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Upturn in the economy carries coalition partners along with it

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Enda Kenny and Joan Burton with Ministers of State - Labour could find itself running out of time.

Enda Kenny and Joan Burton with Ministers of State - Labour could find itself running out of time.

Enda Kenny and Joan Burton with Ministers of State - Labour could find itself running out of time.

With the body politic settling back in the Dail following their summer recess, and fresh from their annual "think-ins", our first Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll of the autumn provides for some interesting reading.

First off, it has been a very good week on the economic front. The excitement on the Government benches when announcing a projected growth rate of 4.5pc for 2014 was almost palpable. Whisperings of returning to "the good old days" could barely be contained. It seems that we have gone from being in the doldrums to being the economic poster boy of Europe again, barely stopping to admire the green shoots along the way. This is reflected, to a certain extent, in terms of Government satisfaction.

This most recent study sees satisfaction with the Government at its highest level so far in this series of tracking polls. Some 27pc are now happy with this administration's performance, up four points since the summer.

Of course, such a modest endorsement (just over one in four of the population) would normally be nothing to write home about, but when viewed against an average rating of just 19pc up to the corresponding period last year, the Government will take solace. In addition, dissatisfaction has actually dropped even further - down seven points to 62pc. The correlation between economic activity and the health of a government is as strong as ever.

Those most happy with the administration tend to be from the most affluent professional socio-economic group (41pc of ABs endorse the government) or be living in Dublin (36pc). Given that the benefits of growth are most apparent in the capital, this is unsurprising. However, the disparity in opinion between supporters of the two coalition parties is illuminating.

Supporters of Fine Gael are almost falling over each other to endorse the government's performance - nearly seven in 10 (68pc) of them are happy. Contrast this with Labour supporters - even though they are over-indexing the national average in terms of satisfaction, just 40pc are happy.

The lag between official GNP/GDP figures and the eventual tangible benefits to the person on the street will make Labour edgy. That "real" economic benefit can't come fast enough for them. Fine Gael can afford to play the long game, but the situation for Labour is significantly more precarious. Following on from disastrous local and European elections, the junior party is running out of time to turn its ship around.

Ironically, in the short-term at least, good economic news stories may be a double-edged sword, especially for Labour. Without the public seeing tangible benefits, and as bills for water drop through the letterbox come January, Labour will continue to be on the back foot, and under political pressure - especially from Sinn Fein.

So how does all of this translate into party support? In reality, very little has changed over the summer. Fine Gael remain on 25pc, with Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein neck and neck at 21pc and 22pc respectively.

Of course, Labour is the party that many are watching, particularly with Joan Burton at the helm. They have made steady, but not spectacular progress since July. The party now stands at nine per cent - within touching distance of that psychological threshold of double digits (last achieved in January when they reached the heady heights of 12pc). The Burton Bounce may well have been greatly exaggerated, but steady increments upwards will be just as welcome, and are arguably built on more solid foundations.

In terms of her own performance, three in 10 are satisfied with the new leader (up three points), although nearly half (48pc) are not (up eight points).

Looking in more detail at how her party is faring, Labour's support tends to come from younger voters (18 to 24-year-olds) and 35 to 44-year-olds (both at 14pc). They slightly over-index both in Dublin at 11pc and among the affluent ABs at 13pc.

Two issues arise as a result of this. Labour's traditional heartland, the working class (C2DE) voter, has fallen out of love with them - they muster just eight per cent among this cohort (with Sinn Fein being the main beneficiary, attracting 28pc support among the same group).

In Dublin, Labour won 18 seats in the 2011 general election. If the 11pc in this poll in Dublin were replicated at the next general election, there would be an electoral bloodbath for the party. All of which illustrates how much of a gargantuan battle Joan Burton has on her hands.

It is against this backdrop that the upcoming budget next month will be framed. One suspects that as Labour begins to run out of road between now and the general election in the spring of 2016, many within the party will push for something tangible to be offered back to the electorate sooner rather than later.

Their need to do so is more pressing than Fine Gael's. The October budget may well turn out to be the last real chance for Labour to impose its will within Government - the alternative could be that by general election 2016, the party will be fatally detached from the herd.

Paul Moran is an Associate Director with Millward Brown.

The survey results here are derived from The Independent Newspaper Group/Millward Brown Poll. The poll was conducted among a sample of 970 adults representative of the approximate 3.43 million adults aged 18 and over - interviewed on a face-to-face basis in the home at 66 sampling points throughout the Republic of Ireland. The margin of error for this opinion poll is +/- 3.1 per cent. The 970 interviews on the poll were carried out between September 9-18, 2014. The poll was conducted in accordance with the guidelines set by ESOMAR and AIMRO (European and Irish Market and Opinion Research governing bodies). Extracts from the report may be quoted or published on condition that due acknowledgement is given to Millward Brown and The Sunday Independent. © Millward Brown & The Sunday Independent 2014.

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