Why Enda must aim for a 2016 Election Date

Predicting elections is a tricky business. The pressure of government sees events overtake plans very quickly. Deciding when to go to the country has always been a holy grail of strategy for serving Taoisigh. There are many examples of getting it wrong and still many more of where a government collapse takes the decision away from a Taoiseach.

Enda Kenny will have to try plan things though. All things going well the ultimate decision lies with him. There is one more budget to come and barring any implosion on the part of the Labour party the Taoiseach can try to pick his moment.

There has been much talk about the possibility of an early election. For me the dates that still make the most sense are in or around late March. A winter election just after the budget would make little sense. It is not a good time to be out campaigning and there is only scant evidence to support the idea that just after a budget is a good time to cut and run.

Ireland has been through a bit of a political trauma in the last decade. Reading into patterns can be dangerous due to the exceptional nature of the events that took place however there are some interesting patterns. Firstly, the so called ‘budget bounce’ is worth about 3-4% and usually falls within the margin of error in a poll. It is welcome for governments but not the game changer some pretend. Even during the massive giveaways of the Celtic tiger the budget bounce was relatively small and usually evaporated after a few months.

If we try go back to the start of the crisis years we can see a situation a little more comparable to what we have now. In November ’07 FF were at 32% in the RedC polls. After the budget they were at 36% in January and 37% by early March. However by the end of March they were falling back to 35%. The budget bounce does not tend to last.
Moving on toward the end of ’08 we find FF languishing at 26% by October. After the budget they were climbing to 28% by January. Budgets take a little time to work through the system but these budgets were not pretty and the electorate was looking for hope. FF dipped and rose over the following moths in line with the fortunes of the economy and the international markets. By November 2009 they were on 23%. Once again after the budgets they had climbed to 27% by the end of February 2010 only to fall back to 24% by the end of March.

The whole 2010 and 2011 era was a period of crisis were FF fell to about 17% in polls and flat lined (apart from a drop to 13% in one poll). Enda Kenny will know there are few lessons from those years that will be applicable. However the FF performance does show that January to March often gives the best figures as a budget works its way through. Even a harsh budget as people search for stability.

Enda Kenny will be far more aware of the FG performance since entering government. In October 2011 FG stood at 31%. After the budget they were on 33% by January but had climbed to 34% by the end of March.
On 2 December 2012 FG were on 28% and they remained there even in the months immediately after the budget. It was not until June that they climbed back up to 30%. However it is the last two years that will interest the Taoiseach most of all as it is here he is most likely to try find a pattern with comparable moods prevailing.

In November 2013 FG were on 29% after the budget they dipped to 27% by January but got back to 29% by the end of February. Once again the immediate aftermath of the budget didn’t appear the optimum time for polling figures but more worryingly they had fallen back to 26% by the end of March. That would leave the window very tight.

Perhaps this year can be seen as a road test for what to expect in the time ahead. In September 2014 FG was on 28%. On 14 October 2014 the budget was announced. On the 25th of October FG stood at 26%. Yes there was the whole Water Charges debate but that issue isn’t entirely gone away and there is always something new to take its place in any event. By 22 November FG had fallen to 22%. At the end of January FG were on 24%. This suggests that other issues and concerns can easily overshadow the budget in its immediate aftermath. There is a lesson there for anyone pushing for a November election in government circles. By March 13th this year FG were back to 26%, they got 25% at the end of April and the latest poll puts them on 28% at the end of May.

All of this evidence points to governments suffering some of their poorer ratings in November and December and that a ‘budget bounce’ is not felt the day the budget is announced but rather some months later. It also points to governments getting their some of their better ratings in January to March. Summer can be a bit unpredictable as it’s hard to say how long before figures start to drop off slightly again. If I were sitting down with Enda Kenny I would rule out any November or December elections. January would be the earliest and that’s not a great month for party organisations. Therefore February to April is the optimum time and end of March would look very tempting indeed.

Johnny Fallon
Southern Editor

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  • Robin Keogh

    He has another problem, the polls show three parties at or just over 20% FF, FG, SF. We have never been in this territory before. Traditionally either FF or FG would be registering support in the thirties with Labour seen as kingmaker. But Labour are in trouble particularly in Dublin. A huge chunk of their voters have switched to SF as shown in the recent Car/ Kil by-election. FG’s fortunes are steadily improving as the economy grows, in my view this is having the effect of keeping FF down. Kenny really needs to gamble in a way that previous taosigh have never faced before. He can wait it out and hope that the FG rating continues to improve and that Labour can also pull themselves up from the mud. But they both need a higher share of the vote than current polls are putting them on. Even a ten point bounce and they would still struggle to form a stable coalition.

    Kenny will also have to make sure that he gives Independent News and Media enough time to prepare a full assault on the shinners to try and subdue their support. Averaging at 20% over the last few polls, if this is repeated in a Dail election it will mess up the seat numbers in the house for coalition forming. Both FF and FG are fully aware that they could end up forced into a marraige of convenience that neither of them particularly want.

    The most likely scenario would be as you say a poll in March of next year, in the hope of a budget bounce and an improving economy. The only way they can get back into government is if they manage to achieve two things. Keep the people convinced that FF have not yet earned the right to get back into power and blow a hole in SF support. If they fail to do this they will lose.

  • Johnny Fallon

    That is a fair analysis Robin, can’t disagree with too much of it. The only thing I am sure of based on polls thus far is that FG will indeed be leading the next government unless something drastic changes. They are the only party with a definite lead over all others. Who their partners are is anybody’s guess. It is difficult to see Labour recovering sufficiently although they may form part of whatever FG is forced to hobble together. Fg/FF is still a possibility but in the long term it is not in the interest of either party. The most likely outcome based on current polls is a minority FG govt with Independents or SF but with either option still needing FF to support them from the opposition benches. We are probably not looking at a government that will last any longer than two years. However for FG the opportunity is to push the stability agenda again at that point and try increase their seats again.

    FF don’t seem to be able to fall any lower unless they split but they are pinning their hopes on ignoring polls and looking only at local election result of 2014. I would not hold out much hope of blowing a hole in the SF support at the next election whatever about subsequent ones. SF will only be in danger once they go into government. Since 2011 their support has been very steady, their problem is that they too have plateaued and cant seem to sustain any increase above the 20% level for very long. This is in my view down to a mix of organisational and ideological blocks to their growth.

    The good news for political commentators like myself is that we should have lots of elections coming our way. 😉

  • JohnTheOptimist

    Given the resurgence in the economy, FG strategists should be asking themselves why they are only on 25%-26% in the polls. Ireland has the fastest-growing economy in the EU, unemployment is falling rapidly, the budget deficit is falling rapidly, and significant tax cuts are imminent. Based on their economic success, FG should be well above 30% by now.

    My reading is that FG have antagonised lots of their traditional socially conservative base in the counties outside the Pale. They’ve done this by introducing abortion, closing Ireland’s Vatican Embassy and supporting gay marriage. That’s not to say that there are not lots of liberals in Ireland who support all these. The referendum showed that. But, the point is that few of those liberals have traditionally voted FG. How many of the multitudes acclaiming Enda Kenny at Dublin Castle on May 23 have actually ever voted FG or will vote FG in 2016? Very few, I’d say. Looking at the figures, it looks as though FG and FF voters split almost 50/50 in the gay marriage referendum. Yet, the 50% (or close to it) of those who have traditionally voted FG, but who voted ‘no’ to gay marriage, and would have voted ‘no’ to FG’s abortion legislation and to the closing of the Vatican Embassy, are being treated with contempt by Enda Kenny and the FG leadership. Enda Kenny and the FG leadership give the impression that they go along with Dublin 4 Labour’s sneering hostile attitude to traditionally socially conservative Ireland beyond the Pale. The impression is given that they believe media propaganda that there are only a handful of such dinosaurs left. Yet, they amounted to 38% on May 22, despite the most one-sided media campaign in the history of democracy. FG ignore these voters at their peril. Much will depend on how Renua does. Polls put them nowhere, but they did well in the Carlow-Kilkenny bye-election and beat Labour.

    As for SF, the chances of FG going into coalition with them are about the same as Longford’s chances of beating Dublin in this year’s All-Ireland final. If FG went into coalition with SF, there would immediately be a massive transfer of supporters from FG to FF. In addition, SF are not dumb. They know that going into coalition with one of the major parties, especially FG, would result in a total collapse in their support at the subsequent election. Its in the nature of smaller parties going into coalition for this to happen. Look at the Greens in Ireland in 2011. Look at the Lib Dems in the UK in 2015.

  • Mirrorballman

    Looks like you were spot on Johnny. FG bringing forward date of their convention to July surely means they are going to the polls earlier in early 2016 now.

  • Jag

    I think you need to differentiate between budgets before concluding whether or not they produce a temporary or more permanent bounce.

    The budgets between 2008-2013 were contractionary, they increased taxes on the populace and reduced public services and welfare. The 2014 budget was expansionary – in net terms, it gave €500m away. The budget in October 2015 will also be expansionary and will give €1.5-2bn away (unless the government heed the advice of the Fiscal Council, which they’ve never previously done).

    €290m-odd of the October giveaway will go on increased public sector wages (that’s the €1,000 per head). There’s scope to cut income taxes substantially, by maybe 5% (the lower rate of 20% could become 17% and the higher rate could be reduced from 40% to 38%). There’s also scope for major capital investment nationwide. And the government will be able to do it in October with unemployment at 9.5% and GDP on track for 4.5% growth in 2015.

    FG is presently at 25-28% (28% was last weekend’s spot poll). Scandals aside, it should be on 30% pre-Budget and around 35% post-budget. That’s more than enough for the 55+ seats that Paddy Power was recently predicting and will leave FG in pole position to form next government, probably with FF (despite the coolness) though Labour can’t be ruled out.