Saturday 17 March 2018

Public sees no end to economic woe

Latest opinion poll reveals an electorate who are punch drunk from belt tightening, writes Paul Moran

Paul Moran

Our latest Millward Brown opinion poll, conducted earlier this month, throws up some interesting shifts in public opinion. Carried out in the aftermath of what has been heralded as the last of the austerity Budgets, it seems the public has a rather different perspective on what they believe to be the case.

The Budget itself transpired to be a curiously muted affair. The anticipated backlash seemed less vociferous than with previous Budgets. It may well be that after five years of austerity, there is a grim acceptance of such announcements. In short, we have become punch-drunk from belt-tightening.

However, regardless of recent events (the claim that we are finished with the harsh Budgets coupled with the imminent departure from the bailout programme), one thing is certain: whilst government parties are heralding a new economic dawn, the public is less sanguine. Seven in 10 do not believe this administration's declaration that this was the last of the tough Budgets. Even among the party faithful, a certain amount of cynicism is apparent. A majority of Fine Gael supporters (56 per cent) and 82 per cent of Labour supporters believe that there are still choppy waters ahead come next Budget Day. Interestingly, of all declared party supporters, Labour's backers are most downbeat.

That said, the Government will be happy to have overcome October relatively unscathed, especially in light of how the month started with the stunning rejection of the Seanad abolition proposal.

In terms of party support, it is as you were for the coalition parties. Fine Gael, in particular, has maintained a striking consistency in support since the summer, while Labour, at nine per cent, remains in the doldrums. Since June, it has only been able to break into double figures once.

Fianna Fail has stuttered somewhat and has slipped back three points to 24 per cent – its worst performance since February. Attention has been focused on the Government more recently, and the relatively positive economic soundings have done the Soldiers of Destiny no favours.

It has been a turbulent few weeks for Sinn Fein, or more pertinently, its leader Gerry Adams. Support for the party has actually increased, albeit marginally.

Of course, the elephant in the room, and the largest constituency of voters, continues to be those who are undecided. Over one in three of the electorate is unsure whom to turn to. So who are the undecided? They are significantly more likely to be female (42 per cent) or younger voters (43 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds are ambivalent). Across all demographics, however, there are sizeable sections disaffected by the current parties.

Similar to party support, satisfaction with Messrs Kenny and Gilmore has remained steady (although low). The two leaders of the opposition, Micheal Martin and Gerry Adams, have both taken a dip more recently.

Adams's travails have not gone unnoticed by the electorate (this poll was conducted as the allegations of his connection to the Disappeared were being aired). Nearly two in three (63 per cent) are dissatisfied by his performance – its highest level in these polls so far. In addition, the electorate is more likely to have an opinion on him – the proportion of voters unsure of his performance is trending downwards.

That said, Martin's satisfaction rating is also on a similar trajectory. If the economy does rebound to any great degree, one feels that both he and his party could be left fighting a rearguard action. Both Fine Gael and Labour, but especially the senior government party, will be quick to highlight those positives, whilst constantly reminding the electorate of Martin's, and his party's, role in the downfall of the economy.

There has been a noteworthy shift in the perceived stability of the present administration. Even though just four in 10 (41 per cent) are convinced that the coalition government will run its full term until March 2016, this represents a six percentage point increase in confidence since January. More importantly, the numbers who are doubtful of such an eventuality have dropped significantly (down 10 to 29 per cent).

The fate of this Government is largely dependent on capitalising on any economic tailwinds. We know of course that those tailwinds are by no means a certainty. Reflecting this, nearly one-third (31 per cent) of voters are unsure of the longer-term stability of the Government, either not offering an opinion or simply feeling that "it depends".

Notwithstanding the political uncertainty that is evident from these mid-term results, it is striking to note that nearly half (46 per cent) feel that now is the time for a new political party. Whilst this has been mooted with greater frequency over the past 12 months, the electorate's outlook on this will be viewed enthusiastically by those either waiting or plotting in the wings.

This represents a six per cent increase since August. Those most eager for such a development are more likely to be supporters of the opposition parties (Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, or be supporters of independents). In contrast, there is significantly higher opposition to such a proposition among the ruling parties.

That the appetite for a change in 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.

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 – growth is undoubtedly desirable, but it could, for them, signal electoral difficulties ahead.

Paul Moran is an associate director at Millward Brown

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