DUBLIN (Reuters) - A last minute jump in support for the Irish government could yet secure Prime Minister Bertie Ahern a third successive term in this week’s general election, a new opinion poll showed on Monday.
Irish media reported an “astonishing” and “Lazarus-like” recovery after a string of earlier opinion polls showed a sharp decline in support for Ahern’s Fianna Fail party despite a thriving economy and peace in Northern Ireland.
Fianna Fail’s re-election campaign got off to a shaky start after revelations last month that Ahern and his then partner received 30,000 pounds ($59,170) in cash from a businessman.
Ahern, who last year apologized but denied any wrong doing over other payments he received in 1994 while finance minister, calmed the latest furore by publishing receipts showing the money had been spent on a house he was renting from the donor.
Monday’s TNS mrbi poll published in The Irish Times showed support for Fianna Fail at 41 percent — up 5 percentage points from the pollster’s last survey 10 days ago and just 1 percentage point behind the party’s winning 2002 election result.
Damian Loscher, managing director of TNS mrbi, cautioned that with voters due to go to the polls on Thursday and many undecided, there was still time for opposition parties to claw back lost ground in a volatile election campaign.
“It would appear that the roller coaster ride which has been a feature of this election campaign is not over yet,” he wrote.
Two other polls published on Sunday put Fianna Fail on 37 percent and 36 percent but the weaker showings came from surveys carried out before the full fall-out from a live television debate between Ahern and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny last week.
While commentators had judged the duel a draw, the TNS mrbi survey found that of those to express an opinion, 72 percent of voters believed Ahern, renowned for his ‘man-of-the-people’ image and resilient approval ratings, had come out on top.
“It can be no coincidence that every time Ahern takes centre stage, support for Fianna Fail climbs,” said Loscher.
Kenny, who has aligned with the left-leaning Labour Party to try and unseat Ahern, has stuck doggedly to his central campaign message since the debate — a pledge not to run for a second term if he wins but fails to meet his election promises.
Fianna Fail, however, has followed up by attacking what it says are Fine Gael shortcomings highlighted by the broadcast.
Ahern’s junior coalition partner — the pro-business Progressive Democrats (PD) — has also sought to highlight differences in a campaign where the main parties have made broadly similar pledges on tax and spending.
PD leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McDowell injected a new angle into traditionally centrist Irish politics by labeling some rivals as “left, hard left and leftovers.”