Polls averages show FiannaFáil debacle but poor showing for Fine Gael too

  • 29 March 2006
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An average of all published opinion polls since 2002 shows none of the coalition options offered to the electorate would win an overall majority. By Colin Murphy

An analysis of the opinion polls published in the national newspapers since the last general election shows a substantial decline for Fianna Fáil on its 2002 election performance – down from 41.5 per cent to 34.7 per cent. Fine Gael shows a marginal improvement on its 2002 disastrous election performance – from 22.5 per cent to 22.7 per cent. The Labour Party shows a more substantial improvement from 10.8 per cent in 2002 to 13.7 per cent. Sinn Féin shows the greatest gains from 6.5 per cent in 2002 to an average poll rating of 10 per cent.

Support for the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats in the polls has been slightly higher than in the 2002 election. The Greens received 3.9 per cent of the first preference vote in 2002, and their average level of support since has been 4.7 per cent. The PDs received 4.0 per cent of the first preference vote in 2002, and their average level of support since has been 4.3 per cent.

This analysis is based on an average of all the polls published since 2002 and while this cannot be regarded as an authoritative guide to the state of the parties at present, the polls do shows trends. The most significant trend, by far, is the decline in support for Fianna Fáil and were this to be replicated in the general election expected in 2007, the party would lose more than ten seats – it won 81 seats in 2002.

Another trend that is obvious is that Fine Gael has not made any significant recovery from its disastrous performance in 2002 when it won 22.5 per cent. In the previous election in 1997 Fine Gael won 28.0 per cent of the vote and, going back to November 1982, it won 39.2 per cent. Nevertheless even with a modest improvement in its share of the votes it should secure a significant gain in seats.

Difference between polls

These averages are calculated on the basis of 12 TNS MRBI polls in the Irish Times, seven Millward Brown IMS polls in the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Sunday Tribune, and ten Red C polls in the Sunday Business Post.

There are variations between the averages for each of the polling companies. For example, Fianna Fáil's average support in TNS MRBI polls is 34.1 per cent; in Millward Brown IMS polls it is 37.4 per cent; and in Red C polls it is 33.5 per cent.

Labour has fared substantially better in the TNS MRBI polls in the Irish Times, averaging 15.6 per cent, compared to averages of 12.3 per cent across each of the Millward Brown/IMS and Red C polls. TNS MRBI recorded a sharp rise in support for Labour in January 2006, to 16 per cent, which it attributed in part to Pat Rabbitte's remarks advocating tighter controls on immigrant workers. However, a Red C poll in January 2006 gave Labour just 13 per cent, consistent with support levels across late 2005.

In just one poll has Fianna Fáil support reached its level in the 2002 general election, of 42 per cent, in the February 2005 Irish Independent/Millward Brown IMS poll.

Coalition options

Totaling the average support levels for the various, hypothetical coalition options gives the following:

Fianna Fáil and the PDs: 39 per cent (far short of what would be necessary to secure an overall majority).

Fine Gael and Labour: 36.4 per cent.

Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party: 41.1 per cent (because of the way seats "fall" to parties, this would still give a seat total for this combination well short of an overall majority).

Fianna Fáil and Labour: 48.4 per cent (this would yield a substantial majority).

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein: 44.7 per cent (this might result in a majority but probably not).

Fine Gael, Labour, and the PDs: 40.7 per cent (this would fall short of an overall majority).