IT Poll suggests pre-Christmas Brexit euphoria around Taoiseach is starting to wear off

I’m generally not minded to bother readers with polls unless they tell us something new or challenging. Today’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI contains some details I think are well worth noting. Here are the headline figures…

Not a lot of change in the general pattern (note that independents still sit on shrinking ground), though as Damian Loscher notes Sinn Féin is up three points to 22%, its highest rating in this poll since early 2016. He also notes that:

Sinn Féin is most popular, attracting 42 per cent of the vote among 18- to 24-year-olds. The gains Sinn Féin has registered in today’s poll are sourced exclusively from the 18- to 49-year-old age cohort.

Mary Lou McDonald’s performance rating as a leader is a significant improvement on Adams last rating:

In this April poll, post-honeymoon, both party and leader have given up some of their gains, with support for Fine Gael down to 31 per cent and Varadkar’s satisfaction rating somewhat lower at 55 per cent.

For Sinn Féin and Mary Lou McDonald, the honeymoon has just begun. Sinn Féin is up three points to 22 per cent while McDonald’s first satisfaction score comes in at 39 per cent: a healthy improvement of 12 points on her predecessor Gerry Adams’s rating in January.

It’s a honeymoon, but it is useful to remember that even her boss, ahem, former boss in his early days in the Dail enjoyed the highest approval rating in the Republic and a prolonged period on 24% or more for the party.

The other aspect worth highlighting (though it has already been established in previous polls) it is the high approval ratings in the government, which at 44% is as high as FF was getting prior to 2008…

With economic expansion already well underway, and employment even higher than it was back in the boom (and getting boomier) time noughties, the economy should be a strong factor in favour of the government.

Nothing here to frighten the horses. FF is stuck on 26% (though 2016 saw them bounce 6/7 points in the election campaign), whilst FG is just seeing the bounce for the Taoiseach unwinding from rates that suggested it could be back at its 1950s level of support.

But nothing to suggest any kind of a breakthrough is in the offing either. Mindshare is hard to win back, once you’ve lost it: for instance, that catastrophic 24% loss in 2011 for FF is only being recovered painfully and bit by bit.

By the same token, Sinn Féin has yet to acquire the knack of turning strong poll ratings into reality (constituency weakness retards their parliamentary and LG performances). But they have been the senior beneficiaries of Labour’s extraordinary implosion:

Fine Gael won’t panic, even if the pre-Christmas euphoria around the Taoiseach is wearing off. Strong government rating is good news. However, it struggles to deliver social policy in housing and health, and Brexit retains a potential for huge economic damage.

Regarding the referendum, Martin’s pro-repeal stand doesn’t seem to have hurt Fianna Fail. With the last promised support for an FG budget under confidence and supply coming up, a reshuffled front bench shows signs of revving up to an endgame fight.

Feminisation of Sinn Fein has seen strong appearances for its leader in the Seanad, Mayo woman Rose Conway-Walsh. But its real challenge is how to proactively frame public debate rather than just, albeit nimbly, stepping into gaps opened by FG or FF.

Labour is just suffocating. One respondent on an RTE programme recently said of Brendan Howlin that he’s a nice man who is keen to talk about everything except politics. If any party is heading for a potentially fatal PD-like squeeze it is Labour.

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