Danger for Fianna Fail

What has appeared to be a relatively bad start for Micheál Martin as Taoiseach, has likely been made worse by the further collapse in support for his party Fianna Fáil in today’s poll.

A series of issues mainly put upon him by his party colleagues’ bad judgment, including the loss of two Ministers for Agriculture in just a few weeks, have done him and the party no favours.   The signs that the party is somewhat divided and not singing from the same hymn sheet, characterised by the number of party TD’s complaining they didn’t receive the call for cabinet, surely do not help either.

During the period of government formation, the established wisdom was that Fianna Fáil were between a rock and hard place.  Go back to the people and there was good chance that Sinn Fein, with more candidates in play, would capitalise on their newfound levels of support.  Quite likely when you see the party continue to secure 27% of the first preference vote in today’s poll.

But going into government for Fianna Fáil was also dangerous territory.  The leadership committed to not going into coalition with Sinn Féin during the campaign.  At the same time the idea of a coalition with Fine Gael, an anathema to many in the party, only made sense if the resulting government really managed to get things done and be seen as a success.

Unfortunately for Micheál Martin and the party, the perception among voters is that this has not materialised, as yet.  In fact, satisfaction in the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic here has collapsed since the new government came in.  Back in April, when an “interim” Fine Gael government were managing the lockdown, satisfaction with the government stood at 76%.  Now with the new coalition, led by Micheál Martin as Taoiseach, it stands at just 36%.

The accepted commentary to this is that “it’s far easier to manage a lockdown, than it is to open up”.  To be honest, however true that is, I am not sure the public really think like that, or care judging by today’s poll.

After a week when TD’s and party members suggested they were not happy with how the party is being run, likening Micheál Martin to a schoolteacher; the further decline in support for the party will certainly not be welcomed.

The most upsetting part for the Fianna Fáil faithful, will be how Fine Gael have come through all the recent issues unscathed.  After all, the most recent scandal has centred around the slow and eventual resignation of former Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan.  However, this does not appear to have done Fine Gael any significant damage, as they hold on to the same share of first preference vote they had in May.

At 35% support, this is a long way ahead of what they achieved at the last election, and is at the same level as when voters felt the government were doing a great job, and ruling parties around the world were all benefiting from a “rally around the flag” uplift.

Most governing parties around the world have seen this “rally around the flag effect” dissipate as the impact of the virus has continued.  So, the fact that Fine Gael have held onto these gains is interesting.

Going second as Taoiseach now certainly looks like the perfect decision for Leo Varadkar.   All the benefits of dealing with the lockdown effectively, while managing to get out of the direct firing line when the flack starts to flow.   But it is hardly as if the Tánaiste has been camera shy.

The perhaps more experienced Fine Gael government ministers do appear more at home in the media spotlight, than their Fianna Fáil counterparts, and despite the latter’s claims that the former was “all about spin” when in government.  There are suggestions that maybe Fianna Fáil need to learn some of those same PR or spinning techniques themselves?

Certainly, they have work to do in the months ahead to win back lost voters since February.  Most of whom have moved their support to their government partners, the fear of which led many to suggest they should not go into government in the first place.

In fact, almost 2 in 5 people who voted Fianna Fáil at the last election, now suggest they would vote Fine Gael in any new election – many of these are core older voters that have voted for the party for years.  While regional figures need to be treated with some caution, indications are that support for the party in the capital has collapsed at just 4%.  At the same time 1 in 10 have been lost to Sinn Féin, and others have moved support to smaller parties such as the Independents or the Social Democrats.

History suggests there is real danger here for the party, they need to see their fortunes change over the coming months; or could very well end up being blamed for all that is wrong with the current government and suffer real damage as a result.

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September 2020 Poll

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