| 2.8°C Dublin

It's time to get in touch with an anxious nation

Any significant immediate bounce that Fianna Fail was hoping to get by electing a new leader has yet to materialise. More than half of the interviewing for this poll was conducted after Micheal Martin's election on Wednesday last, and yet his party's projected share of first preference votes is 16 per cent, giving him a significant mountain to climb in convincing the electorate to vote for his party.

The party's share has been languishing at this level during January and is significantly down on the 22 per cent seen in the MillwardBrown Lansdowne/TV3 opinion poll last September and a lifetime away from the 2007 election.

What makes this mountain even steeper for Fianna Fail to climb is that only 35 per cent of those who voted Fianna Fail at the 2007 election say they will stick with the party. This time, the rest intend to switch to Fine Gael (22 per cent), Labour (19 per cent) or independents (18 per cent). It is the rare person who voted for another party in 2007 and intends to switch to FF this time, but a few do exist.

Fine Gael currently retains the largest share of first preference votes at 34 per cent, but this is not such a comfortable lead for the party, making its electoral strategy over the coming weeks vital if it is to emerge the strongest party.

Of all general elections, this is the one to expect the unexpected and who will be the largest party in the 31st Dail is far from a done deal. What bodes well for Fine Gael is not only its current larger share of first preference votes, but also that it looks most likely to retain its 2007 voters, with 83 per cent saying they will stick with Fine Gael, compared to 75 per cent for Labour and 35 per cent for Fianna Fail.

Even though Labour's share is down at 24 per cent, compared to where a number of polls showed the party last September at 33 per cent to 35 per cent, it now appears to be holding firm and is certainly in a position of strength on which to build in the coming weeks. Looking at both Fine Gael and Labour's current position, it is totally understandable how neither wanted to enter a pre-election pact; as who will hold the negotiating reins of power, (should we get to coalition negotiations), is still wide open.

The Green Party would do well to be at this table, with only one per cent of first-preference votes. If it does manage this, it would surely be a rainbow coalition situation we find ourselves in.

A Fine Gael/Labour coalition is possibly the most talked about. However, if one of these parties performed strongly enough, it might have the option of talking to independents, Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail, as all three groups are likely to have a significant minority position. While Labour has openly stated that it will not go into government with Sinn Fein, just over half of past Labour supporters would support this declaration, so never say never.

Apart from the obvious regional variations in part allegiance, age is one of the more interesting variables. Comparatively, Fianna Fail performs well among not only its older voters aged 65+, but also among 18- to 24-year-olds, which, even if this doesn't materialise into significant votes this time, is an opportunity for Micheal Martin over the coming years to appeal to the young voter.

Labour has a position of comparative strength amongst 25- to 49-year-olds, while Fine Gael performs particularly well amongst 50- to 64-year-olds. Independents currently hold a particular appeal for those aged 25-34.

There has been much talk of Labour's strength in Dublin, but both Labour and Fine Gael perform equally well in Dublin and the rest of Leinster, with Fine Gael drawing its lead outside Leinster, where Labour is traditionally weaker.

For Sinn Fein, it is difficult to assess whether Gerry Adams's public persona is an electoral advantage or not. Twenty-eight per cent of the country are satisfied with his performance as party leader, and this rises to one-in-three young voters and middle/lower socio- economic voters.

So nationally, he is stronger than Enda Kenny, and more believe Gerry Adams is doing a good job than would vote for his party. So, on balance, he would appear to be positive factor in Sinn Fein's chances.

After the past few weeks, it is not surprising that an overwhelming 95 per cent of the nation are dissatisfied with the Government's performance and specifically 87 per cent with Brian Cowen's. Enda Kenny's rating continues to haunt him with only 26 per cent of the country, (and 47 per cent of those who voted Fine Gael in 2007), satisfied with his performance.

Younger voters appear least impressed. This compares with 45 per cent of the nation, (and 84 per cent of 2007 Labour voters), being satisfied with Eamon Gilmore. Clearly, Gilmore's personal rating is an asset for the Labour Party, while that of Enda Kenny's is far less so. Both of which are factors that should be considered in both parties' electoral strategy?

As the 30th Dail is about to be dissolved, the election ahead has to be one of the most open and unpredictable in memory. With the country in a heightened state of anger and anxiety, the candidate and party who can connect most with the current mood is likely to have a significant advantage.

Richard Waring is Chief Executive Officer of MillwardBrown Lansdowne

Sunday Independent