Poll: Leo surges but Repeal doubt
Fine Gael takes eight-point lead over Fianna Fail in poll
Fine Gael has increased its support by 10 points since the last general election and now has an eight-point lead over Fianna Fail, according to the latest Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll.
Satisfaction with the performance of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (58pc) has also soared nine points since shortly after his election as Fine Gael leader and he now has a satisfaction rating 10 points higher than Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (48pc).
In a further development which will fuel speculation that Mr Varadkar may now be tempted to call an election in October, Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes today calls for significant tax cuts in the Budget.
In the Sunday Independent, Mr Hayes writes that the Government must "set a target" for raising the entry level to the higher rate of tax at €50,000 by 2025. This follows the Government's announcement last week of a €116bn national development plan, the details of which were not fully revealed when the poll was taken.
Today's opinion poll also shows that there has been a significant increase in satisfaction with the Government (49pc), up nine points since a comparable poll last July and up 22 points since this month last year, when Enda Kenny was Taoiseach.
The state of the parties is: Fine Gael (36pc) up six points since July; Fianna Fail (28pc) down one point; Sinn Fein (20pc) unchanged; Labour (4pc) down three points; Greens (2pc) unchanged; Independents/others (11pc) down two points.
The poll also finds strong support in favour of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, with almost two in three (63pc) in favour while 24pc are opposed and 13pc do not know or offer no opinion.
There is a clear majority, although a slight but notable softening of opinion in favour of abortion in stated distress scenarios. However, opinion is more divided on the question of unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.
When asked for their opinion on the recommendation by an Oireachtas committee, 40pc said unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks was 'about right' and 8pc said it 'did not go far enough' - a combined 48pc broadly in support of the recommendation.
However, 33pc said unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks 'went too far' and a further 19pc were undecided - a combined 52pc against or unsure.
In the Sunday Independent today, Kantar Millward Brown associate director Paul Moran writes: "This suggests that the battle ahead may be not as clear cut a result as the headline figures suggest. It is too simple to assume that undecideds will break down evenly.
"These findings suggest that the upcoming referendum is one where no side can take anything for granted."
One of the more significant political findings in today's poll is the continuing decline in support for Independents and smaller parties, down two points since July and 16 points since the last election.
These mostly former Fianna Fail supporters, who deserted the party after the economic crash, seem to be rallying behind Fine Gael under Mr Varadkar's leadership in greater numbers than returning to Fianna Fail.
Indeed, there has been a 16-point turnaround between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in the space of 12 months. In February 2017, Fianna Fail (33pc) had an eight-point lead over Fine Gael (25pc) under the then leadership of Mr Kenny.
The poll of 970 face-to-face interviews was carried out between February 6 and 14, at a time when Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams had made known his intention to step down to be replaced by an unopposed Mary Lou McDonald, who has just completed the first week of her leadership.
However, her election as party president has not led to an increase in support for Sinn Fein, although her satisfaction rating (39pc) is higher than that ever achieved by Mr Adams.
For Labour, this poll is a further setback. Not only has support for the party almost halved since the last disastrous election, but satisfaction with leader Brendan Howlin (22pc) is down six points since July.
While satisfaction with Fianna Fail leader Mr Martin has increased, up by three points, he still falls 10 points short of satisfaction with Mr Varadkar.
The Taoiseach's satisfaction rating is particularly high among the farming community, the better off AB social class, in Connacht/Ulster, among those aged 35-44 and over 65 and, interestingly, among rural voters who give him a 62pc satisfaction rating.
In an unprecedented finding, Mr Varadkar (37pc) has a significantly higher satisfaction rating than Mr Martin (23pc) among Sinn Fein supporters. Indeed, in an extraordinary development, only a minority (49pc) of Sinn Fein supporters say they are dissatisfied with Mr Varadkar's leadership.
The poll also indicates that Fine Gael has become far more vote-transfer friendly under Mr Varadkar's leadership. Now just 22pc of voters say they would not vote for the party, down 10 points since February last year when Mr Kenny was leader.