A Mixed Mid Term Report
By Roger Jupp, Managing Director, Lansdowne Market Research
With a maximum of 2 years left to run, the Government receives a middling assessment from the electorate. Today's opinion poll points to a country facing contradiction.
Despite unprecedented national income per capita, the key issue of the day is felt to be the cost of living. Fanned, some say by the Hobbs show, “Rip-off Ireland”, tops the list of concerns. Oil prices are also worrying.
Healthcare and medical costs represent the second most important issue, especially among the over 65s. College fees, house prices and childcare are relatively more concerning for the under 35s.
More people are dissatisfied with the Government than satisfied- particularly those from blue-collar backgrounds.
Nevertheless, Fianna Fáil and the PDs can currently claim a thin majority of voters over the total scores for Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens.
The nature of coalition is also up for review, according to our poll. No single coalition receives an enthusiastic thumbs up from voters: does this reflect broader dissatisfaction with the political parties and their ability to successfully cooperate?
It is a notable coup for a Fine Gael/ Labour Coalition to be thought more potentially effective that the long-standing FF/PD coalition. The addition of the Greens to the coalition seems to be a little less appealing as a political cocktail.
The role of Sinn Féin in government is also under a microscope: just 14% would like to see Sinn Féin in a coalition government after the next elections, without any preconditions. Nearly 4 in 10 would be happy to see Sinn Féin in government only if any IRA activity has ended, in line with the recent (but sceptically received) statement by the IRA. A further 4 in 10 stand against any Sinn Féin participation in government. This is clearly a very divisive issue.
The voters mid term report on ministerial performance leaves little doubt that there is room for improvement. Brian Cowen and Mary Hanafin are perceived to be the most effective ministers, on our new effectiveness index. They are better rated than the 4 other ministers who get positive scores- Seamas Brennan, Michael Martin, Michael McDowell and Mary Coughlan.
Martin Cullen receives a sharp rebuke from voters, as by far the least effective minister. Intriguingly, this critical view is a strongly held by those satisfied with the government, as well as by the dissatisfied.
Mary Hearney's mid-term report is on balance negative and points perhaps to the extent of the challenge of being Minister for Health at a time of significant public disquiet. She attracts more dissatisfaction than satisfaction as leader of the PDs.
Our poll also sheds light on the public's preferred successor to Bertie Ahern, if he were to stand down. Reflecting his effectiveness rating, Brian Cowen powers ahead of all other contenders. Mary Hanafin falls behind the less effective Michael Martin (in ministerial terms) but is well placed in the race to be the first female leader of Fianna Fáil.
Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte attract more satisfied ratings overall than Bertie Ahern as party leaders. Both will be looking to build on dissatisfaction with the Taoiseach in the coming months. (Currently, those dissatisfied with the government express more satisfaction with Pat Rabbitte than Enda Kenny).
Overall, the Government may take some positives from this poll but it cannot afford to be complacent. Voters expect more now that the economic tide has risen. Healthcare and childcare seem to constitute two specific example of a public desire for better service.