The Sunday Business Post/Red C tracking poll results for May have been published and as Pat Leahy points out–
The electorate are clearly open to persuasion, but they havent been persuaded yet.
The major moves in this poll are all in threes:
Fianna Fail drops three points since the last tracking poll four weeks ago;
Fine Gael adds three points
Labour adds three points.
All the changes in support for the other parties are one-point movements, so its the three point jumps that really make the news.
As the managing director of Red C Research, Richard Colwell, says in his article accompanying the latest monthly poll in the Sunday Business Post, the benefit of those regular tracking polls lies in identifying underlying trends, not in the individual monthly snapshots of first preference voting intentions.
By rolling the three polls together and looking at the data on a three-month rolling basis, we can look at the underlying trends in party support over the year so far.
These figures suggest that support for Fianna Fail is relatively steady at 35 per cent, while Fine Gael and Labour have recorded small and consistent gains so far in 2006.
For the first time since last year, the potential first preference share of votes for the coalition of Fine Gael and Labour is greater than that of Fianna Fail and the PDs.
Fine Gael and Labour have 40 per cent support – their highest level since December last year, while Fianna Fail and the PDs have 38 per cent support.
This suggests again that it is still all to play for, but will give Fine Gael and Labour comfort that they are seen as a realistic alternative.
The underlying trends for the other parties would appear to suggest that, as the debate narrows to which of the coalitions would be preferred, the smaller parties could find their first preference votes squeezed.
For the other parties, this months Sunday Business Post/Red C survey doesnt contain much good news. Sinn Féin in will be disappointed to see its support remain at 8 per cent again, after falling last month; it appears that it has lost some momentum since the start of the year, when its support increased from 9 per cent to 11 per cent between January and March.
The Green Party may also be slightly disappointed to see its first preference support fall back by 1 per cent, but when you look again at the underlying trend over the year, the outlook is still very positive for the party.
The PDs also see their support fall back 1 per cent, but for them the underlying trends are not so positive as they show that support for the party has slipped during the year to date.
In terms of Sinn Féin, one interesting point to note is that, while Richard Colwell indicates that-
This months Sunday Business Post/Red C tracking poll was undertaken between Monday, May 22, and Wednesday, May 24.
This was a period of relative political calm compared to when our other tracking polls were taken this year. They were heavily influenced by the 1916 celebrations and the Fine Gael ard fheis.
– it also suggests that the opening week of the recalled Assembly, with the either clever tactics or cheap gimmicks, had no noticeable effect on the declared voting intentions of the Irish general public.
But as Pat Leahy also points out
Like all small parties, Sinn Fein depends not so much on its national poll rating, but on strong individual candidates in constituencies where the party has a genuine chance of taking a seat.
This applies in particular to the Progressive Democrats, whose support drops in this poll by one point, to 3 per cent.
There would appear to be no obvious reason for this movement, and party bosses wont panic on the basis of one set of numbers.
Nonetheless, if this trend continues, the next election will be about rescue, rather than building on success, as the party would have it.
The Greens drop similarly, from 7 per cent to 6 per cent.
In the wake of recent polls, however, this remains a healthy showing and keeps the Greens in a strong position to retain their existing six seats, with an outside chance of picking up a gain or two in other constituencies.
And he has the average poll figures taken over the last 3 months
Taking the average for the most recent three months, the party support figures are:
Fianna Fail 35 per cent;
Fine Gael 25;
Sinn Fein 9;
Progressive Democrats 3;
Compared to the similar three-month average figures for the first period of the tracking series (January-February-March), these numbers are very similar – within one point in all cases. This suggests that party support is pretty well established at or very near the above numbers.
Although it does have the advantage of levelling out blips in the polls, at this stage and without more similar 3-month averages, I’d suggest that it can’t, yet, be said to show any underlying trends accurately.