How bloody could the electoral consequences of 2009 budget be?

So after more than a week and a half and a bank holiday the media and the politicians are still coming to terms with the budget aftermath. Taking a quick look at the Red C poll published in the Business Post on Sunday last, it was bad news for the government and FF in particular but how bad really? No one seriously thinks at this point that FF would get 26% if there was a general election in the next few weeks. However, that’s not a general election on the horizon. It’s the more medium term consequences of the budget as hinted at by the poll in the local and European elections that will be concentrating the minds of those members of all parties thinking of putting their names forward.The traditional rule of thumb figure was that one in three people would vote for FF come what may. That figure may now be just one in four. This represents a significant decline in the core vote by any measure which must have been masked by other factors. It should be noted that the FF internal report chaired by Cowen a few years back raised a concern that a large portion of the membership was old and not as actively participative as it had been previously thought. What the poll does partially uncover is that a considerable portion of the FF support in the last few years is much more fluid and mobile that many had previously thought. So the floating vote is much larger than many had thought but it had been disguising itself as part of the FF core vote the sneaky divil.

It has been the opinion of some for a while that amongst the under 40s at least the support for FF candidates was as much rooted in familiarity, incumbency and a conviction that, unfashionable or not at least, they knew what they were doing when it came to the economy. Couple that with the ability of the government to distribute goodies and set the mood music at election time and it’s not surprising they were the first port of call for many casual voters. That set of circumstances is all blown away. Now the terrain was always going to be very different once the local property market careened out of control. That this was then succeeded by (remember the property decline in Ireland preceded the credit crunch) the global economic has simply compounded matters. The bursting of the property bubble got the government into a sticky mess of its own making; the changed global conditions have simply reduced/removed their room for manoeuvre.
To counter the medium term electoral problems FF will attempt to run non-traditional candidates in the locals and even Europeans and those candidates will do all in their power to dissociate themselves from the party brand. If you thought the FF logo was small on posters and leaflets in 2004, just wait until you see them next year. I’ve already had literature in the door from FF ‘activists’ who are looking for nominations and there isn’t a hint of any FF association on them.
The other potential problem is that FF have gone for a selection by interview panel, similar to that used in the British Parliamentary elections by the Conservatives, Labour and LibDems. The difficultly here is that people in most parties like their local election candidates local and popular with the grassroots. The outgoing cllrs should be fine for reselection, but the problem will come with the newbies. Where once Frank in his fifties, involved in the GAA and having served on every branch position over 20 years would now have used his large family connections to load the branches and make his move to contest his local ward it could now be Jason or Jennifer, in their late 20s, a software developer or business owner who has lived in the area for 5/6 years and who fits the profile of someone the party believes might make a good Dail prospect down the line. In terms of reshaping the population of the Dail it’s a good idea. The downside comes in that while the big family of Frank and his long tail of involvement in the party means he had many people to personally call on to get out and canvass the party activists won’t be nearly half as motivated for Jason. It’s a risky strategy to adopt with the wind against you. That said it could well work if FF successfully manage to package these newer candidates as only loosely associated with FF.

If things do go badly in the locals you can then expect to see the slow impact of not having the same amount of bodies on the ground to do the donkey work. Many TDs of all parties employ cllrs as PAs or advisers. They do a considerable portion of the local council related work such that credit accrues to the TD. Remove those people from their supporting role and it hurts the TD down the line. It’s like a painful form of electoral Jenga.