Earlier this month, the government announced a budget with a total spending package of €14 billion. One of the largest budgets seen in the history of the state, which included a reported average tax cut of €800 euro per person per year.

The resulting drop-in support for the largest two government parties, is surely not the response the government parties were hoping for from voters. In days gone by, a budget of this scale would surely have received a more positive endorsement from the public.

With the issues that are of most concern to voters such as health and housing being primarily blamed on the government, and the cost of living continuing to be an issue for many, one of the strongest remaining pillars of the government is its perceived competency in managing a strong Irish economy, and the benefit that entails for its citizens. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to appease and have an impact on this factor with a more demanding voter.

We identified in the weeks running up to the budget, that voters’ expectations were running at an all-time high. Significant tax surpluses announced during the year, founded primarily on gains from a small number of US tech and pharmaceutical multinationals based in Ireland, had led many to believe that this would be a giveaway budget like no other.

In the weeks that followed that poll, government spokespeople tried hard to negate this consumer mood and dissipate the high expectations, but the results today suggest they failed to do so.

This is underlined by follow up questions asked in the poll, that looked at whether voters felt the government had done enough or whether the public had expected more.

For a start, most voters (55%) believe that the government didn’t do enough to reduce the current levels of USC, including 50% of Fianna Fail voters and 43% of Fine Gael voters.

Voters are also clearly disillusioned by the fact that they feel the government had not included enough funds to cover the health service needs within the budget, an issue highlighted heavily by Sinn Féin in recent days.  Over half (54%) suggest that more money should have been given to the HSE in the budget, compared to just 26% who felt the HSE already had enough money.

Just a few weeks after the budget was announced, the overriding feeling taken in this poll is that the budget didn’t meet voters’ high expectations. As a result, both main government parties see a small 1% decline in support rather than any bounce.  Fine Gael dropping back to 20% first preference support and Fianna Fail dropping to 15% overall. With the Green Party steady at 4%, this means the government parties are securing just 39% of the vote.

In contrast, Sinn Féin support remains very high, with the party securing 32% of the first preference vote, just 7% behind the combined government parties on their own vote in today’s poll, up 1% on a month ago.

So why have the government received no credit for such an extensive giveaway budget?

Is it the case that voters simply expected more, or perhaps the budget has been overshadowed by events outside of this country? In the short time since the budget the news cycle has been heavy, war has broken out between Hamas and Israel, while at the same time large parts of the country have been afflicted by flooding.

Another factor could also be the fact that people have not yet actually seen any of the benefit of the budget changes yet in their pay or in other areas, such as energy or childcare supports.

Having said that, the lack of any positive response at all to this budget does suggest that it will be difficult to sway voters from their current intentions based solely on economic competence, while other issues in areas such as housing and health are blamed on the government.

The vote shares for each of the parties has been remarkably stable this year and for much of last year, with no major impact seen from recent activities or events.   This is very different to the turbulent changes in party support seen during the COVID years.

The electorate of course knows that any election is likely to still be some time away, and maybe a greater focus in a campaign may change opinion.  But based on current trends, you wouldn’t bet on it.

Business Post RED C Opinion Poll Report – October 2023