TAOISEACH (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen has suffered his worst reverse since taking power earlier this year with publication last weekend of an opinion poll showing support for him and his Fianna Fail party at an all-time low.
The Irish Times said that for the first time since it started polling a quarter of a century ago Fine Gael were ahead of Fianna Fail — and convincingly in front with a lead of seven points. To compound Cowen’s embarrassment Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was voted ahead of him for the first time in terms of satisfaction ratings, despite losing two points since a June poll.
The latest Irish Times/TNS MRBI poll showed that the level of dissatisfaction with the government is now 76%, while 61% of people are dissatisfied with the way Cowen is doing his job.
The slide in the government’s fortunes followed more than a month of controversy over the budget on a range of issues, including a proposed cut in medical cards for the over-70s (since reversed), education cuts and the postponement of a planned cervical cancer vaccination program.
Figures for party support, compared with the last poll by the paper in June were Fianna Fail, 27%(down 15); Fine Gael, 34% (up 11); Labor, 14% (down one); Sinn Fein, 8% (no change); Green Party, 4% (down one); and independents/others, 13% (up six).
In terms of satisfaction ratings, Kenny was ahead of Cowen for the first time with a rating of 33% (down two), while Labor leader Eamon Gilmore was up three points to 38%.
There was a substantial dip in satisfaction rating for Green Party leader John Gormley who rated 28% (down 12), while Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was at 33% (down 12). The satisfaction rating of all the party leaders, with the exception of Gilmore, was down when compared with the June poll.
Cowen expressed disappointment with the poll, but said he had seen many ups and downs in his 34 years in politics and he pledged to continue with the government’s program.
“This is part of politics. The important thing is how the country reacts to the situation we now find ourselves in. My job as taoiseach is to lead a government with the necessary policies that have to be adjusted to meet the situation we are now in,” he said.
Ironically, the poll also revealed that more than half the electorate would prefer Bertie Ahern as leader in the present difficult economic climate despite the controversy over his finances that forced him out of office.
More significantly, a huge majority of Fianna Fail supporters (61%) said they favored Ahern ahead of the beleaguered Cowen to steer the country out of the current crisis.
Ahern refused to make any comment on the findings. He would only say, “It’s a very difficult year, but the government have to keep with their way, keep with their action. They have to build on it for 2009, which is going to be a very difficult year all over the world.”