When Fine Gael and Labour took power in 2011, most commentators were talking about a likely minimum of two terms for the government, with Fianna Fail support decimated and the old order of politics out the window.
The subsequent tough economic reality of getting Ireland out of recession and free from the Troika, has meant that recent polls suggest the likelihood of that same government being re-elected just 4 years later is far lower than many had predicted at the time.

Instead there has been a shift in support away from the government parties towards both Sinn Fein and Independent candidates, with many voters citing annoyance at broken promises, and struggling to see any personal benefit of the having brought the current government into power.

While have been seeing signs of a recovery for the Irish economy for around 6-9 months, the reality is that the majority of voters have not the seen the impact of this personally. It is also clear that a delayed impact of declared positive budget announcements also annoyed many voters, while the introduction of water charges has been a final straw for many in terms of austerity.

In light of all these circumstances it is striking that we now see a renewed upward trend in support for government parties. While last December was something of a low point, there is clear evidence across the Sunday Business Post/ RED C polls that since then it is the government parties that have reaped the biggest rewards so far this year. Todays poll continues that trend, with a further gain in support for both Fine Gael and Labour, which together see an increase in support of a substantial 6% of the first preference vote.

In itself this is a newsworthy shift. But when put in context of gains for both parties in the previous two polls it is a clear indication of a longer-term trend in voters returning to the current government. Fine Gael on their own have seen an increase in their first preference vote by 6%. While Labour have also gained 4% support since December, and moved back to double digit first preference support for the first time since May 2014.

It has for some time been the considered opinion of both RED C and the Sunday Business Post commentators that this shift was possible and likely, but it appears to be happening somewhat more quickly than expected. So how far can this growth in support go and is there a possibility that the government parties could be re-elected? In this months poll we asked some additional questions in order to better understand the stretch limits of potential support for government parties.

Firstly we returned to a measure of economic competence. In the past we have uncovered a very close correlation between the perceived economic competence of a party and how likely people are to support them. Todays poll sees 42% of voters now agreeing that they trust Fine Gael and Labour to manage the economy, up a significant 9% since just after the budget in October last year. This means there are now 3% of the electorate who trust the government parties on the economy, over and above those currently prepared to give them first preference support. In fact, almost a third of both current Fianna Fail and Independent voters now agree that they trust Fine Gael and Labour to manage the economy.

Secondly we asked people whether they were worried that a change in government might stall the economy. In order to better understand the level of possible floating voters, who currently say they might vote for other parties, but could end up switching back to the government if they became more worried about the impact of a change in government on the economy.

Almost a quarter (24%) of voters, outside of those already voting for the government parties, agreed with this sentiment.
While it is unlikely that all of these will switch allegiance to government parties come Election Day, it is clear that some of them are open to being persuaded to do so. Perhaps more relevant is that a third of both Fine Gael and Labour “lapsed” voters are worried about stalling the economy with a change in government. These voters are far more likely to go back to who they voted for at the last election, if concerns over the economy drive the to do so, potentially adding up to a further 7% support to government parties current levels.

This potential extra support must however be taken in context of the reverse sentiment, where a large proportion of the electorate also believe that with a more secure future for the economy, a change in government is needed to provide more fairness in society. The two measures together clearly show the push and pull factors currently determining choices in support among voters, and the battleground for their votes over the year ahead.

In the context of this battleground, for voters this poll is very positive for the Government. It shows them further regaining lost support, but crucially also provides evidence that their own improving economic credibility combined with fear of the alternative, may yet help push more lapsed voters to return, and who knows maybe even potentially lead to them winning a second term.

Download full report below:
SBP March 2015 Poll Report