Traditional parties' annus horribilis ends with support hitting new low
Independents surge ahead as combined backing for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour falls to 45pc
This final Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll of the year, conducted from December 8 up until Thursday of last week, confirms what many had suspected. The era of a two-and-a-half party political system is well and truly over.
Look at the headline results - based on these findings, if a "grand coalition" of the established parties were to bury their perceived differences and coalesce, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour would muster less than half of the vote - just 45pc. The traditional parties have haemorrhaged support throughout the year. In January, their combined support was a relatively healthy 68pc.
So why was 2014 the year when it fell apart so spectacularly? More recently, of course, the water charges debacle has grievously harmed the Government parties in particular. But, looking back, the signs for them were there last year. The Seanad referendum delivered "a wallop" and the Prom Night deal was chaotic from an optics point of view.
The Government parties invested much political stock in exiting the bailout last December. In hindsight, having the Troika in town actually benefited this administration - by being forced to adapt to an imposed economic straitjacket, they were constrained in their ability to make decisions themselves.
Since then, they have continually and consistently shot themselves in the foot (particularly Fine Gael). From the Shatter/Callinan affair, ongoing crises in health such as the medical card cuts, John McNulty, Phil Hogan, and of course the water charges. All of which has resulted in the senior party now posting just 22pc support in this poll.
For Labour, their annus horribilis ends with them registering just 5pc support - their lowest rating in this series of polls. Of course, the warning signs had been more apparent for them for a long time, but even still, the cold reality hit home hard this year - a disastrous local and European election campaign, their leader resigning and the so-called "Burton bounce" turned out to be no more than a blip.
The implications of their poor showing in the local elections in particular will haunt them more than the Europeans, as they have no real platform to "blood" new candidates as we move into general election mode.
Looking at the administration's approval rating overall, satisfaction with the Government's performance is at a year-long low (19pc). And all this at a time when indicators suggests we are the economic poster-child of the European Union.
Fianna Fail, at 18pc, have trundled along, making no headway over the year, and have been consistently eclipsed by Sinn Fein in particular. Whilst they performed well in local elections, they have no representation in Europe as the year draws to a close. More recently, they have been hugely overshadowed in the water charges debate. As this Dail term enters the final straight, many within the party will be becoming increasingly nervous at their failure to seize any initiative.
Sinn Fein, whilst down five points to 21pc in this most recent poll, have had a very successful and high-profile year. More recently, however, it seems that the ongoing controversy over Mairia Cahill, coupled with their adversarial tactics in Leinster House, has damaged their standing somewhat. The public believes that the reputation of Gerry Adams, the party itself and Mary Lou McDonald have all been damaged by the Mairia Cahill affair (54pc, 52pc and 46pc respectively). Even among Sinn Fein supporters, there is evidence of disgruntlement with how the party, and individuals, have conducted themselves on this matter. Notwithstanding this, 2014 will be a year that Sinn Fein will look back on with much satisfaction.
Looking at the public's appraisal of the main party leaders, there is little Christmas cheer on offer. Enda Kenny, Joan Burton and Micheal Martin all register their lowest satisfaction ratings seen so far in this series of polls, with Gerry Adams not far behind. When the highest satisfaction rating is just 24pc (Micheal Martin), there is a problem with the status quo.
Which leads us to the Independents/other parties. The eclectic group, ranging from Ruth Coppinger to Shane Ross, attract 32pc support (34pc if you include the Greens). This is by far the highest rating they have received (up nine points), and reflects the general antagonism towards the current political structure. What is interesting about the support for Independents is the relative homogeneity of their support base - they gain over 30pc support across gender, most age groups, and among most social classes.
Region is where we see most differences - Dublin (37pc), the cockpit of any general election campaign, and Munster (36pc) are most likely to be seeking an alternative.
The much vaunted change promised in 2011 as to how politics would conduct itself has fallen way short of expectations. Plus ça change. The more it changes, the more it's the same thing. And an impatient public has noticed.
Paul Moran in an Associate Director with Millward Brown