Fine Gael has seen a major drop in support among its traditional farming base, a national opinion poll for thereveals.
Support for the main Government party has slumped by eight points in a year, according to the poll carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes.
Fine Gael has recorded its lowest level of support among farmers in five years and now stands at 32%, a notable decrease on last year when the party stood at 40%.
Farmers who have been a reliable support base for Fine Gael are not only abandoning the party but increasing numbers are now undecided about who they would vote for in a general election while others unlikely to vote at all.
The agriculture sector has experienced a tough 12 months with a fodder crisis followed by drought conditions this summer putting a strain on income and resources. Farming representatives, including the ICMSA have hit out for the Government’s slow response, especially to the severe fodder shortages last Spring.
The wide-ranging poll of farmers has revealed the voting habits, political preferences and popularity of the parties among rural Ireland.
It also shows Mary-Lou McDonald has failed to harness a significant increase in support among rural voters since taking over the leadership of Sinn Féin. Despite being rated more highly than her predecessor Gerry Adams, the election of Ms McDonald as party leader is not an incentive to vote Sinn Féin for 62% of farmers.
One worrying result for all political parties is what appears to be a growing lack of interest in the political system among those living in rural Ireland.
With rumours mounting that an election may be called in the coming months, this year’s Behaviour and Attitudes survey reveals an increase in the number of farmers who say they won’t vote in the next election.
And although the Government has stressed the need for rural development, the poll finds that after a significant increase in support last year, Fine Gael has seen its backing fall by eight percentage points.
One in four farmers polled said they don’t know who they would vote for if a general election was called, this compared to a fifth who said they were undecided in 2014.
Almost three in five of those questioned said they are now undecided having voted previously for either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
Meanwhile, half of those who claim they wouldn’t vote at all in the next election voted for the two main parties in 2016.
Of concern to the larger parties will be the fact that the younger generation of farmers are least likely to vote for Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil with over a third (35%) of those under the age of 35 claiming they are unsure of who they would vote for.
Political parties need the support of the younger generation to retain their level of support, however, the survey found Fine Gael does not appear to be gaining new voters as almost all of those who said they will vote for Fine Gael in the next election also supported Leo Varadkar’s party last time around.
However, those involved in agriculture are still well above the national average when it comes to casting their ballot with 90% voting in the last election.
Support for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is now at 5.54. This is down from his rating of 6.27 last year, however Mr Varadar still has a higher satisfaction rating than his predecessor Enda Kenny, who received a rating of 5.42 in the 2016 poll.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin polls strongly, scoring 5.03 out of 10, but like Mr Varadkar his satisfaction rating is marginally down on 2017.
Resounding approval for Higgins to win second term
Michael D Higgins has received a resounding seal of approval for his tenure as President — but most farmers believe the presidential term should be cut to five years. With the election due on October 26, the Irish Examiner/ICMSA poll shows 87% of respon-dents believe Mr Higgins has been a good president. Just 4% disagreed.
His approval rating is consistent across all age groups, peaking at 90% of those aged 65 and over.