Credit: Gript

New Poll: 51% want to go to level five, 41% say no

An interesting bit of polling courtesy of Ireland Thinks and the Mail on Sunday:

The figures adding up to 101% is a matter of simple rounding – the figures are probably something like 50.65% to 40.87%.

This is quite a hard poll to read. There are a few contradictory things to take away from it:

  • A majority of voters want to go to level 5, but
  • Compared to other polls, the number of people who want more restrictions seems to be relatively steady
  • The 41% is probably made up of people with different views

On point one, the figures are very clear: Despite the fact that no political party in Ireland is openly in favour of going to level five restrictions, a majority of the public want those restrictions introduced. What’s the reason for the disconnect between the public and the politicians?

Part of it, simply, is economic knowledge. The average voter is concerned with the safety of themselves and their families, and doesn’t worry too much about next year’s budget estimates, or the wider macro-economic impact of a policy they believe will keep them safe. Politicians, on the other hand, are aware that the economic consequences of a second prolonged shutdown on whole swathes of the economy could be devastating.

And part of how politics works, of course, is that a lot of voters who support level five today would be only too willing to blame the politicians for the impact of level five tomorrow. If level five were to be introduced, and lead to the economic collapse of the hospitality sector, for example, the politicians will feel the wrath of the voters, even if the voters supported it.

The other factor here is that there is a gulf between ordinary voters, who find it difficult to collectively influence politicians, and special interest groups, who may be less representative, but who have huge sway. 51% of the public might want level five, but if you have the vintners and the hotel federation and IBEC and ISME and the media all lining up against it, politicians are likely to be hearing far more opposition to new restrictions than actually exists in the population at large.

On the second point, the number calling for level five seems relatively stable. Remember this from September?

That was the Government’s own polling, whereas this is independent polling. But the numbers are almost identical, despite a significant change in the virus situation (in terms of cases reported per day) since that period in September. When case numbers were pretty low, about 50% wanted more restrictions, and today, when case numbers are at record highs, about 50% want more restrictions. What does that tell you?

What it tells me, anyway, is that views of the Covid crisis are pretty well locked in, now, and are unlikely to shift meaningfully until the virus burns out, or a vaccine is found. About half the population are in favour of locking the country down until it’s over, regardless of cost, and the rest are divided between some variation of “keep doing what we’re doing” and “go back to normal, it’s only the flu”.

And that’s the third point: The 51% of people are pretty united in what they want – more restrictions, whether that be level five, or more than level five.

But the 41% are almost certainly split several ways. Remember, for one thing, that the policy position of every party has been, so far, to oppose level five. So the 41% will include a lot of partisan voters who will tell a pollster that whatever Leo, or Micheál, or Mary Lou says is right. Why go to level five when Leo Varadkar says we don’t need to?

Those voters may well shift their position if the political leaders do. So if the Government were to actually move to level five, you might find that the poll numbers for it go up, as their supporters tell pollsters it was the right decision.

On the other hand, the 41% will also include those people who don’t want any restrictions at all – the “back to normal, it’s only a flu” people, as well as the “we should be copying Sweden” people.

So, it is very likely, then, that if the Government moves to level 5, it will have significant public support for doing so.

Is this contingent on any conditions, though? It would be interesting, for example, to know what percentage of people would support the closing down of schools for a second time – would that prospect shift some of the “more restrictions” people into the “hold on a minute now this is too far” camp? What about enforcement? If leaving your county actually became a crime, would that impact support?

We don’t know, because those things haven’t been polled. And the general support for more restrictions can be read one of two ways – either it’s a specific call for level five as enunciated in the Government plan, or, much more likely, it’s more a general statement of “safety first” when it comes to the virus.

What is clear, though, is that opponents of lockdown have not yet managed to win the public over to their side. And given the stability of the numbers, it’s not unreasonable to say that they may never succeed in doing so.

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