Who stands to benefit from return to normality?
This week’s poll shows a relatively static political scene in Ireland, as we continue with what appears to be slow but steady progress to administer sufficient vaccinations to re-open society. With not much going wrong right now, apart from niggles around how quickly the process is going, the government coalition’s share of the vote is relatively stable. Within this overall support there are however some anomalies.
Fine Gael continue to punch above the vote share it achieved at the ballot box in General Election 2020. In fact, there has only been a small slippage in support since the party received a boost from the rally round the flag impact, while acting as an interim government at the start of the pandemic.
In contrast their government partners in Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, have both suffered as the government has progressed.
Fianna Fáil have suffered most from the pandemic, losing around 10% of public support, or almost half of their voters since February 2020. Last month they returned to a low of 11% support, as teething problems with the vaccine rollout appeared to stand against them among the public. Today, that support has recovered somewhat, leaving them securing a slightly better 13% of the vote.
It has certainly been apparent that if things go wrong Fianna Fáil tend to be blamed ahead of their coalition partners, perhaps due to Micheál Martin being Taoiseach or the fact their Stephen Donnelly holds the most high profile position in health.
The Green Party also sees support continue to slide from the highs seen before the last election. For only the second time since April 2019 support for the Green Party drops to just 4% in today’s poll. Down almost half in just over a year.
Meanwhile in opposition Sinn Féin support is down marginally, having largely plateaued, after initial gains made since the election.
A couple of question are posed by these results.
- How is Fine Gael managing to retain support, in a government that is being questioned by the electorate over their handling of the pandemic, while their partners appear to be losing support at the same time?
- Why are Sinn Féin not able to keep momentum and reap further rewards of the difficulties the government parties are having?
More pertinently, are the positions of both these parties, in terms of public support as portrayed by polling at the present time actually realistic of what they might achieve in the face of an election, or somewhat abnormal based on the circumstances of the pandemic?
If we look at the Fine Gael support and analyse it within demographic subgroups, the current breakdown of support for the party looks awfully like that they had a few months before the last General Election.
So how secure is this vote share? It is clear that a significant chunk of that share seen in polling late 2019, fell away for one reason or another as a general election came more into focus. This suggests the party needs to be careful to assume the 30% support they are achieving now, is solid in the face of another general election. Much will depend on how the government gets through the reopening of society as vaccinations take hold, and crucially who is seen to be driving that agenda.
Fine Gael supporters certainly appear more critical of the vaccine rollout, than those who have remained with Fianna Fáil. They are also more likely to suggest that they would take the Astra Zeneca vaccine, and more likely to support carrying vaccine passports. This suggests that the strength of Fine Gael support will rely on them ensuring the reopening of society as soon as possible and sensible. Perhaps a slightly less cautious approach then one Fianna Fáil supporters might agree with?
For Sinn Féin, the difficulty is landing significant punches on topics and areas of interest outside of the pandemic, when COVID-19 so dominates everything that the public are interested in right now. Having said that the party has enjoyed a rise in support since the last election and has maintained this despite the normal rough and tumble of being in opposition.
With what appears to be solid support right now, does this leave the party in a strong position once COVID-19 falls down the list of priorities for the public? Certainly, the party’s success at the last election was very much built on issues around housing and health. Given it is very hard for the party to push these issue areas at the moment and they have retained support, it would seem quite likely that there are gains to be had once those issues again come under the spotlight.
The only question appears to be whether there is a ceiling to the level of support that Sinn Féin can achieve among older age groups, with the history of the party plays a more important role in voters decision-making.
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