For some months Sinn Fein and Fine Gael have held between them the majority share of the vote in polling.  Today we have evidence to suggest that this balance is derived from strengths for one party in housing and for the other in management of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to lesser extent health and the economy.

Sinn Fein are seen to lead the way on housing, Fine Gael on management of the pandemic.  These are the two areas where the gaps between the parties are greatest. On other areas such as health, economy, jobs, crime, law & order, and education, Fine Gael does lead Sinn Fein, but not by such a significant margin.

That Sinn Fein are only seen to be most competent in one area “housing”, but are still polling level in terms of first preference vote, shows just how important housing is to the electorate now and in the next few years in the run up to the election.   It is also the case however, that Sinn Fein has made gains in terms of being trusted to manage other issue areas, with notable increases in support for their potential management of the economy.

We have perhaps become used to the idea that people believe Sinn Fein are best placed to manage the housing crisis.  It is worth reminding that just a month before the last election it was actually Fianna Fáil who most people believed could solve the housing crisis.  Back in January 2020, 24% suggested Fianna Fáil were best place to solve the housing problems, with only 20% nominating Sinn Fein.   Now, just 11% trust FF to solve the housing crisis, while 29% most trust Sinn Fein to solve the crisis, and when those who are undecided are removed this increases to over a third (36%) who express a preference.

It is worth noting as well that this gain has come by Sinn Fein extending its trust among older age groups. Back in Jan 2020 it was the 18- to 34-year-old age group who most trusted the party on housing. That still remains the case today but added to that is the fact that the 35- to 54-year-old age group also see them as head and shoulders above the other parties on this issue area.

Even among those age 55+, Sinn Fein is seen to equal Fine Gael as the party most people trust to solve housing. This trend in acceptance for the party among older age groups is very important, as it signals that the party has the opportunity to win over older age groups that have in the past not been prepared to vote for them, and so extend their vote further at the next election.

The core strength of the party now does appear to be in the squeezed middle 35 to 54year-old age group where Sinn Fein leads in terms of trust to manage housing, health and crime, law and order. While also being close to Fine Gael in terms of trust to manage education and even the economy.   The younger 18-34 years olds show similar trust in Sinn Fein, but not quite as emphasized.

Fine Gael are trusted most to manage the COVID pandemic, and that has certainly helped them to retain their first preference vote share, but as the pandemic recedes they need to be seen to transfer that management to other issue areas.

One significant positive from their handling of the pandemic is trust in them to manage the health service. Over a quarter (28%) nominate Fine Gael as the party most trusted to manage health, a significant increase from the 14% that nominated them before the last election.

The party also continues to hold the high ground in turns of the public’s trust of managing the economy. However, this trust on the economy has been seen at the last two elections for Fine Gael to not be the get out of jail card it used to be. For many years the idea that you were the party most suited to handle the economy was a ticket for you to be leading the government. That no longer appears to necessarily be the case, as other issues such as housing and health have taken a greater weight in terms of how people vote.

Still holding the cards on health and the economy is not the worst place to be for the party. However, with support very strong among older age groups, they do need to still convince further on these aspects among the younger age groups to put clear ground between themselves and Sinn Fein.

For Fianna Fáil the results of the trust questions is perhaps almost worse that the first preference vote share they have become used to.  In all issue areas they are trusted only in third place, with Job Creation and Education faring slightly better than other areas.  Having entered the last election leading on housing and health it is some fall from grace.

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Business Post RED C Opinion Poll Report – May 2021