How can election candidates secure the votes of beef farmers?
In last autumn’s 2019 Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll, analysis of the responses of beef farmers showed their support for Fine Gael had fallen to 25%, having averaged nearly 34% in the previous four years.
“Don’t knows” among these livestock farmers were up to 30%, from a 25% average.
Three out of four of the farmers polled said they were in the livestock/cattle business.
At least two out of every three farmers in the country has a stake in the beef business, and the poll indicated they are now the farming sector whose votes are “in the wind”.
For the 2019 poll, staff of the Behaviour & Attitudes market research company conducted face-to-face interviews with 501 farmers (and farm-dwelling adults) at seven agricultural shows around the country, from August 11 to 25.
This period coincided with beef factory protests by farmers, which led to closures and layoffs.
Not much has changed in farming in the meantime, with low prices for beef cattle still very much the big problem.
The lack of progress in the beef sector, from the farmer’s viewpoint, could accelerate the decline in support for Fine Gael revealed in the poll.
In the poll, 86% of farmers said the Government was too Dublin-focused, and 82% said all political parties do not properly represent rural Ireland. Whether such sentiments will affect farmer voting patterns in the general election on Saturday, February 8 remains to be seen.
Maybe this kind of thinking will simply reduce the turnout of farmer voters, usually one of the groups most committed to this vital part of the democratic process. In last autumn’s poll, 84% of farmers said they voted in the previous election, compared to 81% in 20198, and 90% in the 2017 poll.
Overall, the poll showed 29% support for Fine Gael last autumn, compared to a high of 40% in 2017.
From 2015 to 2019 in this poll, support for Fine Gael averaged 34.4%.
Support for Fianna Fail averaged 24%, trending upwards from 2015’s 19% to 25% in 2019.
Last autumn, support for Independent/Other inched upwards to 8%, and the only other category to increase was “don’t knows”, reaching a very significant 28%, having varied from 20% to 26% in the previous four years.
Of course, the story on an opinion poll day could be very different on the general election polling day, when those “don’t knows” have to make up their minds. Of the 420 (out of 501) in the poll who said they voted in the last election, 47% said it was Fine Gael, 28% for Fianna Fáil, 7% for Independents, 4% for Sinn Féin, and 2% for Labour. That election was in February, 2016.
In the preceding 2015 Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll, farmer support was 38% for Fine Gael, 19% for Fianna Fáil, 12% for Independents, 4% for Sinn Féin, and zero for Labour.
Matching up opinions and eventual voting actions would suggest the two main parties and the Independents largely shared the support of the 21% “don’t knows” in the 2015 poll.
With “don’t knows” now increased to 28%, there may be more at stake than ever for election candidates when they canvass farmers.
Another interesting result in the 2019 Irish Examiner/ICMSA Poll was that only 56% saw a vote for the Green Party as bad for rural Ireland. Other poll results indicated that farmers are becoming more committed to climate mitigation. For example, only 10% strongly agreed that they don’t believe in climate change. One in three agreed that they will plant more grant-aided forestry for climate mitigation.
Why then was there such as low satisfaction rating, of only 2.88 out of 10, for Green Party leader Eamon Ryan in the political party leader section of the poll?
The hard decisions on how to go about climate mitigation are no easier for farmers than anyone else, and the poll indicated that the Green Party leader may have to come up with a new plan for fitting farmers into the way forward, in order to lift his rating, which was the lowest of five party leaders.
Average satisfaction ratings for the other leaders ranged from 4.68 for Fianna Fail’s Micheál Martin; to 4.6 for Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar; 3.49 for Labour’s Brendan Howlin (the only one of four party leaders with both 2018 and 2019 ratings whose rating improved from the previous year); and 2.99 for Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald.
In last autumn’s Irish Examiner/ICMSA National Opinion Poll, analysis of the responses of beef farmers showed their support for Fine Gael had fallen to 25%