A week being “a long time in politics” certainly seems to fit the bill this week, with Leo Varadkar stepping down as Taoiseach just 1.5 weeks after the government lost both referendums put to the people on proposed constitutional amendments relating to non-marital families, and both women’s duties in the home and the provision of care.

The poll results we have conducted this week are taken before Mr Varadkar announced his resignation, so we can’t yet see the impact of that decision.  What we can measure however, is the impact the loss of both referendums had on party support, both for the government parties that ran them, and also other parties that supported them.

The fact that all the parties in the Dáil, with the exception of Aontú, supported a Yes/Yes vote, even if half-heartedly, has left many voters feeling that they don’t have a party that represents them.  This is highlighted by rising support for independent candidates, which jumped again by +3% post referendum, adding to an upward trend in support over the past few months.  Independents now secure 17% of the first preference vote, a level not seen since before the last general election in 2020.

Gains are also seen for Aontú, the only party in the Dáil to campaign for a No vote, whose support has risen by +2% to leave it at 5% overall, the highest ever level seen in RED C Polling.

While it was the government that proposed and ran the referendums, it is Sinn Féin that has perhaps taken the biggest hit for supporting them.  The party are back down -3% this month, with overall support again hitting recent lows of 25%.  Their supporters were much more likely to back a No vote, and as a result, some perhaps now feel the party doesn’t represent their views.

The government parties on the other hand, don’t really see a significant impact on support, with the three together regaining the same level of support as before the referendums were held.  Fine Gael does record a drop of -1%, leaving their share of the first preference vote at 19%.  On the face of it, that certainly wouldn’t appear to be enough to precipitate a loss of their leader, having said that Fine Gael have only once in the past 10 years polled below 20% in RED C polls.  Certainly, Varadkar’s claim that the party could get back to polling in the mid-20s by the next election, does not appear to be reflected in recent polls.

Fianna Fáil support holds steady, which may reflect the fact many of their candidates suggested that they didn’t actually vote in favour of the referendums.  While the Green Party, who were responsible for bringing the referendum in its agreed format to the people, also don’t suffer any backlash, in fact they gain 1% support instead.

On the basis of this voter reaction to the referendum, was Leo Varadkar right to step down, and can his successor have an impact on voters before the next election?  Stable government party support certainly doesn’t suggest that voters turned on the government parties due to the referendum results.  At the same time neither did they add the much needed “possible” voters to the fold.

Over a third of voters (36%) in our poll also said they were confident in Mr Varadkar, rising to 64% of his own party supporters and 50% of Fianna Fáil supporters.  That doesn’t seem too bad, with most of his party’s voters still apparently saying he was the right man for the job.  To put that in contrast however, both Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald secure 42% confidence among all voters, and 73% among their own party supporters.

When compared to the other main party leaders then, Varadkar’s support does appear to have fallen somewhat below expectations.  Having said that, in only June of last year, Varadkar was shown to be the preferred person to lead the party into the next election by 52% of Fine Gael supporters.  With Simon Harris, who was announced over the weekend as the new Fine Gael’s leader,  getting the support of just 14%.

Party leaders can have an impact on how people vote, with Mary Lou MacDonald an example of a real vote getter for Sinn Féin.  But current vote intentions and reasons for them, suggest the issues for both Fine Gael and the other government parties, might be greater than a change in leader can overcome.

Simon Harris is very much seen by most to be part of the establishment, and for many of those currently supporting Sinn Féin and independent candidates, the primary reason for doing so is to not return the current government parties to power.

Our new Taoiseach will need to show a real change in policy and direction, plus have some evidence of action over the next 10 months on issues such as housing, health and immigration to have any impact on current vote intentions.


Business Post RED C Opinion Poll Report – March 2024

Live Polling Tracker – RedC Research & Marketing