Is 2014 going to be a seminal year for Irish politics?

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So here’s the latest Red C poll:

Fine Gael 28% (-1%) ; Labour 10% (-2%) ; Fianna Fail 22% (n/c) ; Sinn Fein 18% (+3%) ; Independents 22% (n/c)

With European and local council elections coming up this year there is an opportunity for the political parties to lay down a political marker for the run in to the next general election which is currently thought most likely to be called late next year.

Looking back to 2009 results there seems to be only one party that’s almost guaranteed to walk away with more seats, and that’s Sinn Fein. The latest Red C poll sees them at 18%, well above their 7% in 2009. They’ve barely drifted below 15% since the general election, so they must be slated for significantly large gains.

The real head melter for Labour is that this flip between their own and Sinn Fein’s fortunes is based on an historic increase in SF’s vote rather than the steep decline in their own. It’s been facilitated to a large extent by an historic weakness in the combined Fianna Fail/Fine Gael vote.

In both 1982 elections the old parties sucked up some 85% of the electorate.

Of course that proportion has been slipping ever since, with more of the electorate either opting out or going independent. By 1997 FG/FF pulled in just 67%. The Red C rating puts it at just 50% of the electorate, not far off the 48.3% Sean Lemass accumulated for Fianna Fail in 1961.

The squeeze which depressed Sinn Fein returns in 2007 has now substantially relaxed and is providing them with substantial room to grow.

Yet these elections will provide a useful reality check, as well as much needed campaign fodder for the next general election. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the ship of state is steadying and economic growth is expected to return throughout the year. So Labour may hope to limit their inevitable losses.

In its Dublin heartland Labour faces not just one competitor, but at least two and maybe three. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein in particular will be scrumming hard the key voters who gave Labour the whip hand in an enlarged city council, with the independent left looking to pick off the rest.

Mary Fitzpatrick (who’s long running spat with Bertie Ahern probably cost her a Dail seat in 2007) looks like favourite to get the FF European nomination there, and could provide a useful Dublin wide standard for the party’s local election candidates.

But the thing about Irish elections of any description is that they tend to be highly localised contests, which makes them hard to predict by extrapolating directly from national polls (see Adrian Cavanagh’s work). Performance may rely as much on a given party’s capacity to put the right campaign in the field than on national ratings.

The Meath East by election result was, as predicted, a disaster for Labour but it also very nearly cost Fine Gael the seat. But most notably, with figures in the Red C poll that only slightly differ from current ratings, it broke down into a clear Fianna Fail/Fine Gael stand off with the FF candidate Thomas Byrne pulling in 33% of the total vote: ie nine points above his party’s national poll rating.

At the very least the local elections may start to clarify where the crunch battlegrounds are likely to be in the Dail elections, which will follow not much more than a year afterwards. “Scary buns“, as the woman says…

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  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    I honestly dont see how 22% of support for Independents can translate into Elections.
    First of all there is a very diverse group within An Dail. And frankly I’m not very impressed by some of the more eccentric voices. If a person is so impressed by Shane Ross, does that necessarily mean he will vote Independent in Laois-Offaly.
    Or so impressed by Mick Wallace that he will vote Independent in Cavan-Monaghan.
    Is it really just a snippy “plague on all your houses” which is not exactly political or will it be based around the man or woman who is supporting the hospital in Roscommon or the primary school in Waterford?
    Euro Elections are arguably “macro” where a big personality who can poll well in an entire region is important. That mitigates against an Independent…or does it?
    Local Elections are arguably “micro”. People will be elected on a handful of votes….their friends in the church congregation, GAA Club, farmers group.
    So I just see a series of mixed messages.
    The thing about Dail Elections is that there are both macro and micro elements….and a lot will depend on the bounce that a successful Euro campaign will have and the platform that a successful local campaign will have.
    The only real loser over the next two years will be Labour. They just dont have the votes to have a good day in Euros. And they seem least able to withstand Independents locally.
    There will be a massive loss of confidence going into 2015.

  • sherdy

    Mick, – The tears must have been trippin’ you while writing the above piece.
    To actually have to admit that Sinn Fein may be progressing electorally after all the work you have been doing over a considerable time dragging up every excuse to be negative towards them must have been galling.
    So between now and elections do you change tack or continue in your usual vein? You couldn’t stoop even lower in your hate-filled pieces, could you?

  • Mick Fealty

    Sherdy,

    Do keep up: http://sluggerotoole.com/tag/polling/

    I don’t expect people to agree with my all assessments. And further I know, from making most of my mistakes in public, that I’m not always right about matters under consideration here. And, as you already know, I do welcome robust challenges from those who do not share my views.

    There’s not a lot I can say about your off-topic comments other than say that if you want to go on a man playing spree it will inevitably end up with you getting carded for your efforts.

    In meantime, any on-topic comments you care to make are always welcome.

  • carlota martinez

    fjh’s post above really calls it in respect of those inclined to vote Independent.

    I suppose the question is whether or not those so inclined will simply not bother to vote or will they cast a vote for one of the perceived anti-establishment parties. In which case SF may be one of the beneficiaries.

    My guess is that a proportion will opt for SF.

  • Charles_Gould

    SF are in the right place at the right time: all across Europe the nationalist and anti-establishment vote is on the rise. Mostly these are right wing parties, but in Ireland it is SF that is well placed to pick up that vote in Ireland.

    Where SF are different from those “nationalist and anti-establishment ” parties is that SF is pro-immigrant. Though I am SF’s critic most of the time, I will commend them on maintaining their pro-immigration stance south of the border, and not giving way to xenophobia that would oppose immigrants from Romania Nigeria etc

  • http://www.selfhatinggentile.blogger.com tmitch57

    “SF are in the right place at the right time: all across Europe the nationalist and anti-establishment vote is on the rise. Mostly these are right wing parties, but in Ireland it is SF that is well placed to pick up that vote in Ireland.”

    @Charles,

    I think you need to remove the “but” from your second sentence for it to be accurate.

  • sherdy

    But Mick, I thought I was following your lead.

    For a long time you have been antagonistic towards SF and in particular GA, not about their policies but virtually always against the man.

    You have even used his family situation as a weapon against him. Certainly hammer his brother for what he has done, but I think it wrong to use his niece.

    Sauce for the goose . . . ?

  • roadnottaken

    “so they must be slated for significantly large gains.”

    No doubt the fact that you’ve so strongly talked off SF’s chances here, that if they do not make sufficient gains here or there in YOUR opinion, you can then go on ad on for the nex few years as to why oh why did the party perform so poorly, etc etc etc…
    I’m sure they will make significantly large gains, but deliberately attempting to cover your own ass after spending every waking minute trying to discredit the party in any way possible is not becoming to you. In the process you’ve dragged your own site, which I once enjoyed reading, into the mud. Well played.

  • roadnottaken

    P.s. apologies for the man-playing. I won’t deny it. Card me if you like. But I won’t apologise for pointing out the obvious.

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t mind the criticism, but the problem with arguments like this is that they haul the whole thread completely off topic.

    SF’s travails of the last year or so were mostly matters of public interest, and deserved fair and tough minded coverage. It is for others to judge whether (or how) I may have crossed a line.

    Generally, I think, I’ve given SF in the Republic a pretty fair wind (I tend to focus on their record in government in NI, which is, by any account, far from impressive), because in the south I believe they’ve been worth it (see http://goo.gl/EhlFXa and http://goo.gl/Zm2rb).

    You should not translate my residual criticisms of Adams as a sign of animus or enmity. As I recently told a SF TD, my main problem with the party President is epistemological: ie, he’s an unreliable witness.

    As far as your prognosis above is concerned it doesn’t diverge from my own assessment. 2009 is such a low base that I cannot see that even if there is a falling back (and I expect a ‘re-squeeze’ in non core constituencies) how the party won’t be making significant gains.

    If I’m wrong about that, then first and foremost, it’s me that’s wrong. And secondly a problem for the party. It would not be the first time I got it wrong on the southern game.

    Council elections are not byelections, but I do think Meath East ought to warn people off burying FF too soon. As one dyed in the wool Labour friend quipped just after Feb 2011, “I’ll believe FF are gone when I see the stake through its heart”…

    It will be a pre run before the GE. My guess is that both opposition parties will gain from the fray.

  • http://ansionnachfionn.com/ An Sionnach Fionn

    It’s still puzzling that Sinn Féin is having difficulty racking up significant support in Dublin. Proportionally it should be higher given local circumstances and traditional voting patterns but Labour and various Left groupings seem to be retaining the Left/Liberal vote in the capital, both “soft” and “hard”. Not to mention Fianna Fáil holding onto the “Republican” vote (if such still exists per se).

    As far as I remember SF didn’t field a candidate in Dublin Fingal during the last elections which is bizarre given the constituency’s political make-up. Around the Malahide/Swords region and beyond it has little visible presence unlike the ubiquitous Socialist Party, as well as FF, FG and Lab. Even the Greens are more visible. There are quite a few blind-spots in the party’s local organisation.

    The 22% for the Indos might come true at the next general election if the economy continues to do poorly. There is a LOT of sentiment of a plague on all your houses variety that will hit the establishment parties hard. That said we have yet to see what effect the new “RA” under Creighton and co. might have. FG must be certainly worried if the media-hype becomes reality.

  • Mick Fealty

    Labour’s weakness is the key ASF. They’ve proven a pretty robust brand, and even now I wonder just how difficult it is going to be to get Labour voters to defect.

    Habit is a non trivial issue in politics and what SF is trying to do is effect an historic breakout.

  • Mick Fealty

    As to the question in the title, any views?