Waiting for the bus: Polling changes in Irish politics

Mark Khan looks back on the autumn political polls, and ponders on waiting for a bus all day when three come along all at once.

Cast your mind back to the Local and European elections in June 2009 when a big change in voting patterns happened. FF who scored 41.6% in 2007, scored 25.4% in the locals, losing an MEP with 24.1% in the Euros. FG became the biggest party for the first time with 32.2% but also lost an MEP with 29.1% in the Euros. Labour had its best ever local election result with a national average of 14.7% of the vote (compared to its general election 10.1% tally).

Three MEPs were the result of a 13.9% euro vote, an average brought low by bad polling in the Connaught/Ulster wastelands. Sinn Fein with its vote down managed to hold its number of councilors on 7.4% but in a bizarre reversal lost their sole MEP though the national eurovote increased to 11.2%.  The Greens stared annihilation in the face with only 3 councilors returned nationally on 2.3%, worse yet all their Euro candidates failed to even retain deposits on a national average of 1.9%.

Others including independents scored 18% up 0.7% which suggests the PD vote largely returned to FF and FG. In the Euros ‘Others’ scored an impressive 19.7% but it was Socialist Joe Higgins and Liberal Regionalist Marian Harkin that were bound for Brussels rather than the conservative naysayers Ganley and Sinnott.

If those polls raised an eyebrow, then the MRBI poll in May delivered electro shock therapy. FF 17%, FG 28%, and Labour at 32%, Sinn Fein 9% Greens 3% and others 11%. FF as the 3rd party was surprising, but Labour as the biggest party, was a step too far for some FG stalwarts and a putsch against the leader who delivered the Fine Gael revival was conceived and executed by the younger front bench members.

Sadly their candidate was an economist who couldn’t count because Enda Kenny survived, and the new look youthful frontbench was cast aside by older, loyal faces. We entered a summer of silence. But that ended and like waiting at a bus stop, the long wait is greeted by the arrival of not one but several buses. In one week in September, we got 3 polls.

First came the TV3 poll with FF 22% FG 30% Lab 35% Sinn Fein 4%, Greens 2% and Others 8%. Though FG had gained 2 points, Labour increased their lead and Fianna Fail reduced the gap between themselves and the Blueshirts. Media rumblings began again about Kenny’s leadership which even the REDC poll a few days later was unable to relieve. REDC put FG on top again at 31% with FF on 24%,  Labour 23% Sinn Fein 10%, Greens 3% and Others 9%, but the murmurings continued.  Not 3 days later MRBI published their poll FF 24%, FG 24%, Lab 33%, Sinn Fein 8%, Greens 2%, and Others 9%.

The polls suggest that when Eamon Gilmore started talking about a Labour Taoiseach the Irish public took him seriously, but not Enda Kenny who may not outlast Brian Cowen as leader of his party if this trend continues.  They also suggest the Greens don’t have a future. This has resulted in parties and press rounding their fire on Gilmore and Labour, and explains why Fine Gael have embarked on provoking an election at all costs before Labour sustains its gains and Gilmore eclipses Kenny as prospective Taoiseach. Part of which has seen them withdraw from the time honoured agreement to pair votes. It also explains why the Greens are touting a National Government as the solution to the country’s ills.

We have since been treated to another REDC Poll, this had less fanfare but only because shockwaves are still reverberating from last month’s trio.  REDC had been the most conservative of polls with FF not falling below 23% and vying with Labour over 2nd place while FG had a clear lead. But this latest poll reflects the trend of the others. FF dropped 6 points to 18%, Labour up 4 points to 27%, FG in the margin of error at 32%, as are Sinn Fein 9%, the Greens 4%  and Others 10%.  A clear picture emerges; FF will be in 3rd place.  The decision at the next election is will FG or Labour be the biggest party? Will the Taoiseach wear blue or red?  Can the Greens survive?  Can Sinn Fein make a breakthrough after stagnating the last 3 years? Will the others be the ‘independent’ FF gene pool TDs or the micro-left parties?

While the polls don’t answer these questions, we can divine the entrails. The real result will be in the battle that lies ahead, but as we have been waiting for 3 bye-elections to be held the last year, Jim McDaid resigns and the High Court decides against the government all within 24 hours. Looks like a bus is on the way, or do I see three more coming behind it?

You can hear Mark Khan in ‘The Week That Was’ every Friday @ noon on Campus Radio 98.3fm or www.ucc.ie/ccr

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