for any Independent to get on the ticket.
However, the poll clearly indicates that voters want to see Independent candidates in the race, with 46pc strongly agreeing they should be allowed to run and 39pc slightly agreeing.
This makes up an overwhelming 85pc backing Independent candidates being on the ticket.
Whoever replaces current President Mary McAleese, however, is going to have a very hard act to follow, the poll found.
According to the poll, a staggering nine-out-of-10 people believe Mrs McAleese is doing a good job.
Despite this, a clear majority feel two terms is enough for any President to serve.
The Irish Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll was conducted among a sample of 1,035 adults at 93 sampling points across the country.
Interviewing on the poll was carried out on Saturday, June 18, and Monday, June 20.
However, the two specific questions on the presidential election candidates and best Fine Gael candidates were asked on Monday. As a result, these questions have a smaller sample size of 454.
This smaller polling on Monday was carried out to take account of Mr Higgins's nomination by Labour and the entry of Ms Doyle into the race for the Fine Gael nomination.