Desire for new party up - all eyes on Lucinda Creighton
Opposition has failed to capitalise on Government's difficulties – poll
SUPPORT for the formation of a new political party has increased significantly in the last three months, with almost half of the electorate (46 per cent) now in favour – a six-point rise since August, according to the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll.
Enthusiasm is particularly strong among supporters of the Opposition – Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and independents – while supporters of the Government parties, Fine Gael and Labour, are largely lukewarm at the prospect.
The nationwide poll also shows the country to be somewhat polarised on the issue.
Young and middle-aged voters outside Dublin are noticeably more in favour, while there is higher opposition among older and better-off voters in the capital.
Until now, voter support for a new party seemed to have been waning since a high point in December 2012 (50 per cent) to last March (46 per cent) to August (40 per cent).
However, the formation in September of the Reform Alliance, a group of former Fine Gael TDs and senators, grouped around Lucinda Creighton, may account, in part, for renewed support for the formation of a new party.
In other findings, support for the Government parties is unchanged since last month despite controversies related to the Budget, the Seanad referendum defeat and the property tax furore.
The poll also reveals that the Opposition, by and large, has failed to capitalise.
Excluding 'don't knows', first-preference support is: Fine Gael, 27 per cent (unchanged); Labour, 9 per cent, (unchanged); Fianna Fail, 24 per cent (down three points); Sinn Fein, 21 per cent (up two); independents/others, 18 per cent (up one); the Greens, 1 per cent (down one).
However, the number of voters who fail to express support for any of the current parties, the 'don't knows', has again increased to more than one-third (36 per cent) – a consistent pattern that will be closely monitored by those waiting or plotting in the wings to establish a new party.
In an analysis of the poll in the Sunday Independent today, former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell addresses the need for such new party to have a broad appeal for voters.
In an unstated reference to Reform Alliance, Mr McDowell writes: "Not all 'new party' supporters in opinion polls will be in favour of a centre or centre-right party."
He adds: "I find that labels like 'right' or 'centre right' or 'left' are not very helpful."
Mr McDowell, who in the public mind is closely associated with the Reform Alliance, also gives a broad hint that the "important time-frame for a new party" is the next general election, not the local and European elections next year.
He identifies issues which he believes will "matter" to supporters of a new party: "whether you support enterprise and a looser confederal EU, rather than an EU federal super state"; "whether a party allows freedom of conscience on matters of personal morality and whether your view of Irishness is inclusive of all the traditions and communities on this island."
He adds: "How you stand on reformism and conservatism is important. How you handle moral, social and cultural diversity matters to me. How you care for the weaker and the weakest in our society matters. How you strike the reasonable balance between economy and environment matters. How parliament and government interact is hugely important.
"In reality," he writes "is there any 'left-right' connection between issues such as abortion and taxation or EU integration? I think not."
Notwithstanding Mr McDowell's analysis, today's opinion poll clearly illustrates some of the potential difficulties faced by the Reform Alliance if it is to attract what Mr McDowell says is the necessary 20 per cent of voters to have a chance of winning 25 to 35 seats in the next election.
The poll shows support for a new party is higher among Sinn Fein supporters (59 per cent), independent supporters (59 per cent) and Fianna Fail supporters (53 per cent), as well as in Munster (53 per cent), among age groups 18-24 (51 per cent) and 45-54 (52 per cent) and the less well-off social group DE (50 per cent).
Opposition to the formation of a new party is higher among FG supporters (60 per cent) and Labour supporters (60 per cent), aged 55-64 (39 per cent) and over-65s (40 per cent), as well as the well-off AB social group (41 per cent).
The poll also shows current support levels for Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and independents are somewhat 'soft'.
According to Paul Moran, associate director of Millward Brown: "That the appetite for a change of the status quo is so much higher among supporters of the opposition parties is somewhat curious. It suggests there is a soft underbelly to their support – while they are dissatisfied with the current administration, they seemingly have doubts about their chosen alternatives."
He adds: "In light of the announcement that we are exiting the bailout and going it alone, it would appear that for the Opposition parties, and Fianna Fail in particular, any upturn in the economy will be a double-edged sword."
Dissatisfaction with the Government remains consistently high: 74 per cent said they were dissatisfied (up a point since October); 19 per cent were satisfied (down two) and 7 per cent did not know (up a point).
Satisfaction with the party leaders also showed shifts in a month. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny (25 per cent, down one) and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore (16 per cent) were steady although low.
Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin (26 per cent, down four points) and Gerry Adams (22 per cent, down one point) have failed to take advantage of the Government's difficulties.
Indeed, dissatisfaction with Mr Adams (63 per cent), up four points, has increased as he struggles with various controversies.