Daniel McConnell: All eyes on Sinn Féin as poll shows electorate do want change

Daniel McConnell: All eyes on Sinn Féin as poll shows electorate do want change

So, just what in the hell is going on?

The surge in Sinn Féin support is clearly no mirage. It is no blip or rogue finding. It is real and apparently unstoppable. It seems we do want change.

For the first time since 1997 when it re-entered the Dáil, Sinn Féin is the most popular political party in the State, the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows.

In two polls, the party's support has jumped 11 points from 14% last October to 21% two weeks ago, to 25% now, their highest rating in the Irish Time poll series ever.

Based on this poll, Sinn Féin now holds a two-point lead on Fianna Fáil (23%) and a five-point lead on Fine Gael, which has slipped back again. Leo Varadkar's party is now down a staggering 9 points since October.

Fianna Fáil under Micheál Martin is now not only stagnating but is now falling back and is down two points on the last poll in this series, taken two weeks ago.

With just four days of campaigning left to go, so far Sinn Féin has enjoyed the most solid campaign of all of the major parties.

Firstly, it has stolen a march on the parties by honing in on the pensions issue by calling for the retirement age to be reversed back to 65.

The measure has caught the imagination of the electorate and has forced the other parties to scramble and amend their positions.

Mary Lou McDonald too has successfully painted her party as the only real alternative to the Fine-Gael-Fianna Fáil axis.

Sinn Féin's strongest support is among 25-49-year-olds in Leinster outside Dublin and among lower educated working-class voters. However, the number of ABC1 voters, the best-educated and highest earners, has risen from 13% to 17%.

But there are still legitimate and serious questions to be asked as to the credibility of Sinn Féin's €22bn spending plans contained in their manifesto.

Daniel McConnell: All eyes on Sinn Féin as poll shows electorate do want change

It is very likely both Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar will seek to attack her vulnerability during tomorrow night's make-or-break debate.

This poll shows Fine Gael is deep trouble and if they were not panicking after the Red C Poll on Sunday, then they certainly will be now.

Their poll rating of 20% is down a whopping 16% from the height of 36% the party enjoyed in the wake of Varadkar's elevation to the position of Taoiseach.

According to the poll data, Fine Gael has seen a sharp drop of 11% in its support among 35-49 year-olds in two weeks. In January, the party held 29% of the vote among this age cohort, whereas this figure has dropped to just 18% this time around.

It would seem that the Fine Gael's support among those ABC1 voters is down four points, the same amount that has gone to Sinn Féin since the last poll.

At this rate, some of their most senior ministers like Eoghan Murphy and Regina Doherty are in danger of losing their seats, and they certainly forget about winning two seats anywhere. This is Michael Noonan and 2002 territory when the party was left with just 31 seats.

But the poll also must be worrying for Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil who have not only failed to capitalise on Fine Gael's woes but have fallen back themselves by two points to 23%.

The poll also shows that the expected Green surge has not materialised and the party remains becalmed at 8% and while the party is likely to gain seats in the Dáil, it now looks unlikely to reach double digits.

This poll also makes very grim reading for Brendan Howlin and the Labour Party. Back down to just 4%, the party's election campaign has totally stagnated and at this level, hopes of major gains can be forgotten. This is important as it makes it all the more unlikely that the party will feature in Government formation talks on the far side of the weekend.

But, it is now all eyes on Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin.

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