The Irish Times view on the Snapshot poll: taking the political temperature

A new sentiment tracker seeks to find out which issues are breaking through with voters and who might benefit.

Opinion polls start to be taken more seriously when an election is imminent. The antennae of the political parties become more finely attuned to the sensitivities of voters, while the voters themselves begin to engage seriously with the issues as the prospect of making a choice at the ballot box approaches.

Most polls focus on voting intentions, but these are driven by a broader set of overlapping concerns. Underlying it all is the question of whether voters are so unhappy with the parties currently in power that they want to see a change.

This week The Irish Times launched Snapshot, a new tracking survey with Ipsos B&A that aims to capture the ebb and flow of these sentiments from month to month. The tracker, which has been running since last July, seeks to find out which issues are breaking through with voters and who might benefit.

The results offer a rather different picture of the electorate. Respondents are asked what actions or statements by the Government have caused them to think the country is going in the right or wrong direction. Not surprisingly, major news events have an influence on the answers. The salience of law and order in December’s survey coincided with the aftermath of riots in Dublin. Those concerns had lessened by the time this month’s poll was taken. Immigration, which has been rising steadily in importance, now tops the list. Meanwhile, the cost of living has been declining in importance since last summer


Political parties will take a particular interest in how negatively or positively people feel about the way certain issues are being dealt with by the Government. Attitudes towards the handling of immigration and housing are overwhelmingly negative, reflecting widespread dissatisfaction with perceived failures in addressing these twin crises. In contrast, the Government parties’ performance on social issues and taxation appears to be viewed more positively. That will no doubt inform their strategic positioning for the campaign to come. Sinn Féin, similarly, will seek as much as possible to keep the focus on housing, where its appeal is strongest to voters. That strategy has been blown off course recently by other issues, where the party has seemed less sure-footed.

The public’s attitude to immigration is more difficult to parse, although there is no doubt that tensions across the country have brought the specific issue of accommodation for international protection applicants to the fore.

Party strategists will be intent on identifying these relative strengths and weaknesses and on trying to ensure that the general election campaign will be fought on the most advantageous terrain for them. But they will be aware that, as the first instalment of Snapshot demonstrates, the public’s mood can turn abruptly and in unexpected ways.