Farming survey: Fine Gael support still strong, but Coveney trumps Varadkar

Farmers would still prefer to see Simon Coveney as Taoiseach, despite him losing out in the Fine Gael leadership contest.

Farming survey: Fine Gael support still strong, but Coveney trumps Varadkar

An Irish Examiner poll has found 51% would favour the Cork South Central TD as Taoiseach compared to 38% for Mr Varadkar.

The wide-ranging poll of farmers has revealed the voting habits, political preferences and popularity of the parties among rural Ireland.

Fine Gael have particularly strengthened their support, although there is evidence of a trend away from Fine Gael and towards Fianna Fáil in the dairy sector.

Just 42% of dairy farmers would currently support Fine Gael — down from 58% in 2013 — so there has been a notable reversal of traditional backing from that sector.

The proportion of undecided farmers is low, and well over 90% voted in last year’s general election.

The survey shows that Mr Varadkar’s party currently enjoy a 40% share of support, while Fianna Fáil are in second place on 25%.

It is then a big drop down to Sinn Féin, who have 3% support — this is down from a 9% high among farmers in 2014.

Support for Independents and others has also fallen from a 12% high in 2015 to 7% now.

These figures appear to reflect reality, as of the 461 men and 108 women working in farming, 45% said they gave their first preference vote to Fine Gael in the 2016 General Election.

Again this was followed by Fianna Fáil who received 25% of first preference votes. Some 8% of farmers surveyed said they gave their number one vote to an Independent candidate, 3% gave their first preference to Sinn Féin, while Labour received a 1% top vote.

Of those asked, 6% said they would prefer not to say who they voted for in last year’s general election.

Mr Varadkar is the most popular leader among farmers, with a mean satisfaction rating of 6.27 out of 10.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheal Martin is on 5.85, Labour leader Brendan Howlin on 4.46, while Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams is on just 3.15.

While support for Mr Varadkar is still high in comparison to other party leaders, it is clear that rural Ireland would have preferred the former agriculture minister Simon Coveney to lead Fine Gael.

Despite Mr Varadkar’s young and progressive image, Mr Coveney is still favoured by the under-35 age group, with 51% favouring him above the current Taoiseach.

However, Mr Varadkar is more popular among women polled, with 44% putting him ahead of Mr Coveney on 41% The preference for Mr Coveney has in fact increased in the past year.

In 2016, 35% of farmers would have chosen Mr Coveney as leader of Fine Gael. This was above the 23% who would have picked Mr Varadkar.

Just 10% of the farmers asked would have selected Enda Kenny to continue on, while Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald received a 5% backing — the same level as former finance minister Michael Noonan.

Irish Examiner ICMSA farming poll

The Irish Examiner ICMSA farming poll was designed to provide a robust and accurate snapshot of the attitudes, beliefs and opinions of the farming community about a range of issues, both farming and social. The survey involved 569 interviews with farm dwelling adults in the Republic of Ireland.

Fieldwork was completed by Behaviour & Attitudes over a two-week period between August 13 and 27, with interviewing undertaken onsite by Behaviour & Attitudes interviewers across eight agricultural shows. The sample size is large and the data has a statistical margin of error of +/-4%.

The sampling approach involves a random probability method, with interviews being undertaken with attendees provided they worked and/or lived on a farm. 429 interviews were with farmers themselves, 31 with non family, farm employees, and the balance with spouses (66), most of whom -5 out of 6- personally work on the family farm as well.

All data is copyrighted by the Irish Examiner and Behaviour & Attitudes and should be attributed to this source where quoted.

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