Sunday 18 February 2018

Labour is running out of road but Sinn Fein is losing its allure

Government satisfaction is at highest level, voters do not want an election but are still in unforgiving mood

Labour leader, Tanaiste Joan Burton
Labour leader, Tanaiste Joan Burton

Paul Moran

This Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Midsummer opinion poll, conducted up until Friday, signals fresh watermarks on several fronts that we have not seen for well over a year.

Overall, satisfaction with the Government is at its highest level seen in this series of polls, even though just three in ten (29pc) are pleased with how this Government is running the country. Whilst hardly an overwhelming endorsement in itself, what is more interesting is that there has been a significant decrease in dissatisfaction - down six to 63pc. The Government will seek to maintain that downward momentum, thus leveraging itself into a position of acceptability among many of its previous supporters.

Looking at party support, there has been quite a few movements more recently. First off, and reflecting a more buoyant satisfaction with the administration, the combined support for the government parties is at a 15-month high - 35pc would now vote for either of them. This is up significantly from the height of the water charges controversy just back in December. Since the turn of the year, there has been a gradual ascent northwards in the polls for the coalition, although this ascent manifests itself in a far-from-even manner.

Fine Gael are sitting at the top of the pile, for the second poll in a row. Their lead has stretched, and at 29pc, they have pulled clear of the chasing pack. The continuing economic good news (regardless of its obvious blemishes) certainly seems to be benefitting them more. In addition they have, so far, avoided the banana skins that they encountered so often in 2014.

For Labour, they remain stubbornly rooted in single digits. This latest poll leaves them at just six percent - more or less the result they received in the disastrous local and European elections. The issue for them is of course that they are fast running out of road before the general election. In addition, any economic benefits being accrued are winging their way towards Fine Gael.

It would seem that the electorate is in a very unforgiving mood towards the junior party in Government. Despite Labour's protestations about what it has done in office, the knives are sharpening in response to what it said it would do, but didn't. One suspects that Labour will have to target its potential seats very closely in the general election, as they will not gain any bounce based on populism.

For the main Opposition parties, these results will make for interesting reading. Fianna Fáil, and Micheal Martin in particular, will be relieved to see an uplift in the party's fortunes. Over the past month, Fianna Fáil has had a roller coaster journey - Bobby Aylward became the party's first by- election success in close on 20 years, but this was followed by the very public, and acrimonious exit of Averil Power, and more recently the resignation from the party of the Mayor of Cork, Alan Coleman.

So to see an uplift of four points to 23pc will provide some respite for the leader. However, it seems that all is not well in the Fianna Fáil family, and the next few months will be vital for Micheal Martin's authority as leader.

Sinn Fein has lost much of its lustre since the turn of the year. This poll, of course, was conducted as the party was washing its dirty linen in public in Cork. The party now stands at 21pc; although this would represent its best performance in modern day general elections if it were to be replicated on the day, there has been a noticeable slip in its support since the beginning of the year.

In addition, our Millward Brown Toxicity Test (whereby we ask voters who they would not vote for), suggests that Sinn Fein may be losing its allure - 37pc of voters now say they would not consider the party (up five points since April). In isolation, this would not be cause for undue alarm. However, all of its main political rivals (FG, FG and Labour), have become less toxic to the electorate in the same period.

In terms of satisfaction of leaders' performances, most have seen an uplift of sorts in this latest poll (Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny benefiting most; up six and five points respectively). Gerry Adams is the only leader to see his ratings drop, albeit marginally.

Of course, in some ways, this is just a phoney war. We know there is a general election on the horizon, but at a date that is yet to be determined. Whilst all the parties certainly have their troops on stand-by, the public's desire (52pc) is for this current Dail to run its full term to April 2016. Not surprisingly, supporters of FG and Labour are most strident in this view. Interestingly, FF supporters also want to play the long game.

The question is, is the electorate being strategic in its motivations for this Dail to run full term, or is it just weary of the thought of having to endure a general election, and all that that entails?

Paul Moran is an Associate Director with Millward Brown

Sunday Independent

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