Fairness vs. stability – the battle for floating voters
The polls at the end of the last year saw a pretty consistent trend. Fine Gael support was steadily growing as the months passed by, while the Independent/Other party block support fell steadily in the second half of the year. The trend was so strong that Fine Gael improved its share of the vote by 7% from the middle of last year to the last poll of 2015, and ended up securing 32% of the first preference vote. In conclusion, many commentators have been talking about Fine Gael potentially securing the same first preference vote as they achieved at the last General Election of 36%, and effectively calling the result at this still relatively early stage.
The first poll of 2016 sees results that are very similar to those recorded at the end of last year, with only small changes for a few parties, all within the margin of error. But the changes, are possibly more significant than the topline figures suggest, due to the impact they have on the trends seen running up to this poll.
Firstly the rise in support for Fine Gael appears to have been halted. We had previously seen this happen once in early December in a poll we conducted for Paddy Power, but this could have been written off as a once off anomaly. To see support for the party fluctuate down in a second poll, suggests the predicted continued upward trend for the party is perhaps not as strong as people suggested it may have been. A drop of 2% in this poll, to leave Fine Gael securing 30% of the vote is certainly not a disaster, but raises the suggestion that people are still not completely sure of voting for the party again.
The fact that the Independent and other party grouping has managed to retain the same levels of support is also important. For months Independent candidates and other parties have been hemorrhaging support, and the suggestion has been that they will continue to do so as the election moves closer. To stop the rot at this stage, at least offers a glimmer of hope that this prophecy of declining share may not materialise.
Within this larger group most of the smaller parties and groupings level of support has remained steady, but the Social Democrats will be disappointed to see support fall back to 1%, having secured 3% at the end of November. Of course small shifts well within in the margin of error can have a massive impact when support is already low. It is also notoriously difficult for smaller parties to get the media coverage to boost support at this stage. A better measure of how well these parties are really doing nationally will come when the campaign starts proper, and people can see the candidates who are standing in their own constituency.
The fact that the main beneficiary of support has been Fianna Fail is also interesting. They suffered at the end of last year as an apparent direct result of Fine Gael’s gains. Today’s poll gives them a positive platform that suggests growth is still possible. The parties new poster, that has been accused by some of attack politics was only released on Wednesday morning, so only impacted on one day of interviewing for the poll and as a result it is perhaps too early to suggest it is this that has given the party a boost.
The final interesting feature from the poll is the increased levels of undecided voters. Normally as we move towards the election voters become clearer in how they are going to vote, and undecided voters decline. We have seen the opposite over the last month and a half with undecided voter levels increasing. Some of the reasoning behind this increase in uncertain voters is possibly uncovered by the other questions asked in this poll, that suggest a number of voters remain both confused and not really sure of how they will vote.
At first glance these extra attitude ratings appear to be very favorable to the current government being returned. To start with more people than ever (42%) are now feeling the effect of the recovery personally, and this is before the major impact of the last budget has even had a chance to have an effect in the end of month paychecks. At the same time 7 out of 10 people believe the country is on the right track. This measure is often used around the world as an indicator of likely or possible current government support, as it reflects voter’s opinions on the country as whole. Finally, almost half (46%) of all voters also have concerns that a change in government may stall any recovery.
These factors should all point to the potential for increased support for the government parties, and as a result this may well materilaise. However, while on the one hand a significant tranche of the population fear that a change in government may de-stabilise the economic recovery, an even greater proportion (60%) agree that we need a change in government to bring a fairer society now that we are out of the recession. This means that there are a relatively important tranche of voters who both fear a change in government, and also would like to see it in order to establish a fairer society.
It is this battle of fairness vs. stability that is unfolding in the mind of many floating voters – and today’s poll further emphasises that one or other of these features has yet to finally crystalise support for one party or another. What is clear however is the importance of both of these emotive triggers to the final result of the election in a few weeks’ time.
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