Tuesday 20 August 2019

We've turned the corner as voters look to the future

Financial positivity is highest since the crash

Paul Moran

This latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown National Opinion Poll, conducted over 10 days up to and including Friday, was our first since the recent Budget. The results show that while the electorate is becoming more upbeat about the future, there is much political uncertainty ahead.

Looking at support for the government parties, they now have a combined strength of 36pc. Now is the time for them to be creating real momentum if they are to have any chance of retaining the status quo. Compare this with their combined strength of 55pc when they entered office in February 2011.

It is clear that the spring election has the potential to be even more seismic than the last one.

Even within this 36pc support, the dice are heavily loaded in favour of Fine Gael. It would seem that any Budget bounce accrued has benefited them more so. They have increased their support five points to 29pc, while Labour remains stagnant on only 7pc. Labour may well need to pick and choose its constituency battles carefully, as all indicators continue to point to a potential bloodbath.

However, from a government perspective, they may well feel they have turned a corner as we begin to move up through the gears of this phoney war phase of the campaign.

Overall satisfaction is at its highest level since we started this tracking series nearly three year years ago - more than three in 10 (32pc) are happy, up seven points. Hardly a stellar performance, but better than what has gone before.

Dissatisfaction now stands at 60pc. Again, this is another milestone for the Government, however pyrrhic that may be.

The Government's central campaign message has been well signposted in advance that this election will be about a choice of alleged stability versus alleged chaos. They will take a leaf straight out of James Carville's oft-quoted observation ("It's the economy, stupid").

With that in mind, we asked the population if they think they will be financially better off, worse off or about the same this time next year. It is a metric we have tracked for more than 25 years. However, these results are among the most significant seen in more recent years - financial positivity towards the future is at its highest since the crash, and for the first time since then, positivity is more or less on a par with negativity.

So what of the Opposition? Fianna Fail has shifted upwards marginally, and now stands at 24pc. The party will be happy with these results, given that its reaction to the recent Budget was remarkably muted.

To the party faithful, the message will be one of holding steady and referencing their local elections performance last year as the way forward. However, there is a sense that rumblings within the party are just below the surface, and that all is not well. Look no farther than the recent candidate selection processes (although this is not solely an FF issue).

Sinn Fein has stalled more recently, settling on 21pc. Given other results in today's paper regarding perceptions of the party's alleged relationship with the IRA, this is a good result.

Sinn Fein is quite a bit off previous results in this tracking series, and may well have blossomed too early during the mid-cycle election. Of course, if SF gets anywhere near this result in springtime, it would mark a hugely significant breakthrough.

The other movement of note is that support for Independents/Others has slipped five points to 19pc. Their support has had a tendency to oscillate.

Of course, a national snapshot does not necessarily capture the individual dogfights that will be apparent in many constituencies.

There is no doubt that Independents/Others are on course for a second leap forward after their breakthrough in 2011, but the extent of how that will translate into seats will be keenly watched. Transfers, as always, will be key.

With this in mind, Millward Brown's toxicity test also casts some light on how the mood of the electorate is shifting. It is often more enlightening to ask people who they definitely will not vote for.

There have been some noticeable shifts in this most recent poll. Sinn Fein is now the most "toxic" party in the State, surpassing Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. Recent allegations may well have deflected some potential voters from the party.

However, there is a broader narrative at play. The "Establishment" parties of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail have all decreased their toxicity, while more left-wing parties - AAA-PbP, the Socialist Party - have increased theirs.

In addition, an analysis of toxicity by party support suggests that the antagonism between "Establishment" and "Alternative" parties is as harsh as ever.

Voting pacts and vote management will be keenly watched come the spring. The impact of transfers is often overstated - first preference will always be king.

In the spring election, however, with so much uncertainty, every last seat will be vital, and those transfers could become the kingmaker.

Paul Moran is an Associate Director at Millward Brown

Sunday Independent

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