Stability despite the Instability

Published by: Richard Colwell


For as long as I have been polling, there have been people that do not understand why poll results do not reflect their views.  Even though someone may feel they have a majority view, this is often because people today tend to be more exposed to content that matches their own views, rather than opposing views.  Either through social media consumption, where we decide who to follow or who to block, or by only consuming content that matches our views.  This means we can often miss the fact that our views and those surrounding us are not universal.

One of the key benefits of political and social polling is to give everyone a voice, so that we do not forget that our views do not always match the publics.

The most recent version of this I have come across is when I was asked why the government parties were not doing worse in the polls now, despite the anger out there at the current situation with regard to COVID-19?  Part of this is down to the social conditioning described above, but perhaps this time it goes a little further than that.

To start with, in our poll today it is clear that people are not particularly happy with the government’s response to the pandemic. Many expect the government to be doing more to speed up vaccine delivery across the population. In fact, over half the population (55%) suggest the government needs to be doing far more to speed up the vaccination process. While only around 1 in 4 (23%) believe the government is doing a good job at rolling out the vaccines as quickly as possible.

So, it is perhaps valid to question on this occasion why the government parties have retained close to the level of support they achieved at the last election despite this anger?  The question then arises where do we expect annoyed Fine Gael and Fianna Fail voters to go?  The perceived lack of a palatable or credible opposition party for them to move to, means we could see a relative status quo, despite rising anger over lockdowns and slow vaccine rollout.

As the main opposition party, Sinn Fein do continue to garner strong support.  They have done extremely well since just before the last election, in building support on the back of those who feel disaffected with the old party system.  This has left them securing between 27% and 30% of the first preference vote in RED C polls since the election. Of course, there is potentially room for them to grow further, but right now this looks to be their new level, and that they have hit something of a ceiling for now.  It would appear that a rise in support may require further consolidation of the left, given that many older and more traditional Fine Gael and Fianna Fail voters, still would not bring themselves to vote for the party due to their past.

For both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the battle is about who comes out of the coalition securing that core conservative voter.  For now, it appears that Fine Gail are still benefitting from the boost they received around their handling of the initial pandemic onset, while Fianna fail are the party most punished for any negatively around the government’s handling of the crisis.

Could another force emerge to take support away from the traditional parties of government, that is palatable enough to persuade staunch former Fine Gael and Fianna Fail supporters to jump ship?

Labour have certainly been in this position before.  However, despite very strong media exposure particularly for party leader Alan Kelly, they appear to remain somewhat unpalatable to potential voters. Many of whom of course had trusted the party as an alternative in government in 2011 and are on record as having felt “let down” by the party during that term.  Despite this, they remain an option and do see small gains in Feb to secure 4% of the vote.

The Social Democrats are another possibility, and certainly they have seen the most consistent upward trend in support over recent polls, from a low base the party has increased its support level by 100% in just 5 months, from 3% in October to 6% in February.  These gains match the decline in support of the Greens, and it is this kind of momentum that could see the Social Democrats place themselves as a viable second opposition party outside of Sinn Fein, for disaffected Fine Gael and Fianna Fail voters.

Until the momentum becomes more definite however, it is likely that even disaffected voters will remain supporting the parties they have done for years. Meaning we will see relative stability in the political landscape, despite the instability in voters’ views of competence around the pandemic.

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February 2021 Poll