On 29 and 30 May 2001, witnesses gave evidence to the Moriarty tribunal contradicting former taoiseach Charles Haughey’s version of his financial affairs. At the same time the EU commission president called for a direct tax to replace the current system of funding the EU from national contributions.
While all that was happening, pollsters were asking voters how they intended to vote in the first Nice referendum, a week later. The poll results, published the following Saturday, showed a 7% fall in support for the treaty, and seven point gain to the No side, 45/28. The No campaign had the wind at their back, and a sense of momentum that led them to victory.
The effect was even more pronounced during Lisbon I. On the opinion polling days for the final poll, the main news was Bertie Ahern’s good fortune with the gee-gees, a source of much merriment to the nation. The Irish Times poll that weekend showed the No camp 5% ahead, while a Red C poll showed both sides neck and neck, Yes at 42%, No at 39%. Momentum.
During Nice II, by contrast, the margins a week from the vote were Yes 41%, No 27%. Not too much had happened during the polling perios (indeed, the entire campaign was a monument to dull) and this time, the Ayes had it. The No side just couldn’t get traction.
Which brings up to today. The split is 48/33 inth latest Irish Times MRBI poll. Closer than Nice, but this time, the No voters are coming from the undecideds, not the Yes side. The Naysayers gained more support since the last poll (up 4%) but the Yes side is also winning votes this time (up 2%).
Events drive polls. European referendums are an outlet for voter anger, as when they had to put up with tribunal reports about Haughey and Ahern. But polls drive events too. Get a sense of momentum, and more voters will sign up to a campaign.
Today’s news from Dublin has been dominated by Mary Coughlan’s handling of the pension package agreed as goodbye money for former FAS boss Rody Molloy. If the government is lucky, no one commissioned a poll to take place today. But this isn’t a lucky government.
So far, Lisbon II has been a fight between Fear and Anger. The government and opposition parties have managed to stop NAMA becoming an issue, but the electorate is still as angry at the government as they are fearful of the future.
Anger means the final No tally will be larger than the one in three declared so far. But Fear is a factor too, and the Yes side is ahead, and still attracting voters.
With a week to go, my prediction is a (close-run) victory for Yes.