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Taoiseach awaits 'vaccine bounce' as two-thirds say his pandemic handling has been poor

New polling by Red C on behalf of The Journal shows that just one in three think Martin has handled the pandemic well

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Government Buildings.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin at Government Buildings.

As part of a monthly series, The Journal and Red C ask readers questions about their daily lives and the issues that really matter to them. 

ALMOST TWO-THIRDS of people believe Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been poor. 

New polling by Red C on behalf of The Journal shows that just one-in-three think Martin has handled the pandemic well, with the Taoiseach not enjoying favourable pandemic ratings among any age category or in any part of the country. 

The polling is based on a survey of 1,000 Ireland adults taken last week who were asked to rate their perception of how eight different world leaders handled the Covid-19 pandemic.

The poll found that New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is viewed by almost nine in ten as having handled the pandemic well, with former US president Donald Trump down at one in ten.

Martin is mid-table, with one third of voters saying he has performed well, a similar percentage as EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and slightly ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  

The view of Johnson is perhaps the best international comparison, such is the proximity of the two countries and Irish voters’ exposure to UK news.

It also interesting in the context of the “vaccine bounce” Johnson is receiving in UK polls and which the Taoiseach has yet to benefit.  

Martin’s entire time as Taoiseach has been during the Covid-19 pandemic and he took over at a tricky period when Ireland had flattened the first wave but was plotting a course out of lockdown. 

Seven weeks into his leadership, after the country had opened up and cases began to rise, restrictions were tightened on both indoor and outdoor gatherings. Public adherence to the restrictions remained relatively solid but questions loomed over some apparent contradictions in the guidelines.

The government’s response was to focus on the reopening of schools and the launch of its comprehensive Living with Covid-19 plan a month later.

The plan was designed to plot a course for varying levels of restrictions over the following six months, with counties envisaged at different levels depending on the prevalence of Covid-19. 

Instead, most of the country has been under the highest level of restrictions for most of the period since, with an easing around Christmas that has been the subject of significant debate

The most-deadly third wave of virus and the emergence of new variants has meant the government’s strategy has effectively shifted to maintaining the country under tight restrictions until vaccines can be rolled out to most of the country. 

This is the task the HSE and the government now faces and how they fare could be make-or-break for Martin if the UK example is anything to go by. 

‘Vaccine bounce’

Back in December Johnson was trailing his Labour rival Keir Starmer by five points on the question of who would make a better Prime Minister. Johnson now now leads Starmer on the same question by six points

The improvement in Johnson’s ratings has been attributed to the fast pace of the UK’s vaccine roll-out, despite the country’s overall high Covid-19 death rate.

With Ireland and most EU countries slower out of the blocks on vaccines, support for Martin and his party has perhaps suffered. 

An opinion poll last week put support for Fianna Fáil at 11%, half the 22% figure the party received in the February 2020 general election. 

The hope for the Taoiseach is that this may represent a low watermark. This week Ireland crossed the million vaccine dose threshold and has laid out plans for the arrival of the almost four million doses of vaccine over the coming three months

It remains to be seen whether Martin’s poll numbers will rise as the vaccine roll-out continues but the polling suggests there certainly is room for improvement. 

Martin has been under pressure from his own party’s TDs over Ireland’s vaccine programme, with the Taoiseach insisting that he expects the overall situation with the pandemic to be greatly improved in the summer.  

One party colleague of the Taoiseach described the roll-out of the vaccine over the coming months as a “very exciting prospect” but that restrictions are necessary until then. 

“A cautious approach isn’t exciting but it’s clearly the right approach for the country now. The Taoiseach deserves support for trying to steer the country safely out of this phase,” John Lahart TD said.  

“I hope the anticipated abundant supply of vaccines materialises, it’s a very exciting prospect. It will surely lead to a bounce in the nations mood and hopefully for the party too.”

Another party TD Barry Cowen said that, regardless of any missteps up until now,  should the vaccine programme deliver it would provide space for recovery. 

“The government’s focus is on meeting its commitments to vaccinate 82% of the population by the end of June. It’s also on preparing a mechanism to open the economy and society in sequence that correlates to that rollout,” he told The Journal.

“Behind the scenes it should be finalising a further economic recovery plan, especially to aid the sectors most impacted by ongoing pandemic in addition to ensuring healthcare gets the required. ”

Details

The Red C poll also shows that support for the Taoiseach’s handling of the pandemic is strongest among those aged over 55, with 46% saying Martin has done well. In this category, a majority of 52% still saying he has done poorly. 

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Support for the Taoiseach’s pandemic handling among the 18-34 and 34-54 age groups is similar at 28% and 27%, with over two-thirds in each category disapproving of his handling. 

There is not huge deviation from respondents across the country, with support for Martin’s handling of the pandemic at between 33% and 36% among urban and rural voters.  

PastedImage-15771 Source: Red C

The polling also looked at the Taoiseach’s handling of the pandemic in contrast with some of his peers across the world. 

While Johnson’s support has improved among UK voters, the polling shows that Irish observers are less impressed, with just 29% thinking Johnson has done a good job over the course of the pandemic and 66% feeling he has done poorly. 

PastedImage-46554 Source: Red C

While Martin is polling 4 points better than Johnson among Irish voters, he also leads French President Emmanuel Macron with 30% rating positively his handling the pandemic.

The world leader closest to Martin is EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, with 34% feeling she has done a good job, although one in four had no opinion on her performance. 

Von der Leyen has faced criticism for the EU’s vaccination programme which has encountered supply issues and claims that the bloc’s procurement strategy has been too inflexible. 

Respondents to the poll were asked about their perception of eight world leaders’ handling of the pandemic, with former Trump in a distant eighth and Ardern the clear leader.  

New Zealand has a similar population to Ireland but its remote location and strict zero-Covid approach has seen it record just 26 coronavirus deaths during the whole pandemic. 

Ardern has received significant global media attention in recent years, following her response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting and her party’s socially progressive policies.

Red C interviewed a random sample of 1000+ adults online between 1 and 6 April 2021. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results weighted to the profile of all adults. Panellists were chosen at random to complete the poll, with quotas set and weights allocated on age, gender, class, region, education level and working status to ensure a nationally representative sample. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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