At the end of September, government unveiled Budget 2023 – a package of measures it believed would help address the number-one issue of the day: the cost of living crisis.
It came amidst the backdrop of soaring inflation, growing anxiety over fuel and energy bills, and Sinn Féin maintaining a significant lead in opinion polls, matching the combined vote share for the two senior parties in the coalition, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
The Budget appeared to be designed with a “something for everyone” approach, orchestrated to offer an olive branch to as much of the electorate as possible, with the aim of clawing back support for coalition parties in the opinion polls.
In particular, a number of the key measures introduced in the Budget were targeted at young people – a demographic not known for their partiality towards the current coalition members, but rather for the impact they appeared to have in driving Sinn Féin’s success in the 2020 general election.
Among the sweeteners offered to students included, principally, a once-off cut in the student contribution charge of €1,000; a doubled December payment for SUSI grant recipients; an extension of discounted fares for public transport users; and a reduction of apprenticeship fees by one-third.
“Giving students and their families some peace of mind in these challenging times is at the heart of everything we are trying to do with these Budget measures,” said Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, in the wake of the Budget’s announcement.
If the intention of government was to give students peace of mind, have those very students returned the favour by lending them their support?
The answer would appear to be, at least in the immediate aftermath, a resounding no.
On the question of whether or not the measures introduced in the Budget were sufficient, an Ireland Thinks poll for the Sunday Independent revealed that 50% of 18-24 year olds said that they were “not enough”, despite the fact that a majority of the public at-large (55%) deemed the Budget to be an “appropriate response”.
October’s Ipsos MRBI poll, its first since the summer, offered comfort for the government with overall support up for all three coalition partners, with support for Sinn Féin slipping marginally. Government’s approval rating bounced by 9%, appearing to correlate with Ireland Thinks’ findings of broad satisfaction with recent measures among the wider population.
Indeed, in the detailed age breakdowns, combined support for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael inched upwards from 25% to 28% among 18-24 year olds, a modest increase of 3%. However, support for Sinn Féin among the same group increased by 5% in the same period, to stand at a sizable 49%, effectively cancelling out gains made by government among the student-age population.
Even accounting for the Green Party’s 12% support among 18-24 year olds, Sinn Féin’s support on its own eclipses that of the coalition parties combined, indicating that young voters still see the main opposition party as best placed to tackle the challenges facing them and the nation.
A separate poll conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes for the Sunday Times towards the midpoint of October not only indicated a lack of movement in support for neither the coalition nor the opposition, but also pointed to a relatively unchanged landscape among the youngest demographic.
Among this cohort, support for the three parties in government fell from a combined 36% to 34% between September and October, with the Budget falling directly in between the two data framework periods.
Though support for Sinn Féin fell by 1% in this category, other opposition parties saw increases, with Labour doubling its levels of support from 4% to 8%, and Solidarity-People Before Profit gaining one point on its September showing.
It is, of course, important to note that all this comes with an obvious caveat: age breakdowns consist of only a subset of a wider sample, meaning that the margin of error is much higher. As a result, we must exercise caution when casting too many aspersions about the mood of young people in our current political climate.
However, it appears evident that any hopes the government had that the Budget would placate students and the wider youth electorate were not well placed, and that there is at best a sense of apathy towards the measures announced. Though it certainly won’t have hindered their standings, it appears it will take much more than once-off measures and cheap giveaways to get Generation Z on side.