Irish Election Polls: Fine Gael suffer but who benefits?

The latest polls by the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI and by Sunday Times/B&A are united in one conclusion – after a tough first week of the campaign, Fine Gael are struggling. At 20%, the Sunday Times’ level of support for Fine Gael is lower than at any time since the poll began. Meanwhile, the Irish Times’ more modest drop to 23% is still lower than at anytime since before the 2016 General Election.

Where the polls are divided is on the issue of who will benefit most from Fine Gael’s electoral meltdown. Whilst the Irish Times leave support for Fianna Fáil unchanged at 25% (a lead will within the poll’s margin of error), the Sunday Times predicts a 5 point increase for Fianna Fáil to 32%, putting them 12-points clear of Fine Gael, and well on their way to a decisive election victory.  Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s support stands at 19% in the Sunday Times poll and 21% in the Irish Times poll – their highest since March. Breaking the 20% barrier will lead many to demand Sinn Féin’s inclusion in leaders debates over the coming weeks, and whether RTÉ and Virgin Media will give in remains unknown.

Which poll to believe then? Firstly, it is worth noting the timing in which these two polls took place. The Sunday Times poll was conducted at the height of the RIC commemoration scandal, and before an election was formally called. This makes this poll less reliable, as it is likely that many of those polled were simply voicing their frustration towards Fine Gael as a result of this controversy, and Fianna Fáil were quick to jump on this momentary issue.

Conversely, the Irish Times poll was conducted on Friday and Saturday, after the attention being paid to the RIC commemoration scandal had mostly dissipated and the electorate’s attention had been focused following the announcement of the election. Therefore, the Irish Times poll is likely to be a much more realistic measure of the probable election results ahead. The vote in Munster is perhaps the best illustration of this. The Irish Times predicts a 28% Fianna Fáil vote in Munster vs 21% for Fine Gael – an impressive result somewhat explained by Fianna Fáil’s heavily Munster-based front bench. On the other hand, the Sunday Times’ predicted Munster vote for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (49% and 13% respectively) is, based on intel from the canvass in the region, simply unrealistic.

Have Fianna Fáil got this election sown up as the Sunday Times/Ipsos MRBI poll suggests? Whilst they are certainly in the lead, as it stands, not quite yet.

Irish Times Polling figures January 20th 2020 – the most realistic polling figures so far.

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Colm O'Dwyer

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