7 things to look out for in the Irish General Election

Enda Kenny will finally call the general election tomorrow, which is likely to be held in the last week of February 2016.

In that spirit, I thought I would do up a piece for some folks not as familiar with Southern elections and things to generally look out for.

1.Look out for the canvassers- There was a famous story about the Fine Gael TD, Nora Owen who thought she had a decent chance of topping poll in Dublin North, until she encountered the sheer number of canvassers following the Fianna Fail TD, Ray Burke.

These legions of supporters matter in Irish general elections. The more man power a candidate has in getting around the constituency, the more likely they are to make head way with the electorate. Another good example of this approach is Bertie Ahern in Dublin Central.

2. TV debates- Unlike Britain, Ireland has since the 1980’s a tradition of the sitting Taoiseach debating his opposition counterparts during a general election. Depending on how close the election is these debates can be critical in swinging undecided voters. If you’re Micheal Martin or Joan Burton, you want more debates in order to put your message across and attempt to in Fianna Fail’s case take on Enda Kenny and in Labour’s case promote your own agenda outside of the shadow of Fine Gael.

If you’re Enda Kenny, you want as little debates as possible. A sitting Taoiseach has everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing TV debates. Kenny needs to keep the opposition as irrelevant to the main issues as possible and engaging in TV debates simply pumps oxygen into their campaigns.

3. “Where Dublin goes, so goes Ireland”- With 44 of the 158 seats in the Dail, the capital city and the wider commuter belt, Dublin will be critical. Fine Gael in 2002 and Fianna Fail in 2011 found out to their cost, the impact of Dublin turning its back on a political party.

Watch out for how much time the governing parties spend in the capital city defending seats and if you want to see how Labour will ultimately do, keep an eye on the regional breakdowns in the various polls that come out over the next few weeks. If Labour lose Dublin, then it will be a very bad day for the party indeed.

4. The first week- I know the old saying is start as you mean to go on, but there are key moments when voters typically pay attention and from history the first week doesn’t seem to be one of them.  In 2007, Fianna Fail had a terrible start to their campaign with a 6am trip to the Aras on a Sunday  to call the election and the press labeling the party HQ as “meltdown manor” as a sign of just how badly things were going. In comparison, the Fine Gael-Labour alternative looked polished and received praise. Likewise in 2011, Fianna Fail had a good start to the campaign, with a new look front bench and newly minted leader. Needless to say, Fianna Fail won handily in 2007 and was trounced in 2011.

5. This final week- Whilst the first week can be a bit of write off, in the past three elections, there has been a substantive shift to one of the main parties in the polls. In 2007, Fianna Fail was consistently polling around 35% during the campaign and then suddenly in the final week, the party jumped 5% to 41%. Likewise in 2011, Fine Gael began the campaign in the low 30% range and by the final week was averaging 38%.

6. Watch that logo- If you begin to see candidates produce literature with a party logo so small that you cannot make it out, then you know that party is in trouble. In 2009, a number of Fianna Fail candidates attempted to try this approach and it didn’t work. People might be apathetic, but they are not stupid, if they are determined to give you a boot, they are smart enough to read a ballot paper.

7. Look out for the odd constituency rumble- The “rumble in Ranelagh” is a perfect example of how politicians battling it out for the final seat can take each other and make election TV gold. When you’re up against, candidates will do anything to get that knockout blow. The encounter between John Gormley and Michael McDowell was a decisive moment between the two men and helped Gormley best McDowell on Election Day.

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

  • Ernekid

    I love elections. They are like the Olympics for political nerds. They only happen once every few years, they can be incredibly dramatic and exciting and you get to pretend to be an expert on obscure things but instead of synchronized swimming you bluff an understanding of electoral systems.

  • Jon Hope

    Have to say I’m really looking forward to it having moved from East Antrim to Dun Laoghaire (constituencies!) last year. I also have the pleasure of working for Storyful so we’ll be in the thick of it.

    For example; we’ve already released the Irish Election Open Database (http://irish-elections.storyful.com), a completely open and free database of the candidates by constituency, and we’re collaborating with Politwoops to cache regrettable Tweets before they’re deleted 🙂 (http://www.politwoops.eu/g/Ireland).

    I probably thought I knew a bit about southern politics moving down, but now I’m genuinely open-minded about who to vote for; with the exception of Renua and Identity Ireland and the like. The discussion can be pretty good in the office about who’s worth voting for but not every party is standing a candidate here.

    FWIW I suspect it’ll be a FG minority govt, probably supported by what’s left of Labour + independents.

  • Robin Keogh

    Imagine what its like for us homo politicos. We have two major irish elections and the eurovision song contest all crammed into just ten weeks !!! My pearl clasping skills will be perfect by the end !

  • Robin Keogh

    Very good. I was on a canvass last weekend, 30 of us in navy windbreakers with clear SF logo’s on the way into an estate as four canvassers from another party were on their way out, their faces were priceless.

    Number 8.
    The media. Long gone are the days when accuracy and balance might have played even a bit part in the campaign. Parties of the left are under attack by wealthy self interested media giants who are acting to protect their position and their own political stooges. Smear, Sensation, Lies and hysterics will abound. In fact, it starts tonight on spotlight.

    Number 9
    Uachtarán na hÉireann. He already has put his foot in it regarding the over emphasis on tax cuts and he will probably do so again on another issue before the campaign is done.

  • Jon Hope

    Just out of interest, Robin. Living as I do, right in the back of a proper Tiger-built apartment block (the type thrown up hastily and at volume in previously quiet suburban areas) should I expect to be canvassed?

    I can’t really see how it’d work. You know the style, the canvasser would need to get into the building and then all the doors literally sit next to each other on the corridor.

  • Robin Keogh

    Apartment blocks are basically no go, unless you can get in and go around knocking on the doors. Normally its just a leaflet in their post box if its located outside.

  • In Oxford we have elections every year. 2026 is the next year when we won’t have an election.

  • Jon Hope

    Figured. Thanks!

  • Discuscutter

    Now that is contextual link building at its finest.

  • Robin Keogh

    I teac pilates in Dun Laoghaire, come to the studio and i will canvass u there 😉

  • Gingray

    I wonder if we will see an Fianna Fail posters up in the North this time around? I remember being shocked in 2014 and 2011 to see them up in the Botanic and University areas of Belfast.

  • Christopher Mc Camley

    Genuinely open minded except for Renua. So not really genuinely open minded at all then.

  • Lord Coleraine

    Are you allowed to be flirtatious on Slugger?

  • Robin Keogh

    I think its compulsory 😉

  • Lord Coleraine

    Excellent. I look forward to plenty more of it.

  • mickfealty

    Thanks for this Jon!! We’ll take it away and put it on the bench later. Agree re the outcome too. Minority FG, with rump Labour support, maybe. Possibly if there’s no FG bump in the final week, a second election later in the year or early next.

  • Jon Hope

    Unfortunately I’m up in Baile an Bóthair 🙂

    Look sharp, Ossian Smyth already has the posters up!