After a financial crisis government majorities shrink, parliaments fragment…

So as David has noted there was another poll today. In fact there are no changes outside the margin of error from the last Irish Times Ipsos/MRBI poll in September. So I’m less inclined to follow his route one lead in my own analysis.

The numbers are as follows: Fine Gael (30 +2); Sinn Fein (21 +2); Fianna Fail (19 -1); Labour (7 -1); Independents/Others (23 -2). There’s also some shuffling in the ratings of leaders with Gerry Adams bouncing back and up four points.

It’s harder to read against quarterly trends than it is against Red C’s more frequent outputs, but the Irish Times have a time map where you can see the longer trends back to 2006:

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 13.31.23

I see two main relational lines. One, there seems to be a slight reversing of fortunes between Fine Gael and Independents in the former’s favour. This sort of lines up with my own sense that the divergence of the last election may see some reversal before polling day.

The other is between Labour and Fine Gael in the first place, and then latterly Labour and Sinn Fein. As Derek Mooney pointed out here in his last column Labour are getting double whammied at the moment.

According to this poll the main political peloton currently consists of independents, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail. At the moment Fianna Fail’s only compensation here seems to be that their relative positions now reverse considerably when there is a sign of an election.

That is a trick of constituency based polls. Nationally, on a freer electoral vote, as in the EP elections, the SF vote and FF vote were more aligned with national polling. That’s also a testimony to quality of FF’s local depth. It’s the breadth of their national offering that’s lacking these days.

That and the fact the party has suffered a generational shock of historic proportions. Plummeting from 47% in June 2008 to 36% in November of that year only took the bank guarantee and everything that followed and was relatively easy. Reversing (ever) that is likely to prove impossible (for almost anyone).

It’s a pattern which is much broader than just Ireland. This paper from Manual Funke for the World Economic Forum notes

…governing becomes more difficult after financial crises. Government majorities shrink and parliaments tend to fragment and these effects have become stronger over time.

Following the post-1950 financial crises, government vote shares drop, while the opposition vote share increases. Parliaments become more fractionalised and the number of parties rises. All this is bad news for effective governance in the post-crisis period – at a time when decisive political action may be most needed.

As politics become more fragmented the trend is to lurch to the right rather than to the left (which in Ireland has never been strong and which was already fragmented).

The study also notes that the political consequences of financial crises tend to fade within a ten year window, although the increased number of political parties in national parliaments tends to remain at an increased level from the previous norms:

…the first five years are critical and most effects slowly taper out afterwards. A decade after the crisis hits, most political outcome variables are no longer significantly different from the historical mean.

This is true for far-right voting and also for government vote shares and the parliamentary fractionalisation measure. Only the increase in the number of parties in parliament appears to be persistent. The comforting news from our study is that the political upheaval in the wake of financial crises is mostly temporary.

This may explain Sinn Fein’s anxiety: one, not to be tarred with austerity by handing responsibility for Welfare Reform (on a programme they had themselves actually agreed on) back to Westminster; and two not to bring down the Stormont administration come what may.

Barring further global shocks (which are always a distinct possibility) the trend for the next five years is likely to be towards centre ground ‘respectability’ again. And that’s likely to be the base note for an increased SF representation after February/March.

Fianna Fail’s priority is rather different. In the short run is to get the ship safely back into the electoral harbour and replenish what is by its own standards, a skeleton crew.

If there is to life beyond this crisis for the party that was at the helm of SS Ireland when it hit the iceberg, it will need to begin the rebuild from there. As one prolific Cavan-based Tweeter put it…

Quite. But since no one in politics is yet getting that right (beyond the demagogic simplifiers) the solution is far from obvious for anyone even beginning to make a broad and sustainable offering without resorting to populist deception.

For a (former?) mainstream party like FF there can be no short cuts, not least given its recent history. As John Kellden has put it, they will require a return to a politics that…

…is no longer about economics writ large. The future need to be about a economics as if people and narratives – matter. It’s about a return to economics as skillful means.

As to David’s suggestion, I suspect there’s a preference within Fine Gael (and Sinn Fein) to try to simplify the landscape (and the debate) in order to muster some positive momentum away from independents and Fianna Fail.

In reality Fianna Fail (who outbid Sinn Fein by a full ten points in locals last year) will be much more difficult to put away conclusively.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty