Latest poll good news for the new opposition (and perhaps next government)?

No surprise that after a fairly punishing budget for the public sector (not least in education where targeted help for low achieving schools in inner city areas seeing substantial job cuts), that the government rating fell in yesterday’s Behaviours and Attitude poll by ten points to 26%.

For the record, that’s the lowest rating for a government in its first year since polling began. The party ratings are no more encouraging for the government either:

Fine Gael support is down seven points since the last Sunday Times poll eight weeks ago, to 30%, while Labour loses four points to 11%. Fianna Fáil support is up five to 20%, although the party is still behind Sinn Féin, up two points to 21%; independents and others are the other big winners, up four points, to 18%.

It probably indicates an electorate that’s more febrile than at any time in the history of the state. And it’s most worrying for Labour, whose Gilmore Gale has all but deserted them. Having Labour Education Minister Ruari Quinn explain to the parents of Sherriff Street that he may be cutting their teachers but not that of the nation in aggregate must be music to Sinn Fein’s ears who will be looking for another party’s exposed flank that they can move in on.

Although it will worry Labour (already three deputies down and not even a year in) Sinn Fein’s 21% rating (up two percent since the last B&A poll) that figure ought to be taken with a large pinch of salt since historically B&A don’t control for likelihood to vote in their samples.

The other foible to watch out for in polling patterns is something akin to shy Tory syndrome that shows in British elections, which none of the pollsters officially control for, which suggests the FF vote is actually running at about +2% above their poll rating. With the exception of Gerry Adams who sits at the top of the pile on 48% (courtesy of a 14 point tumble by Enda), Micheal Martin is now in amongst the others and is the only party leader whose rating actually rose.

Nothing yet to write home about on either score. But, despite the distance to the next poll (the distance to the next budget may be considerably shorter than current expectations if those growth figures go south again) perhaps we’re seeing the faint outline of a future alternative government force.

After what happened to Fianna Fail’s historically low polling figure, there is no such a things as a core vote. Labour must be concerned about being cornered by a Sinn Fein Leinster House team being powered up by the best back room talent Stormont could provide, and whose visibility on southern tv and radio has grown exponentially since the government has begun shorting out of difficult tussles in the media.

As world by storm notes, there is a lot of volatility left in the Irish political markets. Although he poses a good question as to where the massive slice of the FG vote is going to. It’s simply too early to say where it will find a home. Much of its surge was from defections from original rural FF, and I suspect that we have not yet begun to see a serious movement back in that direction, less than a year after an historic low.

It’s not great for the government that must now begin to rely on growth and a re-negotiation of terms that no one else in Europe appears interested in negotiating with them over. For now, Michael Noonan seems to be getting the nod from a middle class that did not do as badly as it thought from the budget (some even saw a modest rise). His credentials will be sorely tested in the coming months, over Europe and the fate of the economy.

Given the advantage he still retains over his formerly vanquished foe (30-20 is only just a little closer than last February’s 36-17) this government (and the next) will need to be cosseted on much more meagre levels of confidence than was available to previous incumbents.

It remains to be seen whether the new crop of SF TDs and their talented Stormont minders can up their game enough to overtake Labour next time out. The conditions seem to be near perfect, but they still seem to be struggling with the transition from raw protest politics to being seen as a safe pair of hands, ready for reasonable government.

The protest vote is tough to brigade to the polls, although much easier when you’re dug in with a charismatic party leader against a single ailing opponent in West Belfast to scoop five out of six seats. Tougher against a moving target in Phibsborough. Some working people who voted Labour last time out, still want to be sure they can keep paying the mortgage and the taxi on the road.

One things sure, it’s going to be bumpy ride…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty