Early signals that recovering economy could benefit government parties
The first poll after the summer recess, suggests that a good summer, from both a weather and an economic narrative point of view, has benefited the government parties. Fine Gael reaps the biggest dividends with a 3% improvement in first preference share since the last poll in June. After what was a relatively tough start to the year, when the parties support had been trending downwards throughout March to June, it will be a relief for the party to see gains this period. The rise in support in this poll only claws back that lost during those months at the start of year, but does show that the party can winback support with a prevailing wind behind them. Of course, there are plenty of hurdles to jump, none more so than the water charge introduction, but positive economic news may offset the negative publicity.
The key to an improving economy is whether that voter sentiment will be impacted enough to offset anger at austerity in the years before this, and so potentially see voters prepared to return to Fine Gael and help them secure a second term in government. This poll has some early signals that that this might be the case, with clear messages in terms of economic competence, forgiveness or understanding of austerity, and general positive attitude about the way the country is moving.
Two-fifths of all (40%) voters agree that they trust the Fine Gael and Labour coalition to manage the economy. This is significant as we have seen in elections previously that perceived economic competence has a direct impact on likelihood to vote for that party. As such, an increase in the coalitions perceived economic competence of 6% since just after the budget last year, and 2% compared to just before the budget in 2012, at which vote intention support for Fine Gael was above 30%, is positive for the party. More importantly, it suggests that either Fine Gael or Labour has headroom to regain further first preference support, given that there is a gap of 4% between their economic competence standing among voters (40%) and their joint first preference support (36%).
Perhaps partially linked to the economic competence rating, and surely influenced by indications by government party sources that we have seen our last austerity budget, is the finding that voters also appear to be prepared to forgive the austerity that had been such a driver of dissatisfaction just a few months ago. Almost three in five voters (58%) agree today that the government’s austerity policies were necessary. Greatest support is of course among Fine Gael voters, but there are also relatively high levels of support among both Labour and Fianna Fail supporters, and even 2 in 5 Sinn Fein supporters now agree that the policies were necessary. The idea that pain is soon forgotten when better times arrive appears to be very much the case for many voters.
Voters also appear to be pretty positive about the state of the country as a whole. Three-fifths of the electorate (60%) currently believe that the country is on the right track. We asked a similar question back in January 2013, and at that time only 41% felt the country was on the right track. This represents a very significant change in outlook for the country as a whole. It is also clear that the government at the helm, must surely be getting some credit for that fact.
So how hopeful can Fine Gael be that signs of a more positive voter sentiment can drive back the voters they have lost since the last election? It appears that the key is translating positive sentiment with regard to being on the right track and forgiving austerity, into clear support of trust in the coalition on economic matters. When we look at these indices by lapsed Fine Gael voters, a relatively high proportion (65%) already agree that the country is on the right track, slightly less are ready to support the assertion that austerity was the best way to go about the recovery (58%), but only just over a third (37%) are as yet prepared to state that they trust the current coalition to manage the economy. The task for Fine Gael is therefore to deliver more trust in their economic capability, and to further link the countries apparent improving fortunes to its own actions.
At the same time in order to ensure the government lasts long enough for the parties to benefit from continued improvements in the economy, it is clear that Labour will require more support from its partners. At present the situation for Labour is certainly not as rosy, despite the positive improvements in the economy. In fact it is clear that their voters are not as easily won back. Support for the party is up just 1% despite the change in leadership and the improved conditions that have occurred since the last poll. Current Labour voters are not as positive about the improvements in the country, and lapsed voters are less so. Less than half (46%) of those lapsed voters who voted for Labour at the last election, but do not plan to do so now, feel the country is on the right track (a similar level to Sinn Fein voters), or that the austerity put in place by the government was necessary. At the same time just 30% of those lapsed Labour voters trust the coalition to manage the economy.
Labour also has something of a balancing act to achieve to please all of its supporters at the budget and so improve its economic competence standing. While the current supporters are most in favour of public spending on public services over tax cuts in the next budget (77%), the lapsed Labour voters are not so sure about this with less agreeing that this should be the case (57%).
It is clear that how this budget is delivered may have a significant effect on both the government parties, and it may be that with still limited resources and trying to meet several audiences’ needs it fails to reach any of them. A balance between taxation relief and easy to understand benefits for public services is essential if both government parties are to prosper from it.
Download full PDF version of the report below:-
SBP September 2014 Poll Report