Voters give Government a “Could do much better” report card

Published by: Richard Colwell


The government’s voter report card in today’s Sunday Business Post/ RED C poll is not pretty reading for them.  Let’s face it, if your child came home with these results, it would certainly warrant a meeting with the head teacher at the very least.

Voters were invited to rate the government performance on the top five issues that the public are most concerned about.  Those being Brexit, the Economy, Homelessness, Housing and Rents, the Health Service and Climate Change.  In all cases the results are not great, and some are pretty poor.

  1. On handling Brexit, the public give the government a report card score of just below 6 out of 10 (5.66). This isn’t a great score, but is OK and is in fact a relative strength for the government.  Fine Gael voters are more forgiving on this aspect, giving voters a score of just over 7 out of 10, showing the importance of Brexit to those that support the government.
  2. On handling the Economy, the public give the government a rating of just over 5 out of 10 on average (5.37). Analysis in past elections has shown the importance of the economy on how people vote, and in this light again it’s not a great score.  It is however another relative strength for the government, with Fine Gael voters again scoring the government much better, at almost 7 out of 10 on their performance with regard to the economy.
  3. Climate change has been an issue much highlighted recently by the school children’s strike a few weeks ago. On this issue, the electorate gives the government a score of just 4 out of 10 overall (4.21).  By any measure this is a poor score.  It slightly improves among Fine Gael voters to just over 5 out of 10, but certainly room for improvement here.
  4. Then we get to the issues that are the real problem for the government. Health and Housing.  For Health voters give the government a score of just under 4 out of 10 (3.74).   This is really a very poor result, made worse by the fact that even Fine Gael’s own supporters can only muster a score of 5 out of 10.
  5. But the worst result for the government is on homelessness, housing and rents; where voters rate the government performance at just over 3 out of 10 (3.26). This issue is clearly a real problem for the government among voters, and even their own supporters can only muster a rating of 4.57 out of 10.

These are clearly very worrying report card results for the party, in light of a possible election within a year.  They are poor to the extent that many might question why, in light of these scores, just under a third of all voters still say that despite this scorecard they will give Fine Gael their first preference vote.

I think there are two key factors that might be influencing this relatively good support for Fine Gael despite a relatively low levels of satisfaction on some key issue areas.

Firstly, it is clear that despite what voters tell us, as has been proven time after time, the economy and people’s personal economic situation are vital in terms of how people vote.  The two factors that Fine Gael perform better on, both have a relevance to people’s personal economic situation.  This is emphasised by how much better those who say they will vote for the party, rate the government on both these factors.

The danger here lies in the outcome of Brexit.  What we can’t tell from these figures is how much of a cushion Brexit is giving Fine Gael, if at all.  It is clear that voters don’t want to “rock the boat” of the Irish political landscape, at a time when Brexit is on a knife edge.  Currently they are more supportive of the government over Brexit than anything else.  But what happens in the next few weeks when we get some kind of Brexit outcome?

If the UK crashes out of Brexit, it is unlikely that Fine Gael will continue to benefit from this cushion on support.  So, it is clear that a hard Brexit would be damaging to the party.  At the same time, what happens if some kind of agreement is reached on the withdrawal, that provides some kind of stability for the next 1-2 years.  Arguably, this could also take away the Brexit cushion supporting the party, as it is no longer as important to voters, and other issue such as health and housing will gain more prominence.

The second factor is about the alternative.  When voters weigh up the decision on who to vote for, they evaluate whether anyone else could do better.  Of course, we haven’t asked them to rate other parties on the same issue areas.  Clearly however, despite the low scores they give the government on some issues, many voters don’t currently believe the alternatives would perform any better.  The challenge for the other parties is to better persuade the electorate that they have clear policies on Health and Housing that would work harder than the current government, as when/if the danger of Brexit begins to subside, voters will surely focus attention more closely on the issues that they always say are most important to them.

Download full report here:

SBP March 2019 Poll Report – GE16