All to play for in Dublin Bay South By-Election
Today’s poll would suggest the political landscape in Ireland remains stable, with no party recording any significant change. Over the last six RED C polls in as many months, we have seen both Fine Gael and Sinn Féin locked in a dead heat, with any gap between the two landing within margin of error.
The two parties have maintained a consistent level of support based on both age and socio-economic class. Sinn Féin dominate the youth vote (44%) and working class groups (40%), while Fine Gael hold a strong command of the grey vote (41%) and those in slightly higher social grades (34%).
With both parties having consolidated their bases, the middle cohort of 35-54 year olds are poised to play a pivotal role in the ability of either party to be the dominant force in the formation of the next government. As it stands the two parties are polling similarly well (SF 28%, FG 26%), however Sinn Féin has held a lead over Fine Gael amongst this age cohort in every RED C poll this year, with the gap closing in June.
Housing is a key issue for voters in this age bracket, particularly within Dublin Bay South which boasts some of the highest rents in the country. Last month’s RED C poll saw Sinn Féin lead on trust for housing nationally, but they lagged behind Fine Gael on other key issues such as health, the economy, covid, jobs and crime.
The by-election in Dublin Bay South could be seen as a dry run of future voter patterns in the next general election. At Fine Gael’s Ard Fheis last weekend, Leo Varadkar set out an ambitious goal of building 40,000 homes per year over the next 10 years, suggesting the Tánaiste is indeed very much in campaign mode.
Sinn Fein also need to ensure that their supporters actually vote, with the age profile of supporters more likely to suggest they won’t turn out as strongly as those for Fine Gael. RED C poll results include a voter turnout weighting from which the Sinn Fein share is pushed down slightly as a result.
With some Irish people relishing in the schadenfreude of the DUP leader Edwin Poots’ resignation last week, and the more serious issues surrounding Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol, many are increasingly talking about the prospect of a United Ireland in their own lifetime, perhaps most notably the Tánaiste.
The public are less convinced of its possibility. While there is certainly not a clear majority either way, when questioned this month people appear pessimistic that there will be a United Ireland for this generation, with 45% believing the Island will not be reunified in their life time, versus the 39% that believe it will.
Some have criticised the timing of the Tánaiste’s statements, deeming them unhelpful, however the message was likely to resonate more with Sinn Féin voters (49% agree) than his own party members (36%); though this may be partly due to the inherent age profile of both party voters.
Though party support remains stable from our last poll across all parties, there has been a definite shift in public perception of government performance on the vaccine roll-out. 71% of the population approve of the job government is doing on the vaccine rollout, demonstrating a 30 point increase on April’s poll.
While it is a good sign for the country to see the majority of all party voters approve of the vaccine programme, Fianna Fáil will be disappointed with how little party preference has changed over the past few months. Perhaps compounded by uncertainty over the Delta variant and lack of certainty for Irish aviation, a perceived deferral of responsibility to NPHET, or recent controversies such as the HSE data breach and the National Maternity hospital, Irish voters are simply not looking to champion the party who lead the government at this time.
So where is Fianna Fáil’s vote going? With less than half of their voters (47%) from the Feb 2020 election giving the party a first preference in our current poll, the lapsed vote is split evenly between both right and left leaning parties, with Fine Gael and Sinn Féin taking the lions share.
To be losing strength in both legs, while already shouldering an enormous burden of a pandemic, its fiscal fallout, a housing crisis and tensions in NI, is not a desirable position for any party to be in when there are two larger parties waiting to push you over. The by-election on 8th of July will act as a litmus test to prove if Fianna Fáil are still a contender in what is looking increasingly like a two party race in terms of popularity with the electorate.