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Snapshot poll decoded: Concerns over housing and immigration crowd out other issues

Healthcare trails in distant third place among respondents to the Irish Times Snapshot poll

Irish people are united in their concern over immigration and housing, according to the latest Snapshot poll. Across all demographics, these two issues are dominating the conversation, with other topics struggling for airtime.

Each monthly Snapshot poll, conducted for The Irish Times by Ipsos B&A, canvasses the opinions of 1,000 Irish adults, asking what they have seen or heard about the Government that makes them think the country is moving in the right or wrong direction. All answers are recorded verbatim and later coded into answer categories.

Not for the first time, immigration tops the poll, mentioned spontaneously by 29 per cent of respondents (up 17 points). This is the highest mention to date for any issue, eclipsing even housing, which peaked at 26 per cent last August.

Across all regions, immigration is enormously salient: Dublin 29 per cent; the rest of Leinster 32 per cent; Munster 27 per cent; and Connacht/Ulster 31 per cent.

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The immigration theme is comprised of various sub-themes, including the challenges of ‘too many refugees’ (7 per cent), refugees being “preferred” to the local population (2 per cent), the need for more “vetting” (2 per cent), the use of “tents” to house refugees (2 per cent) and refugees crossing the ‘Northern Ireland border’ (1 per cent).

One Snapshot respondent summed up the mood by saying: “Government hasn’t got to grasp with it yet, and it’s possibly spiralling out of control. I think that the issue will overtake, and they won’t be able to get ahead of it.”

Housing is never far from the top of the Snapshot table and is mentioned by 19 per cent (down two points) in this May wave. Housing plays second fiddle to immigration across all population groups, except for the under-35s, who are still more zoned in on housing (25 per cent) than on immigration (20 per cent).

Remarkably, the next most salient issue is healthcare and the Health Service Executive, with just 4 per cent of mentions. Perhaps of more interest is the tendency for healthcare/HSE to get second and third mentions, which are not counted in our polls (as we include only first mentions in our analysis) but which will come into play if immigration or housing ever fade into the background.

Also living in the shadows of immigration and housing, for the time being at least, is a range of other issues that the public probably feel are important but not a priority, including climate change/sustainability (3 per cent), social policies (3 per cent), education (2 per cent) and the economy (2 per cent).

Climate change/sustainability’s relatively modest profile is despite its guaranteed appearance on every State, corporate and community agenda. Interest in climate change varies significantly by age, ranging from 5 per cent among the under-35s to only 1 per cent among the over-65s.

A scan of verbatim comments reveals how diverse, and potentially diluted, are the Government’s green initiatives. A huge range of State interventions are referenced by Snapshot respondents, including cycle lanes, greenways, electric cars, wind turbines, flood defences, traffic plans, agro forestry and nitrates directives. The recently introduced bottle recycling scheme popped up in only a handful of responses, with no evidence yet of any enthusiasm for the project.

Sentiment analysis of verbatim comments provides further insight into the public mood.

For the mega-themes of immigration and housing, sentiment is negative, with clear signs of frustration. Healthcare/HSE verbatims are also overwhelmingly critical.

On some issues the Government is winning (in other words the majority of comments are positive), including the economy, employment and education.

Some respondents to the Snapshot poll simply give the Government a thumbs up or thumbs down, without going into specifics, and their opinion tends towards the country going in the right direction.

“Events my dear boy, events” make the headlines and tend to have an outsized impact on public opinion, with images of tents along the canal in Dublin a prime example. With 2024 a year of elections, events such as these will matter, but so too will the performance of the Government in a wider context.

Damian Loscher is president of Ipsos B&A

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