Government recovery short-lived?

Published by: Richard Colwell


Last month saw the Sunday Business Post publish the RED C poll that Government strategists had been waiting for. Finally a significant uplift was seen for the government parties that appeared to suggest the public had begun to give credit to Fine Gael and Labour for the improving economic situation. Surely this was the start of the momentum back to government parties?

A month on, and instead of building on those gains, Fine Gael and Labour will be disappointed to see support slip back again. Both parties have seen support drop back by 2%, not quite wiping out the gains last month, but it certainly feels like 2 steps forward and 1 step back. So why has momentum failed to materialise for the government parties?

The first reason is the new reality of Sinn Fein.
Sinn Fein now appears able to swat away losses on the back of any controversy just a month later, the like of which hasn’t been seen since Bertie Ahern was nicknamed the Teflon Taoiseach. Last month saw the party lose 4% support on the back of a significant controversy surrounding their handling of alleged sex abusers within the party. Just a month on and that support has bounced back again, leaving Sinn Fein securing 22% of the first preference vote. This is a recurring theme for the party, where it appears any scandals or misdemeanors are quickly forgotten by supporters.

The second fact to bear in mind is the speed of gains.
Last month we saw quite rapid gains for government parties, perhaps even a little bit quicker than we had expected. It appears part of this was the government doing better, but the gains were bolstered by the fact that Sinn Fein was losing support at the same time. This has now been corrected, and perhaps the much smaller gains now for the Government parties, are more realistic rate of gain that the government need to get use to.
The third factor is water charges.

It doesn’t matter how much credit the government parties get for an improving economic situation, anything to do with the water charges remains pretty toxic. The past month has seen actual bills finally being sent to households. There is no question that this will have done the government no favours in the poll, as it serves as very real reminder of the costs of Water Charges, and the voter’s anger about this issue. There has been much talk on social media of people sending the bills back with “unpaid” written on the envelope.

This leaves the current political landscape in something of a static position. Fine Gael, while making gains in recent months, is only clawing back lost ground at the end of last year, and it appears to be a more difficult ask for them to regain support in the early 30’s, last seen back in 2012.

Labour thought their troubles may be at and end, but again the drop back to 8% support also means they have plenty of work to do to secure some tight seats at the next election.

Fianna Fail appears to have hit a glass ceiling in the high teens, and simply can’t creep above 20%. Sinn Fein made good gains across 2014, but in 2015 any gains or losses have been short-lived and it has been a lot more rocky a ride for the part that has meant they are also pretty stable at support in the early 20’s.

In fact the only group that shows a consistent trend in recent months is the Independent and other party grouping. Support has been exceptionally high for these candidates and other parties throughout late 2014 and early 2015, but now it appears people are somewhat less convinced about casting their vote for these parties and candidates. The Green Party in particular appear to have lost some support, but all the smaller parties such as the Socialist party (less than 1%) and Renua (1%) are struggling to make a mark.

This is coupled with an increase in those who are now undecided as to how they will vote. Undecided voters have been at relatively low levels throughout 2014/2015 at around 14%. Today sees this figure rise to 17% of all likely voters. With Sinn Fein securing support at relatively high levels, and Independent support quite low, one conclusion is that those now unsure of how they vote are being torn between voting Independent or voting for Government parties. This is based on the fact that such a large cohort of those that have been suggesting they would vote for Independent candidates, previously voted for the government parties.

So maybe losses for Government parties this month are not quite as bad when taken into context of the Water Bills delivery, and the fact that there is potential to win those undecided voters back.

Download full April 15 GE Vote Intention report below:
SBP April 2015 Poll Report – General Election Vote Intention