Government Under Pressure as Fianna Fail Make Gains
The winter break hasn’t been a particularly good one for Fine Gael and their government partners, and this first RED C Sunday Business Post poll of the New Year reflects the lack of voter loyalty among the Irish electorate.
Having seen support trend downward during 2016, Fianna Fáil are the big winners, bouncing back in this poll to secure 27% of the first preference vote. A strong increase of 3% at the extremes of margin of error is positive growth for the party and more importantly brings a halt to declines seen throughout 2016. That it comes at a time when the Dail has not been sitting, suggests the party does well when the focus is the problems for the Government, such as the hospital trolley and housing issues. The main losses in support that lead to Fianna Fáil gains come from a combination of small drops for the government partners, but also a slightly heavier fall in support for Sinn Féin.
Both Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance see small drops of 1% each in first preference support. Not a disaster for either party by any means, and support for both has remained relatively steady since the last election. However it does reflect a very gradual downward trend for Fine Gael – perhaps not enough to put any significant pressure on Enda Kenny’s leadership directly, but enough to start making some TD’s a little more nervous that things are moving in the wrong direction
The government parties have spent quite a lot of time since November dealing with the recurrent hospital trolley and capacity crisis, and as the Dail was not sitting have been unable to offset that with any good news. It is clear that voters are also somewhat concerned about Ireland’s position and negotiations on Brexit. There certainly appears to be a view among voters that more needs to be done in these negotiations, and this is where pressure does come to bear on Enda Kenny. Many voters are concerned that Enda Kenny has chosen to lead negotiations, as well as acting as Taoiseach. Almost two thirds of voters (74%) say they would prefer someone given sole responsibility for negotiating an Ireland Brexit deal, rather than the Taoiseach take on this role on top of his other duties. This sentiment is not just held by opposition supporters, but is also evident among over two thirds (69%) of Fine Gael voters. It suggests voters are concerned by what they currently see of the government negotiations, on an issue they know will impact both the country and themselves personally.
The Independent Alliance drop of 1% in support is also relevant, as this is the lowest level of support the party has recorded in a RED C poll since the last election. It will most certainly set Independent Alliance ministers nerves on edge. At the same time it is worth noting that this is when within any sample error, and at the same time support for Other Independents has risen by 2% to the highest level seen since the last election. There clearly may still be confusion among voters between the two.
Sine Féin support declines by 2% to leave them securing 14% of the first preference vote. It should be noted however that the 16% secured in the last poll was a high for party during 2016. In reality support has fluctuated for the party between 13% and 16% since the last election, so today’s poll results for the party are actually relatively steady. The reason for the drop since November can perhaps be placed on issues in Northern Ireland, with the party collapsing the Stormont parliament at a time when voters are very concerned about the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic in any Brexit deal. There was also relatively heavy coverage of Gerry Adams claimed knowledge with regard to the murder of Brian Stack.
The other smaller parties all retain similar levels of support seen at the end of 2016, with the Social Democrats, AAA-PBP and the Green Party all securing 4% share of the vote, while Renua remains on 1%.
Overall then a good start to 2017 for Fianna Fáil, with a corresponding poor one for the Government Parties. At this stage probably not enough to threaten the current coalition or confidence and supply arrangements, but a marker for the future should these trends continue.
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