All to play for in 2007 Dáil election, says Luntz

RTE’s The Week in Politics programme commissioned well-known American communications professional Dr Frank Luntz to carry out a survey (can be viewed here) on undecided voters ahead of next year’s Dáil elections. He came up with some interesting results, including the one that Michael McDowell seems to be boring the pants off the electorate with his constant fearmongering.Using a sample of 32 undecided voters from Dublin, Meath and Kildare, the majority of whom hadn’t voted for government parties, Luntz tried to tease out which issues matters most to the group as well as which politician and potential coalition grouping they would most like to see in power after the next election. Sinn Féin didn’t get a mention, by the way.

Not surprisingly, health was far and away the most important issue to the group, followed by the economy and crime. Interestingly, not one person chose immigration as an issue.

Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was described as decent, capable, hardworking and a man of the people. However, there was a common feeling that he failed to hold people accountable. Also, the more he talked, the less the group liked him.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was described as lacking charisma, a lightweight and dull. He fared even worse than Ahern with people complaining that he bickers too much and is too negative. The party was more highly rated than its leader.

The group felt Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell was boring, confusing, bright but arrogant. None of the group said they would vote PD. When shown footage of him giving a speech saying there was a real danger of Sinn Féin getting into government after the election, the group just switched off. The didn’t like it and they didn’t seem to believe it.

Labour’s Pat Rabbitte fared best of the lot, being described as honest. However, the group felt he had gone backwards in the past two years even if he was saying what they wanted to hear.

The group wasn’t enthused by the idea of Kenny and Rabbitte working together and equally they felt uneasy about a continuation of Ahern and McDowell.

Ahern and Rabbitte was the favourite of the three options given. Luntz concluded that the undecided voters of Ireland clearly want a change. They seem uncertain, though, as to how this change can be achieved.

  • jerryp

    I could only watch this for a short while before being concerned about the format.It was supposed to be a session involving ” floating” voters, yet it would be hard to draw any conclusions given the small numbers present, 60 ?, 70 ?.
    It was when one person said the reason they couldn’t see Kenny and Rabbitte working together was because Kenny seemed to always speak using notes and Rabbitte didn’t that I came to the conclusion that they must have hijacked a nearby bingo session for an audience.

  • seabhac siúlach

    Not sure how representative a sample of only 32 can ever be (think of the errorbars!)…but….

    “Luntz concluded that the undecided voters of Ireland clearly want a change. They seem uncertain, though, as to how this change can be achieved.”

    Not that I can vote (unfortunately) but personally I would be interested in seeing the left-of-centre parties coming together more and offering an alternative vision…is there not a space for a loose Sinn Fein/Greens/Labour coalition? They have approx. 25% of the vote between them and could be a significant bloc in pushing through/preventing the worst excesses of free-market economics (need we look further than the debacle at Aer Lingus…). The ex-Sticks in Labour would baulk at the thought, I know, but in theory all these parties are leftish and republican (with greater or lesser emphasis on either of these words).
    As an aside, why has Fianna Fail not taken a hit in the polls from their incompetence managing the sale of Aer Lingus? Is it because the media have held back from blaming the bungled sale on them?
    But, I guess that is going off the point…
    It is interesting that these undecided voters do not seem to be frightened about the idea of Sinn Fein in government amd are bored with McDowell hammering on about it. This suggests that Sinn Fein could benefit from more transfers in the coming election, something they have lacked in previous elections…despite having respectable first preference numbers in numerous constituencies…

  • George

    seabhac siúlach
    “It is interesting that these undecided voters do not seem to be frightened about the idea of Sinn Fein in government amd are bored with McDowell hammering on about it.”

    I would say it’s more that they know it definitely isn’t going to happen so aren’t scared rather than they aren’t too plussed about the prospect.

    On Aer Lingus, not every thinks it’s a debacle so that’s why it hasn’t caused any major problems for the government. (Let’s not go down the road about whether it is or isn’t debacle)

  • Brian Boru

    First of all this is not an accurate poll and is not even purporting to be a poll of the electorate generally. It is a focus-group of 32 “undecided” voters not the voters as a whole. The most recent Red C poll for the end of November puts the PDs on 4% including 6% in Dublin, so let’s get that straight for a start. Secondly, what’s really annoying about this programme, is that they are admitted that 65% of those in the audience voted for the Opposition in 2002, yet now Frank is making out that the choice of the next govt rests in their hands. The reality is that the Republic has one of the lowest floating votes in Europe if not the world. We rival Japan and Sweden in returning one party – FF – as the biggest party for 74 years. So when we talk about the floating-voters here, bear in mind there are only so many of them down here, and that it is they – not the electorate as a whole – which are being sampled.

    And I have criticisms too of how they are sampled. The geographical spread is extremely narrow – confined to Dublin, Kildare and Meath. The PD strongholds of Galway West and Limerick east are excluded. Now bear in mind that they are a niche party and traditionally strong in the latter areas – gaining 22% of the 1st prefs in Galway City Council elections in 2004 – and you begin to see serious questions about the reliability of these findings. Factor in that these 3 counties have between them 17 constituencies, and divide that into the 32 (!) in the focus-group, and you’re dealing with a sample containing less than 2 people per constituency. Representative of voter-intentions? I think not!!!

    I am also uncomfortable with the undue emphasise on “the leader” as opposed to the party. In this, Luntz reveals that he comes from an American political culture – a presidential one for the most part – in which the person is everything every 4 years. If none of the 32 in the sample are PD voters, then this is not all that surprising since this is aa 4% party with no organisation to speak of in most of the country, which a niche largely confined to certain parts of South Dublin, Limerick and Galway – the latter 2 being totally excluded from the sample. I think PD supporters – including me – are entitled thus to feel they got an unfair time from last night’s show. And now we learn 2 more are planned – one of them in a more rural setting. As the PDs do better in urban areas, no doubt the PDs will do worse here in the focus-groups, with Civil War politics dominating out here. Indeed I would also expect Labour to do worse in this situation. But to present such miniscule samples as accurately picking up the support levels of a nice party that 96% of the electorate don’t even vote for is plain daft. Entertainment yes – accurate in reflecting public-opinion? I think not. McDowell’s approval ratings in TNS-MRBI poll a few days ago shows him on 38% up 6%. I am concerned that shows like this have the capacity to confuse and misdirect the electorate, and represent a further dumbing-down of RTE. A travesty that does not deserve to be taken with anything more than a pinch of salt. Get me a reasonably-sized sample and I will reconsider this view in future.

  • kensei

    I think you have some valid criticisms Brian, not least the more fractured nature of Irish politics in the comparison to the US or the UK.

    But this isn’t an opinion poll. It’s a focus group. Pulling people’s gut reactions to politicians talking is interesting in itself, and I suspect that this will pull out different things. With the Gordon Brown one on the BBC a while back, I was fascinated in the way people repeated the standard media line, for example.

    It’s another source of information – and these types of groups have been both effective and interesting in both the US and the UK , so the charge of “dumbing down” is wrong I think.

  • willy

    Will Bertie’s popularity increase with stories like the one below ?

  • Greenflag

    Kensei ,

    ‘I was fascinated in the way people repeated the standard media line, for example. ‘

    And I think that’s the clue to the responses . Lunz may have been duped by the pro Rabbitte media lefties . We can all now look back on the the first day or two of the Bertiegate scandal with the Rabbitte in high moralistic mode .

    Perhaps Lunz’s findings are just the media’s only way to rehabilitate the wounded Bunny ? Such a small sample 32 would suggest that the findings should be taken with more than a grain of salt .

    Brian Boru’s interpretation is spot on IMO.