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Irish Times opinion poll results signal more pain may be on the way for the Government

Pat Leahy: Cost-of-living crisis is fuelling a mood for political change


If the Coalition was buoyed by the large majority in its favour at the Dáil vote of confidence on Tuesday evening, then Ministers, TDs and officials will be brought back to earth with a bump by the results of this morning’s latest Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll.

From the Coalition’s perspective, it is the most worrying poll in a long time — perhaps since the Government was formed just over two years ago. It sees support slump for the two big parties of the Government with the third remaining rooted at a level that would see its Dáil seats massacred in a general election.

The falls in the satisfaction ratings for the Government and its leaders are even more precipitous than the party numbers

Fianna Fáil drops by three, Fine Gael by four and the Greens are at just 3 per cent — giving the Government parties a combined support of just 41 per cent of voters, the poll suggests. By contrast, a year ago, their combined support was 53 per cent.

For ages, the don’t panic faction within Government would point to the combined support of the Coalition parties — for a long time not far off where it was at the last general election — and tell colleagues not to worry so much about the Sinn Féin gains. That’s no longer a viable response.

Opinion poll, party support July 2022

The falls in the satisfaction ratings for the Government and its leaders are even more precipitous than the party numbers. Taoiseach Micheál Martin sees his rating slump from a healthy 51 per cent in April to a queasy 40 per cent, while Leo Varadkar is even worse — down by 12 points to 36 per cent. Eamon Ryan is down four to 15 per cent. The Government as a whole is down from 43 per cent to 31 per cent, by some distance the lowest rating it has received since being formed. An equivalent level was achieved by the last government in February 2020 — just before it was monstered in the general election. The Coalition had a good poll in April, but that has all been undone today — and then some.

There has been a lurch in the public mood since the spring as the cost of living crisis has begun its relentless squeeze on the incomes and living standards of people. Just under half of respondents to today’s poll (49 per cent) say that it has become “a lot more difficult to manage financially”, while another 41 per cent say it has become a little more difficult. Among those under 34, 54 per cent of people say that has become a lot more difficult. That tells its own story.

The public is also overwhelmingly pessimistic about the prospects for the immediate future. A huge majority — 70 per cent — say they expect the economic situation to be worse in 12 months. Just 9 per cent say they think it will be better, while 18 per cent expect it to be the same.

Those who think that the country is “generally going in the wrong direction” outnumber those who think the country is going in the right direction by 2-1: 60 per cent to 30 per cent.

Opinion poll, satisfaction, July 2022

Asked about their attitude to change in the country, 38 per cent favour “radical change”, with 47 per cent favouring moderate change. Just 11 per cent are “wary of change”. This is clearly a country that is fertile ground for a party promising change — and Sinn Féin, whose leader and frontbenchers rarely omit the word from their statements and soundbites, is spectacularly well-positioned to take advantage of that.

What will really worry the Coalition is that this poll may be nowhere near the worst of things. If the cost of living squeeze is driving down support for the Government parties — and that is clearly what the poll suggests — then more pain is on the way because the expectation is for cost of living pressures to intensify in the second half of the year. The prospect for EU-wide energy shortages in the winter if Russia shuts off the supply of natural gas is a real one and while Ireland is not as exposed as other countries, it is hardly immune from the rising prices that will inevitably accompany such a calamity. Today’s poll findings suggests that this would pile political pressure on the Government.

Leo Varadkar’s party was nervy before this; it’ll be a lot jumpier now

True, the Budget will offer some respite for people — but as Ministers make clear regularly, Budget measure will only mitigate the effects of inflation, not cancel them out completely.

Things are bad for Fianna Fáil for sure — though the party consistently scores higher with the Ipsos face-to-face methodology than it does with either internet or telephone polls — but they are worse for Fine Gael, which sees its support at a level not plumbed since 1994. Leo Varadkar’s party was nervy before this; it’ll be a lot jumpier now.

With the Dáil term finishing today and the August break looming, Sinn Féin will look to the autumn with confidence after today’s numbers. The party did not have a great outing at the Dáil motion of confidence on Tuesday but what happens in the Dáil often passes many voters by, whereas what’s happening at the petrol pumps, and with their grocery bills, and their rent, and the cost of sending their children back to school — that never goes unnoticed. If tough economic conditions give the opposition a wind at its back, and that’s normally what happens, then Sinn Féin will be playing with a strong wind for the rest of the year. It may only be the first half of this Government’s period in office, but Sinn Féin is certainly building up a big lead.

Good news today also for the Independents and some of the smaller parties. People Before Profit/Solidarity sees its support jump from 1 per cent in April to 3 per cent today, while support for independents rises 14 per cent (this figure includes some other small parties mentioned by respondents), an increase of 4 per cent since April.

So it is not just Sinn Féin that prospers from the Government’s woes. But it is clearly Mary Lou McDonald’s party that is the principal beneficiary. It is hard to see how that trend will not continue.