Results from the first of PR360’s three-part series tracking the public’s attitudes towards the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders show that 55% of respondents currently favour Micheál Martin to be the next Taoiseach compared to 45% for Leo Varadkar.
Over the three-week general election campaign, PR360 will track the opinions of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults on the two leaders competing to be the next Taoiseach.
PR360 will be undertaking two further opinion polls during the campaign (24 and 31 January) to gauge if, how, and why the public’s perceptions of both leaders shift.
The first poll of the PR360 “2020 Leader” series, undertaken last Friday (17 January) by Amárach Research, evaluated the public’s attitudes towards Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin on likeability, competency, decision making, relatability, and trust.
Poll key findings
43% of those polled agreed that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is likeable, compared with 39% who agreed that Micheál Martin is likeable.
35% disagreed that Leo Varadkar is likeable, while 28% disagreed that Micheál Martin is likeable.
A higher proportion were undecided on whether they liked Micheál Martin (33%) compared to Leo Varadkar (21%).
Competent to lead the country:
Both leaders were level at 39% in terms of those who agreed that Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin was competent to lead the country.
However, a significantly higher proportion were undecided as to whether Micheál Martin was competent to lead the country (29% vs 18% for Leo Varadkar).
Prepared to take difficult but necessary decisions:
A notably higher number of respondents were undecided on the willingness of Micheál Martin to take tough decisions (30%) when compared to Leo Varadkar (17%).
Among those who agreed that each leader is prepared to take difficult decisions, both were practically neck and neck at 40% for Leo Varadkar vs 39% for Micheál Martin.
Trusted to keep his promises:
A strong level of distrust exists among respondents that either leader can be trusted to keep his promises.
55% of those polled disagree that Leo Varadkar can be trusted to keep his promises; 41% believe Micheál Martin cannot be trusted to keep his promises.
However, the Fianna Fail leader’s better performance is quickly tempered by the much higher proportion who are undecided on whether Micheál Martin can be trusted to keep promises (38% vs the lower 24% for Leo Varadkar).
Representative of the public
When asked who is more likely to be a leader of all the public, not just particular demographics or voter groups, 36% selected Micheál Martin compared to 26% for Leo Varadkar.
Choice for next Taoiseach:
A majority 55% responded that they would choose Micheál Martin as the next Taoiseach in a straight head-to-head choice, versus 45% for Leo Varadkar. Micheál Martin was ahead across all demographics including gender, age, social class, and region, with the exception of Connacht/Ulster (48% vs 52%).
Dan Pender, Managing Director
“This poll is a fascinating early snapshot of the public’s view of both leaders. It is the first general election in over 30 years where both leading contenders to be the next Taoiseach could win.
“We are still in the early days of the campaign, and it’s important to track the trend rather than one moment in time. Our first results provide a sense of what people are thinking at the outset.
“A key learning from the poll is that as many as one-third of voters have yet to form firm views on either leader. There is evidence of undecided attitudes towards Micheál Martin, including on the topic of decision making. The public appears to have a clearer view on Varadkar, perhaps reflective of the fact that he is the incumbent.
“What these undecided voters eventually decide will be pivotal in determining who becomes the next Taoiseach. The scrutiny of the leaders’ debates will be intense; the impact, if any, that they have is something we will be tracking closely.”
Amanda Glancy, Director of Policy and Campaigns
“As we saw in the UK general election, voters are increasingly basing their voting preference on what they think and feel about their political leaders, and by extension the parties they lead, rather than solely on policies and ideologies. Voters are motivated by their core instincts on leaders’ personal traits such as trust, likeability, and ability to lead.
“Both leaders are effectively being interviewed by Irish voters for the biggest job of their professional and political lives and their ‘soft skills’ matter hugely.
“While Micheál Martin may currently have a 10% lead on the question of choice for next Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar is leading the way in other key areas, such as ability to take difficult decisions and trust to deliver on his promises. This apparent contradiction suggests that much ambiguity remains in the minds of voters. Equally, there are also many undecided voters yet to firmly decide their preferences.
“Both leaders can take some comfort from the poll in that neither candidate is racing ahead of the other overall.”