Poll: A nation split as generations drift apart

Results on eviction ban and party support show self-interest is becoming ever more entrenched

Jody Corcoran

The generational divide is laid bare in today’s Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks opinion poll across a range of issues — not just housing — and it is becoming of growing concern.

The notion of a generational divide is not new. People have worried about it for decades, notably in the 1960s.

And it always passed, as younger generations got married, started a family — and got a house.

In the past, the divide was more about “mutual misunderstanding”. Think “short back and sides dad” versus “long-haired hippie son”.

In Ireland these days there is an element of that. We call it the culture wars: “strait-laced dad” versus “gender-fluid son”.

This time, though, the generational divide is less about mutual misunderstanding and more about a conflict of interests — and that is what makes it troubling.

I will come back later in this article to the issue of pensions, which was the subject of a stark warning to the Government last week.

However, housing (68pc) is the touchstone, significantly up by 13 points in a month as the matter of greatest concern to the public.

​Today’s poll reveals a nation deeply divided and, in my view, becoming even more entrenched according to self-interest.

Why are more people not concerned about the consequences of lifting the eviction ban, for example?

In party political terms, the generational divide can be broken down as follows: Sinn Féin (31pc) and the Social Democrats (7pc) representing agents for “change” versus Fine Gael (22pc) and Fianna Fáil (16pc) as purveyors of the status quo.

Yes, that is 38pc for change and 38pc for no change, in terms of who runs the country.

That finding is remarkably similar across a range of issues in today’s poll, most relevantly in relation to the lifting of the eviction ban: 40pc agree with the ban ending, 45pc disagree.

Let us break it down: 51pc who own their home outright agree with lifting the ban; 45pc who own a mortgaged home agree.

However, nearly two-thirds (63pc) who rent privately and just short of three-quarters (74pc) who live rent-free with parents disagree with lifting the ban.

It is somewhat troubling — is it not? — that half of those who own their home outright, mortgage paid off, agree with lifting the ban.

Indeed, of those who overall agree with lifting the ban, a fifth (19pc) profess themselves to “strongly agree”.

Call me naive, but I would have expected a stronger measure of opposition to lifting the ban, in the warned-about social circumstances.

Perhaps it is that the Government has made its case well, and people accept that to extend the ban would only store up greater difficulty in the future.

Further analysed, 32pc say the ban should be lifted now, 4pc say October and 6pc say next February — a combined 42pc.

But of that 42pc, only a quarter indicate some level of concern about the social consequences of an immediate lifting of the ban and want a temporary extension.

And yes, a polar opposite 44pc say the ban should be lifted only when the housing crisis is sufficiently resolved.

There is further evidence in the poll of the deep polarisation of the public.

In a forced choice, 41pc would prefer the current government and 42pc a Sinn Féin-led government, excluding Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Asked about a general election, 46pc favour calling one immediately and 44pc are against.

Of those in favour, a majority of supporters of Sinn Féin (90pc), Solidarity-People Before Profit (88pc), Aontú (75pc), the Social Democrats (68pc) and Independents (56pc) want an election now.

Of those opposed, a majority of supporters of Fine Gael (88pc), Fianna Fáil (82pc), Green Party (67pc) and Labour (59pc) are against an election now.

What is interesting here is that a significant majority of Labour supporters are opposed to an election — the outcome Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned about last week when Labour tabled a no-confidence motion in the Government.

On this issue, it would seem, Labour is out of touch with its own supporters, who are in – or scrambling to get into – the status quo camp.

By the way, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns (45pc) is now the country’s most popular leader, leapfrogging Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin (43pc) since last month, with Labour’s Ivana Bacik (32pc) well behind.

​Now to pensions. Last week, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) urged the Government to take steps now to ensure state and public sector pensions were funded into the future.

Interestingly, this is an issue Sinn Féin highlighted to great advantage at the last election, when it strongly opposed raising the pension age to 68 from the current 66.

In its advice, the IFAC warned tensions will arise when a smaller, younger, working population have to pay more to fund a larger retired population.

In other words, millennials and Gen Zs, currently locked out of the boomers property market, will, in coming years, also have to pay the retirement pensions of said boomers. This is a recipe for unrest.

So, if you think the current generational divide is going to end any time soon, or even when housing to meet demand is eventually built, think again.

The proportion of retired people to the working age population is set to double by 2050. That is why the generational divide in Ireland is troubling, and likely to become more so. Eventually, something is going to have to give.

On today’s figures, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Greens, Labour and/or Independents may well form the next government, whenever that election comes.

But would a Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Social Democrats government better help heal the generational divide?