A MAJOR double dip in popularity hit the Taoiseach and Enda Kenny last night as Labour surged past them.
The dismal opinion poll ratings for both men threatens to re-ignite fierce debate within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over whether a change of leadership is needed before the general election.
Voters appeared to have called time on Brian Cowen as outrage over his disastrous radio appearance left the Taoiseach’s authority severely damaged. More than seven in 10 people told the first opinion poll since the infamous Morning Ireland incident that the furore had badly affected Mr Cowen’s credibility.
However, Mr Kenny was also thrown on the defensive as Labour leader Eamon Gilmore emerged as the big winner in the survey, as his party again surged past a weakening Fine Gael to stand as the most popular in the country on 35%.
The result put Mr Kenny’s post-heave grip on Fine Gael under severe threat as not only did it slide back 4% to 30%, but, in a major personal embarrassment, almost half of the party’s supporters (47%) refused to endorse him as first choice for Taoiseach.
Fianna Fáil’s sharp fall of 5% to 22% piled further pressure on the Taoiseach as he tried to ease fears Ireland was heading for a double dip recession after surprise new figures revealed the economy shrunk again, as GDP slumped 1.2% in the second quarter of the year after managing a slight recovery at the beginning of 2010.
Mr Cowen insisted his future would not rest on poll ratings, but deep unease in his party will only be worsened by the findings.
The seriousness with which voters viewed the fact Mr Cowen stayed up until 3.30am at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary conference drinking session before going on Morning Ireland was reflected in 43% saying the incident mattered to them personally, while 56% said it did not in the TV3/MillwardBrown/Lansdowne survey, which also stated just 11% were satisfied with the Government.
Smaller parties fared badly in the telephone poll of 1,000 people, with Sinn Féin down 4% to 4% and the Greens unchanged on 2%, while Independents dropped to 8% when compared with a face-to-face poll taken by the same organisation in February.
Labour’s share of the vote soared by 16% and Mr Gilmore also cemented his position as the most popular choice for Taoiseach with 36% backing him for the top job against 19% for Mr Kenny and 11% for Mr Cowen.
However, opinion on whether there should be a snap general election is divided with 49% in favour and 47% against.
More than half of voters (52%) believe Mr Cowen should stand down as Fianna Fáil leader against 40% who think he should remain.
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