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Poll reveals that the cost-of-living crisis is upturning the political apple cart

Failure to adequately address the inflation storm could cost traditional political parties dearly


Runaway inflation is hitting everyone

Runaway inflation is hitting everyone

Runaway inflation is hitting everyone

Today’s opinion poll shows how urgently addressing the cost-of-living crisis is critical to government support.

To explain, we must first understand that the fall in support for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over time is chiefly the result of policy failures. Our poll today asked people why they didn’t support Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, for which the most popular reason was: “Their failures to tackle housing and healthcare.”

The fact the public did not identify either party’s leadership or ideology perhaps makes it easier for these parties to increase their support, if only they could resolve these critical issues.

It also stands to reason that a failure to adequately address the emerging cost-of-living storm could exacerbate problems for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. There is no bigger policy concern today than the cost-of-living crisis, with 68pc believing it to be a top-two issue (up 40 points since the start of the year).

Sometimes an issue might be important merely in the absence of any other issue. Or sometimes it is argued that an issue becomes salient merely because it is being spoken about in the media.

However, there is clear evidence of significant financial strain among the general public. The poll reveals 52pc of respondents say the amount they are saving has decreased in the last three months. Only 5pc say their savings have increased. Meanwhile, 45pc declare that they are struggling to pay their bills.

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While this might explain the small bump in support for Sinn Féin — which has gone from the low 30s to the high 30s in terms of percentage support — we are clearly far from peak cost-of-living crisis.

The public forecast for the immediate future looks even worse. They believe, like Leo Varadkar, that this crisis is set to last at least another year, if not more than two.

One of the more startling statistics is that 74pc of people now believe their personal finances will get worse over the next 12 months. That figure is up 21 points in the last two months. And 78pc believe a recession is on the way within 12 months.

This figure is up by 8 points since we polled it four weeks ago.

The relationship between the cost of living and Government support is well understood, and much political analysis of the 1980s concerns it.

One of the simplest and yet most effective campaigns I’ve been involved in saw a pledge by then UK Labour leader Ed Miliband to freeze the energy bills of the public. The campaign featured ridiculous mock ice cubes with miniature gas bills floating inside.

It was initially mocked by the press and Tory front bench — before they realised how popular it was. It gave the Labour Party a substantial boost in the polls that year.

Of course, one may have some sympathy for the Government. This cost-of-living crisis is one faced by all governments, and our Coalition leaders have little influence over interest rates — one of the principal levers used to control inflation. A lazy analysis might conclude the Government is being unfairly punished.

However, one also needs to give the public credit, in terms of its ability to evaluate recent Government performance. As per our poll last month, the public do believe that politicians are the least to blame. Indeed as we saw during the initial phase of Covid, governments can be rewarded for competence in a crisis.

Indeed, the relationship between the cost-of-living crisis and Government support goes both ways. In late 2014 when oil prices halved, support for many governments increased in the immediate aftermath. Fine Gael’s average rose by approximately 5pc in the early part of 2015, as did support for the UK Tories.

Further afield, Barack Obama’s approval rating and that of Francois Hollande in France also significantly improved in that period.

So the public is perhaps willing to give the Government a chance on this issue — but that window of opportunity will close pretty quickly.

To this end, the Coalition should learn from its failure on housing, and respond with urgency.

Our poll asks about the prospect of an early budget, and 39pc are looking for an emergency budget within weeks, while 38pc are willing to give the Government more time. However, this sense of urgency is closely related to the level of personal income of the respondent.

Among those earning over €80k, just 13pc favour an emergency budget. This rises to 50pc among those earning under €30k.

If such a budget does arise, the demands of the public closely mirror issues raised by Fianna Fáil TDs at their recent crunch meeting — as credits for energy bills slightly edge out tax cuts and targeted welfare payments in terms of priorities.

Kevin Cunningham is a lecturer in politics at TU Dublin and is MD at Ireland Thinks

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