Labour suffers post referendum hangover

Published by: Richard Colwell


It’s just over a month since the marriage referendum, and already the landscape of political support is changing. Government parties had noticed significant gains in support in the run up to the Referendum with Fine Gael growing share to 28%, and Labour returning to double digits with support at 10%. However, some of this resurgence in support may be more to do with the extent of the media coverage they reviewed during the referendum as opposed to real change in voter behaviour.


A month further down the line and certainly support has not been maintained for Labour, who now see their share of the vote fall to 7% (-3%), a real disappointment for the party after some small gains. At the same time Fine Gael have held steady at 28%, bringing them ever closer to that 30% which would bring them in sight of their original 2011 general election support. So why has Labour, in a relatively quiet month politically speaking, not managed to maintain their levels of support, while Fine Gael hold steady?

There appears to be a correlation between Labour support and any media coverage they receive, with its impact being more keenly felt by them rather than other larger parties. When surrounded by positive news stories, such as the recent marriage referendum, Labour, to a degree, see the benefits, noting a positive uplift. However when a negative story breaks, either directly related to either Labour or Fine Gael, it is most likely Labour that incurs the impact. In a quiet period when media attention is less focused on the two main parties, Fine Gael have the strength of loyal support to maintain first preference, Labour have not the same sticking power or loyalty built up among voters, which sees them lose out particularly to Independents.

What is clear is that Labour is guilty by association for many and the reverse is not always evident. The poor performance of Labour in the local and European elections in June last year saw the party at 7%, the same low support level as this poll, leading to the resignation of Gilmore and Burton subsequently taking his place. In the polls however, while very poor for Labour and a notable decline, Fine Gael remained unscathed. During the ‘Garda Gate’ controversy in spring of last year involving the Garda Commissioner and Alan Shatter it was evident that Fine Gael had been impacted, but Labour by association had also been damaged. When the first Irish Water Bills arrived at people’s doors in April this year there was again a decline for both parties.

Coinciding with Labour’s decline, is the gain for Independents moving from 22% first preference support to 27%. In fact, when you look at those having voted for Labour in the last general election, only a third remain loyal, with another third claiming they will vote for an independent candidate, and the final third scattered across remaining parties. While not the highest level of support recorded for Independents, it certainly brings them back in the race after a period of decline when they have been out of the media spotlight. As Labours attention declines; the voter’s lacking loyalty to the party see a natural progression to Independents, suggesting again the need for Labour to maintain a positive focus. Secondly, more recently there have been rumours of an impending new party, consisting of independent TDs Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy, and Stephen Donnelly. Shortall of course being well regarded among the Labour voters may be taking some of her old party support towards Independents, but to a potentially greater degree the idea of a new party with her at the helm may be affecting Labour. It will be interesting to see the impact if a new party is to emerge, given that Renua has to date had little impact, with 1% support in this most recent poll. It begs the question if support for Independents really is simply that and faith in the so called ‘alliance’, rather than a demand for a new party as had been so widely suggested.

Labour are not the only party to record declines this period. It seems that, similar to Labour, the high received during the referendum for Sinn Féin has been somewhat short lived, as they return to 18% first preference (-3%). Sinn Féin had been noting positive support, closing the gap with Independents but has seen a significant gap emerge this poll, now slightly lower than Fianna Fail for first preference. Some of these declines may be somewhat impacted by the recent controversy surrounding Sinn Féin’s expulsion and suspension of certain councillors in Cork East, with waters somewhat muddied as to the reasons behind their decisions it leaves some voters uncertain and they seem more comfortable supporting the Independent candidate.

With the 2016 general election beginning to loom, buoyed by some suggestions of it taking place early; it is likely that we will see many changes in support between now and then. Many agendas remain on the table for discussion and debate, including the rejection to pay water charges, although it is unclear as to how long this will retain traction, the promise from Burton to repeal the 8th Amendment if elected again and more recently the commitment to cut USC alongside proposed tax cuts in Budget 2016, suggesting the election has in form already begun.

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BP June 2015 Poll Report