FINANCE MINISTER Brian Cowen has emerged as the clear favourite to succeed Bertie Ahern as Fianna Fáil leader among the electorate, according to the findings of the Irish Examiner/Lansdowne opinion poll.
Mr Cowen is the choice of 25% of all voters as their preference to succeed Bertie Ahern as leader of the party.
More pertinently, Mr Cowen is the preferred choice of almost one in three (32%) of Fianna Fáil voters.
The findings install Mr Cowen as the strong favourite to replace the Taoiseach when he eventually steps down as party leader.
However, unlike Britain, where Tony Blair has said he will step down during this term, Mr Ahern is unlikely to make any decision about his future until after the next election.
Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin remains the second choice of voters, notwithstanding the nursing home charges controversy over the past year.
Among Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators, there has been a growing view that the controversy has damaged any leadership pretensions that Mr Martin might have.
But this view does not seem to be fully shared by the wider public, who still place Mr Martin in second place.
Some 16% of all voters, and 19% of Fianna Fáil voters choose Mr Martin as their preference in a succession race.
The TD for Cork South Central attracts his strongest support in Munster where he is the choice of 23% of all voters.
Education Minister Mary Hanafin has emerged as a potential future leader, attracting some 12% of support.
However, unlike her colleagues, Ms Hanafin attracts more support from opposition supporters (12%) than she does from Fianna Fáil supporters (11%).
Dermot Ahern, who many consider as a potential compromise candidate, attracts 9% support from Fianna Fáil supporters (and 8% from all voters).
Junior minister Brian Lenihan garners 7% support from the electorate (and 9% from those who intend to vote for Fianna Fáil in the election).
An interesting feature of Mr Cowen’s support base is that he is far more popular among males than he is among females.
Some 30% of all males polled expressed their clear preference for him.
In contrast, he attracted the support of 19% of females.
Mr Martin attracts marginally more support from females than males (17% as opposed to 14%).
He is most popular among young voters, attracting 19% support from this group, in comparison to 13% for Mr Cowen.