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