Wednesday 21 November 2018

After the ugliest week in years, FF re-emerges as poster boy

Today's poll makes grim reading for Enda Kenny, but the pseudo opposition will be boosted by their showing

'For Enda Kenny, the news is grim. Fine Gael has dropped four points since the last comparable poll in October. It will provide added impetus for those clamouring for his resignation' Photo: Damien Eagers
'For Enda Kenny, the news is grim. Fine Gael has dropped four points since the last comparable poll in October. It will provide added impetus for those clamouring for his resignation' Photo: Damien Eagers

Paul Moran

The latest Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll, conducted over 10 days up to and including last Thursday, coincided with one of the most dysfunctional weeks in Irish politics in several years.

It captures the public's reaction to an extraordinary seven days, where shifts in the narrative moved at a pace that the Trump administration would be proud of.

For Enda Kenny, the news is grim. Fine Gael has dropped four points since the last comparable poll in October. It will provide added impetus for those clamouring for his resignation. That is a foregone conclusion, but it simply weakens his hand further in terms of leaving office at a time of his suiting. Unless the hawks in his party are magnanimous, he may not reach the milestone of being Fine Gael's longest-serving leader.

Of course, this is simply a snapshot, and the public has shown itself to be fickle - opinion ebbs and flows like the tide. However, for Kenny, the tide is now firmly against him.

The main beneficiary of this poll is undoubtedly Fianna Fail. It has increased six points to 33pc, and has opened up clear blue water between itself and the main government party. This is by far the highest rating it has received since the crash.

It has put on a competent performance being in pseudo opposition. The party's response to the McCabe controversy has been measured. But let's not think that this is solely because it thinks it is the right thing to do. Fianna Fail is playing the long game. Micheal Martin chose to be statesman-like in terms of his response to last week. The alternative was that a general election would be called. Most politicians don't have the appetite for one, and the public certainly does not. For Fianna Fail to pull the plug could have backfired spectacularly.

The public, still weary from last year's election and the tortuous government formation, could well have taken out its frustration on FF for a perceived knee-jerk reaction for political gain.

Looking at our poll results since the General Election, Fianna Fail's support has been increasing incrementally, and surged last week. It has, in effect, outmanoeuvred Fine Gael over the past 12 months. Of course, it doesn't have the baggage of trying to cobble and continually gel together a disparate group which makes up the Cabinet table.

Sinn Fein, generally the star of mid-term opinion polling, is stagnating. It hasn't made any move, despite the Government's travails.

Satisfaction with the Government has unsurprisingly slipped. Nearly two in three (64pc) are unhappy with its performance. Traditionally we see a bounce in government satisfaction in the first poll of a new year (arguably because they have been out of view over the Christmas recess). This long-term phenomenon has been reversed this year.

Of course, the focus this weekend is on Kenny and his forecast imminent departure. Ironically, the events of the past week have not done much damage to his personal satisfaction ratings. The numbers happy with his performance have dropped two points to 27pc, well within the margin of error. Reflecting other findings, the most effective leader is Martin (up one to 44pc). Satisfaction among his own FF supporters is at an all-time high (84pc).

Turning again to Kenny, the proportion of those who feel he should resign has remained steady (albeit deeply in negative territory). Interestingly, satisfaction with his performance among his own party supporters has actually increased (up five to 73pc).

Much has been written today about potential successors to the Fine Gael leadership. Among the general public, neither of the two leading candidates (Varadkar 27pc, and Coveney 23pc) are really capturing the imagination.

Among Fine Gael supporters, Varadkar opens up a gap (37pc vs 28pc), but this is not as significant as he may well like. Intriguingly, among the party faithful, over one in five (22pc) would prefer neither, or somebody else. This may well lead to a third party entering the race.

Whilst all these headline results are striking, there are some other, more subtle shifts illuminated in today's poll. The appetite for Independents/other parties has collapsed since the General Election. Collectively they muster 16pc of the vote (Greens included). Contrast this with the 30pc they claimed last February. It may be that the promise of new politics was a bridge too far, and the public has noticed. To reinforce this point, Kantar Millward Brown adds a Toxicity measure - that is, which party would people not vote for. There have been notable increases in negativity towards all of the smaller parties.

For some, the Independents/smaller parties have flattered to deceive. For others, they have reneged on their positions. This has had the effect of increasing cynicism among many. It has ironically goaded voters back to the fold of the poster boy of all that was perceived to be wrong in Irish politics - Fianna Fail.

This is reflected in the fact that there is disillusionment with politics in general - as in the aftermath of the 2011 election, we were again assured that after last February, there would be a change in how politics was conducted. The public has rated Leinster House's performance in a more uncertain fashion. When asked if the past 12 months have been a good year for Irish politics, less than one in five (19pc) agree. Some 35pc feel it has been a bad year, with 37pc saying it was indifferent.

Moving away from politics, there is one statistic that stands out dramatically. In any other week, it would potentially have been headline news. We have tracked consumer sentiment for nearly 30 years. That is, do people believe they will be better off, worse off or about the same this time next year?

The results this weekend are revealing. Over one in four (27pc) believe that they will be financially better off over the next 12 months, compared with just 14pc saying they will be worse off. Whilst the numbers may sound modest, this is the largest measure of positivity seen since the crash. In essence, there is a net positivity of +13 (better off minus worse off). Since the crash, the average sentiment has been -23. Negativity has averaged at 39pc since 2008.

Given the uncertainty over Brexit, the impact of Trump and the instability bubbling just below the surface in Europe, this illustrates a remarkably upbeat population. However, there is a stark geographical and political message as well. Two in five Dubliners (where the Government receives its highest satisfaction rating) feel that the future is bright. A two-tier society is as strong as ever, whereby the capital flourishes whilst the rest of the country feels left behind.

Paul Moran is an associate director at Kantar Millward Brown

Sunday Independent

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