The Difficult Balancing Act for Fianna Fáil – Nov 16 Poll

Published by: Richard Colwell

2016.11.28

Fianna Fáil are often cited as the effective “winners” of the last election, having come back from the verge of decimation in 2011, to push Fine Gael close for the highest share of the popular first preference vote across the country.  Having not been able to from a government themselves, and having made the decision not to go into government with Fine Gael, they set about ensuring that they effectively controlled the government and its agenda, by tough negotiating in the confidence and supply agreement.

At that time things couldn’t have been rosier, support for the party and the stand they took during negotiations was on the rise, reaching a high in the RED C polls of 29%.    This was some three percent ahead of Fine Gael and at this stage the question was being asked about how whether they would underpin the current government, if their fortunes continued to improve with the electorate as a whole.

Since then however, the picture hasn’t been so positive.  The summer recess appears to have stopped the momentum for the party.  Instead they have seen their fortunes diminish, and share of the first preference vote has seeped away again.  September saw the party still perform well at 27% share, but this was down 2% from pre-summer recess polling.  October they were down again to 26%, but still holding ground ahead of Fine Gael.  Now in November’s poll they have dropped back again to 24%, and as Fine Gael retain a pretty steady share, this means they have fallen back behind their arch rivals to similar levels seen at the last election.

If the fall in support simply a reaction to lower media presence by the party?  That seems unlikely – particularly as Micheal Martin had quite a heavy presence in the media at the start of this week when polling began.  But perhaps what he had to say in those interviews about Public Sector pay hasn’t done the party any favours.   Fianna Fáil have been pretty hawkish about public sector pay demands.  They have argued that services need to be put before pay increases, particularly with the unknown impact of Brexit coming down the line.  But as you will see elsewhere in the poll, this isn’t a view shared by a significant proportion of the population, many of whom support Fianna Fáil.  In fact of those that supported Fianna Fáil at the last election, 53% support public sector pay restoration even if it means reduced spending on public services, some way ahead of all other party supporters, apart from Sinn Fein supporters at 57%.

It is also becoming clear that in the current environment it is quite unlikely that Fianna Fáil will remove their support from the Confidence and Supply agreement.  For a start the numbers don’t stack up yet to suggest that the result of another election would look that different to the last one.  On this basis it is probably better for Fianna Fáil to hang on and hope that Fine Gael support declines for one reason or another as government goes about its business.    Conversely, as the likelihood of Fianna Fáil actually pulling support diminishes, this itself appears to be impacting on its own support levels.   But this could be short term pain for longer term gain.

The other problem for Fianna Fáil is that the longer the agreement goes on, the more similar the two parties possibly look to the electorate on a number of issues to voters, such as public sector pay.  Partly, this is because Fine Gael have to keep their policies in check within the constraints of the agreement.

The challenge for Fianna Fáil is all about the balance between ensuring their policies are part of the programme for government, while somehow keeping a distance from the government in the eyes of the electorate.  It is one that was easier to maintain when negotiating the programme for government, but is much harder to maintain now that programme is underway.

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