An Irish Times exit poll has shown support for Fine Gael has plummeted from 36.1% in the last general election in 2011 to only 26.1%.
Should these results bear out this weekend, it would be a far worse result than the party thought possible.
Such a slump in support is likely to lead to questions as to Enda Kenny’s leadership.
The poll indicates Joan Burton’s Labour Party is facing a major wipeout as it received just under 8% support, far behind the 19.5% it achieved at the 2011 general election.
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Fianna Fáil seems to be the major beneficiary and has seen a strong recovery. The party could reach its desired target of 40 seats, up from the 20 it returned with in 2011.
Support for Sinn Féin has increased since 2011. There are also big gains for Independents and smaller parties.
The poll indicates the first preference votes for the parties: Fine Gael 26.1%; Labour 7.8%; Fianna Fáil 22.9%; Sinn Féin 14.9%; AAA/PBP 3.6%; Greens 3.5%; Social Democrats 2.8%; Renua 2.6%; Others 28.3%.
It is expected voter turnout will be in the mid-60s, below the 69.9% and 73.33% recent highs of 2011 and 1987 government parties Fine Gael and Labour are facing a mounting battle to remain in power.
Despite appearing relaxed in Castlebar, Co Mayo, yesterday as he gave photographers a thumbs up while voting, a failure to secure Fine Gael’s first ever back-to-back general election victories amid a mooted economic recovery could see Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s position as leader come under fresh threat.
Similarly, Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton will automatically face an internal leadership race if the junior coalition partner does not re-enter government, and she is facing a local battle with left-wing TD Ruth Coppinger for the final Dublin West seat.
While Fianna Fáil has seen a resurgence during the election campaign under leader Micheál Martin, the Cork South Central TD will face his own difficulties if a predicted hung Dáil forces the party to consider a previously ruled-out Fine Gael coalition or short-term support for a minority version of the current government in order to prevent the need for a second election within weeks.
As polling station doors closed at exactly 10pm last night after a traditional last-minute voter surge, it was widely expected that Fine Gael may win fewer than 60 seats, with Labour struggling to hit 10, Fianna Fáil hoping to reach the high 30s, and Sinn Féin and Independents predicted to easily reach into the 20s.As a result, the current coalition is unlikely to return the minimum 79 TDs needed to form a government by itself, while the fact that all other realistic prospects have been ruled out by the parties involved could mean a hung Dáil.
Meanwhile, a Sinn Féin canvassing van for Cork South Central candidate Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire was videoed parked outside the Greenmount national school polling station at around 10.30am yesterday playing the Sam Cooke civil rights anthem ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ over its loudspeakers.
And some candidates — including Louth Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick and Cork North Central Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O Brien — posted ballot papers with a number one sign next to their name on social media sites, breaching electoral act rules.