By the end of this week, the election will have run its full course. And yet it’s clear that the journalists are suffering that usual sense you get in Irish elections that they’re getting shut out of a conversation they aren’t privy to…
— RTÉ Prime Time (@RTE_PrimeTime) February 18, 2016
Another of these surprising constituency polls (-/+5%) came out in the week suggesting that Sinn Fein’s Chris Andrews (former FF) is running second in Dublin Bay South whilst the Green Party is struggling to get traction.
Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy is leading the race on 20pc, followed by former Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews (17pc), who is now running for Sinn Féin.
Ms Creighton is then on 13pc alongside Labour Party minister Kevin Humphreys, while Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan is on 11pc and Ms O’Connell is on 10pc.
Then a whole bunch of polls came this weekend, all of which were so diverse (yet within the general margin of error) as to be of little use in figuring what’s going to happen next Friday, with the possible exception of this evening’s from the Irish Times.
The don’t know the figure is particularly high at 19%, but so too is the independents and small parties rating. The independent figure is as large as Fine Gael’s which the real problem for the outgoing senior government party.
Even before this poll was published Eoghan Harris devoted his column to the matter (and trying to micromanage the voters of Dublin Bay South away from Sinn Fein)…
How did Fine Gael get it so wrong? It has six well- paid handlers, twice that of Fianna Fail. But it was Fianna Fail’s tiny team of Sean Dorgan, Deirdre Gillane and Pat McParland who found the public pulse.
But the burden of blame belongs to the FG handlers who last October made the delinquent decision to target Micheal Martin rather than Gerry Adams. Stupid, too, because it pitted Enda Kenny against Micheal Martin, the most accomplished debater in Dail Eireann.
It is of course only one poll, but given the frigidity of Fianna Fail’s polling figures, a 4% rise (in Ipsos MRBI) over the campaign suggests that the aggression towards Fianna Fail of the 2011 election is slowly giving way to something rather more cordial on the doorsteps.
The worst news is probably Labour’s since they’ve been getting well below the 10% that would see them remain close to their historical territory. If the poll on Friday remains anything like this, Dublin will be an utter bloodbath for them.
On 15% Sinn Fein’s figure is an outlier. But in terms of the Ipsos MRBI poll, this is the lowest they’ve polled since just after the 2011 election. Labour, of course, offers plenty of pickings of course and they should see a number of new faces through.
The polling still suggests no massive breakthrough into a commanding position. If momentum does lie with Fianna Fail they come from such a low base it’s hard to see how they have yet been forgiven sufficiently to be allowed to run the country again.
But if you are going to make a break, then the beginning of the last week is probably the very best time to do it.
So, why is it happening?
I disagree with the line that Micheal Martin has been the only front man in this campaign. His debating skills – which for a northern or overseas listener may be hard to follow at times – have been a banker in the set pieces.
But by filtering in new voices like Jim O’Callaghan and Jack Chambers and the proofing of Michael McGrath in electoral combat with Leo Veradkar Fianna Fail has teased voters for the first time with a sense of what might be on offer after the election.
But there are two areas in which FF may prove to be fitter than previously expected.
One is the classic old ground war campaign. If you were once big, and then are suddenly made small by the electorate overnight, then you do your damnedest to keep what remains of your organisation focused and in play.
Fianna Fail has not made the SDLP’s elemental mistake of believing they were too
big good to fail.
As an example it’s probably only the residual size of the local machine that’s rendered them capable of squeezing enough hard to find voters to sneak a seat in large rural constituencies like Kerry.
The other is that Martin has done little other than drill his relatively tiny parliamentary cohort of troops in the minutiae of a vast range of policy issues, from political reform (which notably hasn’t featured in this campaign) to perceived weak points on issues like health and water charges.
This has often been to the utter boredom of the political press. The health report was nearly a year late and had many of the press corps questioning its value. Yet it forced an abandonment by the government of their Dutch model of universal care via insurance. The effect has been to reverse the dynamic in that particular debate.
The effect has been to reverse the dynamic in that particular debate. But he’s been lucky too.
An armed robbery in the first week of the campaign was an unexpected gift to Martin who has been teeing up the issue of justice over the last three or four years primarily as a key differentiator between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.
It came as an added bonus that the news flows of that week put FF directly in between SF and FG allowing them to punch both ways without breaking a sweat. And to be honest they haven’t looked back since.
All of that said, there is only one poll that matters…
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