By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Fianna Fail’s hopes for this week’s Euro and local elections have received a big boost with an opinion poll showing its popularity rating has jumped by 5 percent in less than a month.
Despite damaging revelations from the two sleaze tribunals, the outing of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s 27-year love affair with a gossip columnist, and the fallout from the Sheedy drunk-driving case, Fianna Fail has surged ahead and have 51 percent support.
Despite suggestions that voters are disillusioned with politics and sleaze disclosures, it appears the booming economy, falling unemployment and rising wages have created a feel-good factor for the government.
Bertie Ahern is also living up to his reputation as the "Telflon Taoiseach" with his satisfaction ratings bouncing back 9 points to 67 percent while every other party leader has seen a drop in his or her popularity.
If the poll results translate into votes when the country votes on Thursday, June 10, to elect 15 Euro-MPs and 1,627 local councilors, Fianna Fail will get a ringing endorsement.
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Traditionally, however, Fianna Fail’s ballot results never live up to its poll ratings and many local issues will fracture the vote.
However, the party could gain an eighth Euro-MP and make strong gains in councils that would leave it in a commanding position for the next general election.
While interest in the Euro-election is muted, the first local elections since 1991 are being keenly fought and it is these results which will be most closely analyzed by party strategists.
Elections are being held for 29 county councils, five corporations, five borough councils, 50 urban district councils and 25 town commissioners.
There are an estimated 3,000 candidates chasing the seats — over 80 percent first timers — and the winners will be the grass-roots bedrock who will build up parties at local level and be the political foundation from which candidates will be chosen for future national elections.
The opinion poll results are a surprise as Fianna Fail and the government have been on a slippery slope since the phenomenal 73 percent satisfaction rating following the negotiation of the Good Friday peace agreement last year.
The turnaround in fortunes in recent weeks has seen the government’s satisfaction rating jump by 7 points, and while Fianna Fail has benefited from the bandwagon effect, the Progressive Democrat junior partners have been left behind.
Support for the PDs has plummeted by 3 percent to just 2 percent. They are not running any candidates in the Euro-election and only about 80 in the local elections — this may account for part of their disappointing ratings in the poll.
Tanaiste Mary Harney’s personal ratings are down 2 points to 61 percent but she is still well ahead of John Bruton, 43 percent down 3 points, and Ruairi Quinn, 52 percent down 3 points.
The Irish Times/MBRI poll is particularly bad news for the now merged Labor and Democratic Left parties. Their support is at 11 percent, down 4 percent, and they have been overtaken by Fine Gael in Dublin.
Labor received a drubbing in the general and presidential elections but had done well in recent by-elections. Following the merger with DL, the new party had hoped to make an impact in its first national outing.
Fine Gael is supported by 25 percent, up 1 point, and has strong candidates in the Euro-election that should ensure its representation does not drop from the current four seats.
The Greens, who have only two TDs in the 166-seat Dail, are fighting to repeat their successes in the 1994 Euro-election when they took two Strasbourg seats. They are up 2 points to 4 percent and will be relying on transfers from across the other parties.
There will also be a referendum on Friday to insert a clause in the constitution giving recognition to local government and making it mandatory to hold an election every five years.