Feeling the Pulse of the Nation: Part 3

This final article in the series on the Pulse of the Nation by Sinead Farrelly  will examine the effect that political events, both foreign and domestic, have had on Irish people’s feelings towards the economic situation.

Despite everything, it was interesting to see that generally people always felt happier, than they did stressed, over the entire period, except for at the end of 2010 when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came into Ireland.

Unlike the overall Economic Recovery Index (ERI), which was not hugely affected by political events, the impact on people’s emotions was much clearer. When the statistics were examined, it appeared as though when there was a time period of political instability with resignations or elections, then people appeared to be more stressed as there was an uncertainty as to who was leading the country in a time of economic strain.

Source: Sinead Farrelly

In this first graph, happiness is indicated by the blue line, and stress is indicated by the yellow line. The major spikes in stress and dips in happiness came at times when the government was unsettled.

The year of 2010 saw a flurry of resignations from ministers across the board as there was a general unease in the government at the time. While at the same time, votes of no confidence were put in against then Taoiseach Brian Cowen and also leader of Fine Gael Enda Kenny. Both motions lost and they each retained their positions. In 2012, there was also a vote of no confidence against Minister for Health James Reilly and this led to the resignation of Minister for Primary Care Roisin Shortall.

The year 2011 began with the Green party withdrawing from government and automatically paving the way for a general election. Taoiseach Brian Cowen also resigned from his position at this time.

In 2014, there were no major changes to the government or to the cabinet but people still were unhappy with the government as water charges were formally introduced at €60 per one adult household and €160 thereafter. Some 350,000 second level students were also forced out of school as teachers took industrial action over changes to the Junior Certificate.

Each of these times saw the Irish people becoming more stressed and less happy, according to the Amárach research.

This year’s general election saw Ireland without a government for a three month period as the Dáil voted four times to elect a Taoiseach. The Amárach results show that during those times that Ireland had an unstable government, the Irish people once more felt more stressed and less happy.

As well as domestic political affairs, the Amárach research also questioned people on their feelings towards foreign political events. From October 2010 until December 2013, every month they posed the question: “The News From Other Countries Makes Me Confident The Recession Will End Soon.”

Source: Sinead Farrelly

An interesting result which can be seen in the graph is that Irish people felt most confident about the recession ending soon when other countries required a bailout from Europe.

The three major peaks in confidence in this graph appear in the summer of 2010, May 2011 and May 2012 when Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy each received their bailouts. Famously (with Ireland included) these countries who received bailouts became collectively known as the PIIGS.

The major dips in the graph came in November 2010, when the IMF came into Ireland and the country was at its worst point, and in July 2011 and June 2012. The two latter dips both correlate to events seen in Greece, firstly when they voted in a fresh round of austerity measures and received a second bailout, and secondly when the pro-austerity party won a landslide victory in the country’s elections.

Both these events saw austerity measures becoming a mainstay in the Greek political landscape and both of these might have caused an upset in the Irish confidence as it proved that austerity measures were going to stay.

The Amárach Research polls stopped asking a specific question about foreign affairs at the end of 2013. However, they did bring the topic back up again in June of this year in the wake of Brexit.

On June 24th, the day after the Brexit referendum, there was a special Amárach poll carried out on the topic. It found that 37% of Irish people were going to become more cautious about their spending and saving following the shock result in the UK.

This poll aligned with the July 2016 standard monthly results which showed 6% less people feeling financially comfortable and 5% less people feeling optimistic, while enjoyment and happiness both dropped by 3% and 6% respectively, with stress and anxiety both rising by 3%.

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