What the latest poll really says about the polarised nature of Irish politics?

As some of you will have noticed I have more or less given up reporting the polls in the south. Apart from a few blips, it’s pretty much been the same for much of the last 2/3 years. This morning’s Irish Times poll is no exception.

Bear in mind that the error margin is -/+ 2.8% and there is no change here. These are the parameters of the election. When you factor in the randomising nature of PR STV multi member constituency everything is likely to play out within 3/4% of of these placings.

No one is going to make it to the top figure needed to form a government on their own.

Labour and Fine Gael will need a few good days at the races to do that on their own. On a bad day they’ll likely form a minority government with the passive help of the Soc Dems, Renua and maybe a handful of independents.

The one thing you can bet against is that Fianna Fail will not be throwing in with Fine Gael anytime before hell freezes over. As Johnny points out in the Goss this morning, they see each other as the thing that best defines them in the voter’s mind.

Nor indeed will Sinn Fein be throwing in with anyone else unless they get their nose ahead. Despite some favourable seat projections that’s not on this time. Their substantive challenge is to get as close to FF in seat totals as they possibly can.

IT Poll age cohortsThe real gain the last five years is not necessarily the seats they win now but the huge bulge in the younger under 35s (and singletons) they’ve accumulated, suggesting there may be deferred benefits for them over time to collect on.

Fianna Fail, of course, are seeking to make as much green water as they can manage: one to get in the fresh new parliamentary talent they so desperately need; and two to regain their capacity to speak to and from middle Ireland with a modicum of authority.

Past trends suggest they should benefit from a boost when people vote when actual power rather than protest is in question but they also suggest no one’s biggest ambitions will be realised.

From the early tetchy discussions on RTE and Newstalk it looks like the debates will be messy and hard to follow, featuring a choice between big (uncosted) promises for the future just to catch the eye of the floating voter, and pragmatic caution.

To be fair to the Government parties, not only did they inherit a fiscal mess, they also inherited very low trust in governments and politicians. Within months (having done very little right or wrong) their approval ratings were amongst the lowest recorded.

Continuity will surely count for something especially when the global recovery and corporation tax returns are showering money heavily into the national treasury. But the low ratings reflect both an atomisation of old loyalties, and poor trust in the party model per se.

They also suffer that problem most governments have in trying to objectively assay their own performance and then sell it effectively. Public muddles over the extent of ‘the fiscal space’ available to them going forward is a good example of that.

It may also explain why there’s little momentum for them here.

The residual popularity of independents is indicative of a deeper function that has been rife within the Irish electoral system, at least since the defanging of local government in 1977 (enacted by Jack Lynch but which all parties connived at).

As Noel Whelan noted last Friday:

The retention of support from party backbenchers in our system is built on a constant flow of representations from, and rewards to, constituencies, agreed on an ongoing basis with Ministers.

Intense localism and a distorted allocation of resources on the basis of “my constituency first” criteria is not solely a feature of deals between governments and Independents.

Anyone who doubts this need only look at the avalanche of localised announcements pumped out by Government politicians in recent days. All are seeking to maximise their local leverage before the election campaign kicks off.

IT Poll over timeThe media may be dismissive of the role of the independents, but the main parties are certainly not. Their role in deciding who got a seat in the European Parliament and who did not was vital. And any party taking them lightly will find their ambitions thwarted by it.

I doubt the electorate are seriously auditioning for a new government this time out. That may prove a help to Labour when it comes to the crunch. I suspect they are more likely on the lookout for an effective watchdog.

In First World War years, we’re at about a year behind the current centenary celebrations and it’s about 1915.  And all pretty messy.

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  • Ciarán Dúnbarrach

    This is my take Mick – as Gaeilge – in broad agreement


  • Discuscutter

    Dermot Ahern’s position on FF supporting FG in one way or another is more mainstream than you realize in the party.

    If they are the only 2 parties than can come together to run a Govt. then that is what they will have to do in whatever fashion.

    If FF say no we are not willing then FG will call an election and ask for the FG/lab. coalition to be returned with a working majority because FF are putting party before country once more. FF canvassers would be beaten off the door.

    FF’s vote would collapse as people punished their selfishness.

  • Leon O’Searcach

    Interesting, my Irish is terrible, had to get the daughter to help me LOL

  • mickfealty

    We’ll have to see how far short coalition are from a majority when it comes down to it. It could come to some sort of model like that surely. I would not rule out some form of unspoken Tallaght strategy in reverse.

    An explicit one is unlikely, not least since it was pretty much an unmitigated disaster for FG when they did it. The question they’d face is how do you get out from under when inevitably you have to break from it.

    The Irish electorate don’t have a great record in punishing political selfishness. They’re far more intolerant of weakness.

  • Robin Keogh

    Those last two sentences are brilliantly on the button.

  • Robin Keogh

    Slugger normally reports on just Red C polls which in my view are sub standard to Irish Times. Red C got it wrong during the Euro campaign and they now have FF polling way below what they can realistically expect. Todays IT poll is interesting in that it shows just how politically pebble dashed the next Dail is going to be. However, maybe RED are onto something, are they picking up a swing from FG to FF in the face of Fianna Fails disorientated state? Will there be a surge to FG in the last deciding days if M Martin continues his no Gael no government stance. As far as the public are concerned they will be wasting their time looking for giudance from debates etc. Mick is correct, radio and tv panels are descending into unintelligable hysterics and we are barely off the mat !

  • Kevin Breslin

    It is interesting to note that the most popular group for the main working age population is the Independents.

    I have a feeling this Election Day will be called “Independents Day”.

  • mickfealty

    Do I? Most of the polling stuff here: http://sluggerotoole.com/tag/polling/. I normally blog polls when I think they are saying something interesting…

  • Kev Hughes

    ‘If FF say no we are not willing then FG will call an election and ask for the FG/lab. coalition to be returned with a working majority because FF are putting party before country once more. FF canvassers would be beaten off the door.

    FF’s vote would collapse as people punished their selfishness.’

    A few points:

    1. Labour will lose heavily here. If they’ve 12 seats then that’ll be a victory of sorts. In a snap election where would they pick up seats. Who knows, they may shed further votes.

    2. Irish elections are often personal affairs. People may say ‘I’ll vote for a particular party’ but come Election Day yer wan gets in owing to the pork barrel nature of politics here, or as I lovingly call it ‘centralised localism’. This isn’t just an independent issue, just see the raft of announcements from the government over the past few weeks on developments around the country.

    3. FF’s voters are mainly their core nowadays. Mick cited a cumann in Kerry with a few thousand but then I doubt they’ve that number at a Drumcondra cumann nowadays. Those folks forming the spine of FF from Cavan, all the way down the spine of Ireland didn’t leave FF years ago and they won’t leave for it now because of a hung Dail, they’ll simply double down

  • Robin Keogh

    I meant in relation to 26 county polling dear

  • mickfealty

    It’s all in there darling, north south east and west. Though mostly south. First one I saw looking down was MRBI…

  • Discuscutter

    They will double down but all those thousands of FF members in Kerry will probably not ensure a FF TD in the county. Cavan will return one FF, heartland like Doneal will probably return one out of 5 seats.

    Many of the FF lads know that this will be their last chance to be a Minister or have any power in Govt.

    It may take another election in a few weeks or months but we’ll have a FG/FF Govt. before the end of 2016.

  • Kev Hughes

    Wendle, I feel we are going to agree to disagree on this one, but think of a cumann much like an ice berg. There are some areas where they (for better or worse) have support that won’t go away in your hypothetical, it’s not happening now and after they nearly destroyed the country it didn’t leave them then.

    ‘Many of the FF lads know that this will be their last chance to be a Minister or have any power in Govt.’ Maybe, with FF, you never know. But IMHO, for what it’s worth, I think they are lowering their expectations this time around.