Stable political landscape suggests many issues are already baked in2023.05.02
The political landscape in Ireland is very stable in the latest Business Post/Red C poll, despite the political controversies of recent weeks. So far in 2023 most parties remain within the margin of error of where they started the year, with no clear trends developing for any of the parties.
Sinn Fein remain the largest supported party in the state, securing 31% of the first for the third month in a row. Fine Gael retain second place among the electorate, securing 22% of the first preference vote, with their partners in Government Fianna Fáil in third place with 16%, an increase of 1% since last month. The green party also see relatively stable support securing 4% of the first preference, also up 1% on last month. As such, the government parties improve support overall to secure 42% of voters first preference.
The Social Democrats support fall back by 1% after the boost seen following Holly Cairns election as leader last month, to secure 5% first preference. While Labour again retain the support of 4% of voters, and PBP-Solidarity and Aontú secure 2% first preference each. These figures are once undecided and non-voters are removed, with 10% of the electorate undecided and 4% claiming they would not vote.
One might ask how it is the case that the political landscape is so stable, when there appears to be uproar in the media and the opposition about a multitude of political events that have occurred this year.
It is important to remember however that unlike those of us who work closely in the political sphere, most voters don’t really think about their support for political parties nearly as much as we would like to believe. Most people are getting on with their day to day lives, and political party support doesn’t feature very highly.
But what about all the outrage on Twitter about the eviction ban, Niall Collins possible housing issues or the claimed associations between Mary Lou McDonald and gangland crime through Jonathan Dowdall? Surely that outrage must be seen in the polls.
Well, the first thing to be very careful about is translating anything we see on social media, into a representative sample of how the population at large think. Social media is not a good barometer for how the public at large feel. It is sometimes very hard if you do frequent these platforms to remember this.
Secondly, the big issues we might have expected to influence political support, are to some extent already baked in to where support stands right now.
Many commentators expected a severe voter reaction to the ending of the eviction ban by the government. Yet our polling last month (taken at the height of the debate on the issue) showed that voters’ opinions on the eviction ban were not clear cut. Many voters have family members or friends who are landlords and understood that there were issues on both sides. Moreover, those most impacted by the housing crisis may already have switched voting intention prior to the ban being lifted or were unlikely to vote for government parties in the first place.
To that end there was little impact on support last month for government parties, and that remains the case in April. Issues about how to deal with the housing crisis appear to already be baked in to where the parties stand now.
While housing is of course a key issue area for voters, it is also becoming clear that like health, many voters are not sure any party can solve the issues. Only 1 in 3 (36%) believe that Sinn Féin in government can solve the housing crisis, the majority of whom are Sinn Féin voters. Most of those saying they will vote for government parties do not believe Sinn Féin can solve the housing crisis. Along with the majority of those saying they will vote Independent or Labour.
Likewise, some might have expected Sinn Féin to suffer in this poll, due to heavy coverage of the Hutch case last week and renewed claims about how long the party and Mary Lou McDonald knew about Dowdall’s links with organised crime. Again, I would suggest that any voters that have an issue with this have already removed their support for the party.
Just before the Hutch trial was in the news, Sinn Féin support had been peaking closer to 36% in our polls and fell back after the possible links emerged to closer to low 30’s. In today’s poll 80% of those who say they will vote Sinn Féin, believe Mary Lou McDonald’s statement that she would not have allowed Jonathan Dowdall to be a Sinn Féin councillor or member if she knew he was involved in criminality. While 85% of Sinn Féin voters would trust a Sinn Féin justice minister to tackle gangland crime and subversive activity. At the same time, government party voters do not agree with either of these statements.
These strongly held views on both sides make it difficult for any party to have an impact on overall support but do also suggest that the current Sinn Féin vote at around 30% is relatively solid. Particularly as Mary Lou McDonald is seen as a strong possible Taoiseach by those who support the party, as well as a good few who don’t, including 1 in 4 of Fianna Fáil voters.
The only area where chinks of concern are seen among current Sinn Féin supporters are around tax and Foreign Direct Investment, where 1 in 5 supporters do have concerns that a Sinn Féin government could end seeing a reduction in FDI.
The full report can be downloaded below