Fine Gael is still the most favoured political party among farmers and one in five survey respondents would like the current coalition returned after the next general election — despite a complete collapse in support for Labour.
The opinion poll shows while support for Taoiseach Enda Kenny has weakened since last year, he is still the most popular party leader.
Support for Fianna Fáil has waned in the past year, and support for Sinn Féin has fallen from 9% last year to 4% in this poll. Just one in eight of people questioned would countenance Sinn Féin’s involvement in any government after the next election.
There is also growing support for independents, while Labour cannot sink any lower, with the poll showing not one respondent would consider giving the party a first-preference vote — something that would appear to threaten the effectiveness of any mooted coalition vote-transfer pact ahead of an election.
Among farmers, Fine Gael is still the most popular party, its 38% support double that of nearest rival Fianna Fail on 19%. While support for Fine Gael has increased by two percentage points from last year’s poll, Fianna Fáil has lost four points.
Sinn Féin support, at 4%, is the same level as that charted in the 2013 poll — but down five percentage points from last year.
This year’s poll also sees another significant increase in support for independent candidates, with support rising from 4% in 2013 to 8% last year and now up to 12% in the latest opinion poll.
However, with just 3% claiming they will not vote at all, 23% of respondents said they have not decided which party they would back, meaning there is much to play for when it comes to the farming vote come election time.
The poll shows that one in five of those surveyed would prefer the current coalition government to be returned after the general election, even allowing for the complete lack of any support for Labour among those questioned. A quarter of all dairy farmers would like to see the current government returned.
The next most popular combination is Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, backed by 14%, ahead of the 12% who back a Fianna Fáil and Independents combination. However, the 31% of respondents as yet undecided on the composition of a coalition show that many are confounded by the current options.
ICMSA president John Comer said the continued high level of support for Fine Gael should not come as a surprise, but that all parties needed to engage with rural Ireland on big issues with scope for independent candidates to make gains if they did not.
“I don’t think that any logical observer with any sense of heritage or background can be completely surprised by this,” he said.
“It might be more interesting to focus on the drop in support for certain parties that are perceived — rightly or wrongly — as being completely out of sympathy with the problems and issues particular to rural Ireland in general and farm families in particular.
“Certain parties present themselves as more or less speaking for a particular element of our society, say, urban or suburban and more ‘public’ than ‘private’ sector. What this survey shows is that farmers are taking those parties at their own word: If they’re presenting themselves as not interested in us then we’re not that interested in them.
“The 23% undecided is very significant and might bode well for independents able to take specific local slants on specific local issues. It also shows perhaps that no one party has, as yet, rolled out a vision of Irish farming and rural life that takes ownership of the segment of the electorate that will vote very heavily on that issue.”
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