Photo credit: Houses of the Oireachtas

The Government’s budget, and Boris, bounce

The headline figure in yesterday’s Irish Times poll is not really the stuff about who is voting for who: As is almost always the case, almost all the movement within the poll was margin of error stuff: Up two points here, down two points there. It’s statistical noise. The bigger picture in terms of party support in Ireland remains where it has been for most of the past two years: Sinn Féin are by some distance the largest party, but can’t quite get over the hump where they’d be guaranteed to lead the next Government. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael languish in the low 20s, neither of them able to compete with Sinn Féin, but collectively in with a shout of getting more seats between them, if an election were held tomorrow.

We knew all that, though, before the poll was published. The only figure of significance where there has been significant movement is on Government satisfaction – Nearly one in ten of us who were previously dissatisfied now say we are satisfied, for some reason. Credit to the Irish Times for the image below:

It probably seems counter intuitive to many people that the Government’s net satisfaction rating, and the support for its leaders, has increased in recent months. Energy prices have soared. The migrant crisis is now so bad that Government is taking to “far right” platforms like Telegram to tell Ukrainian refugees that Ireland is, eh, full. Housing is no better than it was and is in fact probably worse than it was over the summer. In recent weeks we’ve had RTE notice the state of crime in our inner cities, and the usual panopoly of culture war legislation that appeals to few people outside of the NGO community. So what gives?

Two things, I think: First, we all got more money in the budget. People like money, and a lot of people are willing to accept that Government did, in the budget, about as much as the laws of mathematics would allow to shove more of it into people’s pockets to alleviate some of the pain.

Second: Good Ol’ Boris. As I wrote the other day, Irish voters are more sensitive than perhaps people in any other European country about how we stack up, vis a vis the neighbours. And it’s hard to argue that in recent weeks, we’ve not stacked up a little better than they have. We might be switching our Taoiseach around in a few weeks to give someone else a go in the big chair, but we haven’t chosen and then fired a replacement in 49 days after her policies lost the confidence of the markets. Compared to that mess, our lads look like Sun Kings.

The other factor that they have going for them is the relative lack of effective opposition: The Irish opposition has one trick, no matter who is in Government and who opposes them. That trick is that the opposition will always promise to spend more money than the Government. In this case? That one doesn’t wash.

What’s more, on some of the issues where the Government is most vulnerable – energy prices, refugees, crime, and so on – the opposition has no punch to throw. Mary Lou McDonald is not going to become a tough on crime, tough on borders right winger just to win an election. The most she can say about any of these things is that some magic Sinn Féin spending plan would alleviate the problem. The Government might not be on the political right, but their right flank is entirely secure, because no alternative Government is going to hit them from that side.

In that context, who do you vote for, if you are not already a committed partisan for one party or another? The almost universally agreed solution to every Irish problem is “More of the same, but harder”.

So in that context, an increase in Government support is not especially shocking. The problem they have, though, is that another budget like the one announced last month may not be possible. If the hardship continues to bite, and Government can’t fix it, well, it’s not as if the Irish voter is famous for rejecting magical solutions like those that will be offered from across the Dáil chamber.

Enjoy your bank holiday weekends!

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