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Why has support for Fine Gael and Labour fallen?

Analysis: Support for the coalition parties took an unexpected turn in the poll published over the weekend.

Looking for answers: Enda Kenny and Joan Burton
Looking for answers: Enda Kenny and Joan Burton
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE WEEKEND’S RED C opinion poll for the Sunday Business Post reversed a recent trend of increasing support for the two government parties.

Both Fine Gael and Labour dropped two points each to 25 and 8 per cent respectively, a setback when both parties were just starting to believe that the public were coming back to them after a succession of bad polls last year.

Despite ongoing rumours of an early election it’s now increasingly likely, if not certain, that the coalition will hold out as long as it can and hope the poll numbers improve as the economy does.

But why the sudden and somewhat unexpected drop in support, and what about the state of the other parties? Here’s our take….

It wasn’t Siterserv

The poll numbers come at the end of a bad week for the coalition when the Siterserv controversy was blown wide open. Most voters won’t appreciate the nuances of the story or, as one minister put it to us yesterday, the view in coalition circles that “government has done nothing wrong here”.

File Photo Michael Noonan says Alan Dukes reassured him on Siteserv sale. Two former Fine Gael colleagues, Alan Dukes and Michael Noonan, at the centre of the Siteserv controversy Source: Photocall Ireland

The problem is that there is an undeniable whiff of rottenness about the whole matter. The McNulty debacle last year was an obscure Seanad by-election, but for many it stank of cronyism. This Siterserv story stinks. We’re not sure of what yet, but voters can certainly detect that something isn’t quite right about it, and that’s the problem.

However, as damaging as this may prove for Labour and particularly Fine Gael, this poll was taken between Monday and Wednesday of last week, when the Siteserv controversy was just starting to enter the public consciousness. It’s unlikely that it had such an effect as to knock two points off each of the government parties.

But it might have been mortgages

One minister we spoke to yesterday suggested that the coalition’s failure to act on the issue of distressed mortgage holders was the main reason for the drop in support. There are proposals in the works and an announcement is expected in the coming weeks.

But Fianna Fáíl spent a number of weeks hammering the government over its failure to do anything for standard variable mortgage rate holders. It’s arguably done more for those in distress by extracting a promise from AIB to cut rates in the coming months. The government will have to deliver something similar with its long-awaited announcement.

Not that it helped Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fail . Pictured (LTOR) Fianna F All the cute babies in the world won't help Micheál Martin. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Micheál Martin’s troops may have their internal difficulties but there is no denying that Fianna Fáil have had some considerable wins when it’s come to embarrassing and shaming this government, like the medical cards and garda malpratice controversies last year. So far this year, Michael McGrath has done sterling work on the mortgages issue, but there has been no poll dividend for the party, which saw a jump of just one point to 19 per cent in the latest poll.

At the party’s Ard Fheis over the weekend, Fianna Fáil figures staunchly maintained that the party is not actually on 19 per cent and that come the election it will capture more than 20 per cent of the vote. The problem is that mediocre poll ratings do little for morale and ensure that the awkward squad – the likes of Eamon Ó Cuív and John McGuinness – will continue to air their concerns about the party’s direction.

Sinn Féin returns to form 

By contrast, the other main opposition party has restored most of the support it lost over the Paudie McGahon controversy earlier this year. Having fallen sharply to 17 per cent in the March Red C poll, Sinn Féin has jumped five points to 22 per cent this time around. The fallout from Mary Lou McDonald being criticised by an internal Dáil committee over her naming of politicians in the Ansbacher dosser does not appear to have harmed the party one bit.

Sinn Fein Gay Marriage Equality Referendums Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Independents and others are still going strong 

Independent TDs believe their support will fall off as the election nears and people consolidate around the existing political parties. Though the independents and others category dropped two points this time around, it is still on a significant 26 per cent.

With Renua only just emerging and the Anti-Austerity Alliance becoming a growing political force, it will be interesting to see to what extent voters start to coalesce around these new movements in the months ahead, or whether they opt for one of the four main parties.

Read: 8 things we learned at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis

Read: The latest poll is bad for the government and REALLY good for Sinn Féin

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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