Voters turn back to Fine Gael in time of crisis

Published by: Richard Colwell

2020.03.30

The Public Back the Caretaker Government at a Time of Crisis

This is some turnaround in fortunes for Fine Gael.  Just over seven weeks ago the party fell from being the largest party and leading the government into third place based on first preference votes, and seats won in General Election 2020.

On the back of those results it actively sought opposition and looked for other parties to try and form a government.  Now in the midst of one of the biggest crises that the country has seen for years, it finds itself managing the government response in the form of an caretaker government, in place because no government has yet to be formed.

The surge in support for the party sees them regain their place as the party with most support among the electorate, lost only in January this year, and secure a huge 34% of the first preference vote.  This is an increase in support of 13 points since the election.

This doesn’t necessarily mean if there was an election tomorrow, they would actually secure this level of support.  It would seem to be more likely that the public are rallying around both the party and the cabinet members, who are in their view clearly doing their best for the country in such a difficult period.

Clearly those that supported independent candidates, Green candidates and even Fianna Fail candidates at GE20, appear to be lending their support at this time to Fine Gael.  What we don’t know is how much of this support will be retained by the party, firstly as the crisis drags on, and secondly after the crisis has been overcome and the economic consequences are to the fore.  We can assume from these results that at present a large proportion of the population think they are currently doing a pretty good job.

Compare this to the last major crisis of a scale such as this, the ECB bailout and at the time things were very different for the party in power, with Fianna Fail seeing its vote share collapse at the time.  Of course, it was far easier to blame Fianna Fail for that crisis, more difficult to blame Fine Gael for a coronavirus affecting most of the world.  But some have argued that Fine Gael isn’t doing enough, and didn’t act quickly enough at the start.  That doesn’t appear to be the majority view.

In fact most voters are happy to give the government as much powers as they need to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic.  Almost the entire population agree that the government should to have the power to detain people not self-isolating, and to stop people moving around to suppress the spread of the virus.  Almost 3 in 4 agree strongly that this should be the case.

The support is clearly based in the overwhelming concern seen amongst the public; that the virus could have a long-lasting impact on the economy.  While less are concerned of the impact on their own personal income at this point, this is surely at the route of those concerns.

What does all this mean for the other parties, not currently directly involved in managing the response to the crisis?  The first thing to note that the gains in Fine Gael support do not come at Sinn Fein’s expense.  In fact, they increase support since the election to secure 28% of the first preference vote.

Interim polls published elsewhere had seen an even greater surge to Sinn Fein since the election, so maybe this is a slight drop in support for the party.  But it does suggest the fundamental reasons for the move towards the party, of anti-establishment and change, have not been eradicated by the crisis.  They could also be benefiting having positioned themselves as the main and possibly only critic of the government’s actions.

For Fianna Fail the poll is even more complicated.  On the one hand their drop in support to just 18% (a fall of 4% since the election) could be seized on by those against any grand coalition, to show what might happen to the party if they enter government with Fine Gael.  On the other hand, those pressing to be part of government with Fine Gael, might argue that the party would benefit far more being seen to be part of the action, and is clearly suffering by being on the outside at the moment.

For the Green Party, their efforts to push a national government do not appear to be working as well as they had hoped, with a drop in support seen in this poll.  While only a fall of 2% and within the margin of error, a fall of this nature replicated in an election would mean a drop of over a quarter of all the first preference votes they secured at the last election.

The question is will the public continue to show its support for the caretaker government as the death toll rises, and the social distancing continues.  Only time will tell.

Download Report here:

March 2020 Report

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