As originally posted at http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/those-polls/
A very welcome guest post from AK of the Irish Election Literature Blog on the latest crop of polls.
For Fine Gael the polls, especially the Irish Times one makes grim reading.
Look back and think of the period in 2009 when Fine Gael were top of the polls and top of the world. George Lee was added, then they were the biggest party in the Local and European Elections…. there was even heady talk of a possible overall majority.
Richard Bruton shone with his bad banks good banks, dissection of NAMA and haircuts, he appeared full of ideas, was a man who understood what was happening and offered credible solutions, Not the ‘it was Lehman’s Brothers who done it’ nonsense from Fianna Fáil. It was also thought that an election was imminent at some stage in 2009, there was no way the government could last the year.
Then the main debate about what to do with the banks, etc was over. The Government carried on regardless with their economic framework of NAMA, bank bailouts and cuts. Fine Gael offered cuts too, indeed they boasted about warning over previous public sector pay deals. George Lee quit, Gilmore read the public mood on John O’Donoghue and other affairs, etc, etc…. the focus off Bruton it went back to Kenny and the electorate wondered what had Fine Gael actually got to offer? Allied to that Brian Lenihan supposedly ‘grew into the role’ and got ill. So Bruton previously the star when talking about the banks and the economy was quiet. His talents mainly lay in creating policy and making it coherent to voters. George Lees departure didn’t help him either. Then the heave has damaged him and others in the public eyes too. Also since the heave (and Bruton wasn’t that visible in the months prior to the heave) its Enda Kenny, James Reilly , Leo Varadkar and Michael Noonan hogging the airwaves. Occasionally others such as Lucinda Creighton and Simon Coveney appear but bar Noonan they don’t convince. (I’ve never taken to Reilly. It could be the beard) .
The problem now is that who would they bring in to replace Kenny? There isn’t much to inspire. For all the talk of Labour not having policies, Fine Gael could have detailed policies on everything but are unable to get them across. What are the major policy differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? There are probably differences but at this point in time they are not being communicated effectively. Like Cowen, Kenny is damaged goods, the public have the image of him as a buffoon, reinforced by cartoonists and radio impersonators. Some of their recent stunts have been foolish and backfired badly and has only added to his image as a buffoon. Kenny had also portrayed himself as the Captain of a united team and an inspiring manager able to get the best out of his team.
The heave put paid to that image. They are in big trouble, with the incredible prospect of seat losses. Not alone that but what were regarded as target seats such as Dublin Central, Dublin Mid West, Cork East and Kildare South may not drop their way either. A change in leader may help but who to put in? They need a leader that communicates with the Dublin Electorate in a way that Kenny can’t and they don’t have one.
Taking the three recent polls it looks as if Fianna Fáil, despite their best efforts to go lower, may have bottomed out anywhere from 20% to 25%. This despite being in power when the mess was made of the country and then making an unholy mess when trying to fix the Banking sector and all the other things that have gone along with it. To say the least, Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael doesn’t seem to be a convincing alternative either. The recent Millward-Brown Poll, aside from the headlines, did have some notable indicators hidden in its depths. The dissatisfaction of FF supporters with the government is at roughly the same level as those satisfied. The question of alternative leader to Brian Cowen throws up a massive endorsement for Brian Lenihan, not just from Fianna Fáil but from Labour and Fine Gael voters too (the Irish Times MRBI poll also had Lenihan as overwhelming choice to succeed Cowen) Although the question was framed “Who should lead Fianna Fáil instead of Brian Cowen?” the result suggests that Lenihan has a far wider appeal with voters than Cowen (no hard feat). Which brings me back to the 20 to 25% level Fianna Fáil find themselves at. Lenihan is seen by many (especially in the media) as competent and also relatively untouched by the Bertie era. I have heard people saying “He’s doing his best” and so on and one wonders were he not ill how much more critical would people be. So to a degree Fianna Fáil are at that level despite Cowen’s unpopularity. Were Lenihan to step down, they will surely go lower.
It’s also worth noting that a number of those FF TDs that have lost the party whip did so over Hospital closures or downgrades in their constituencies. Each week there are different well attended protests over local Hospital services throughout the country. History shows us that Hospital candidates can take votes from everywhere. Whilst normal Fianna Fáil voters may not be tempted by Kenny or Gilmore they may well be tempted by a Hospital candidate. The Irish Times Poll which had Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael neck and neck is probably a bit out as no adjustments were made when factoring in Undecideded voters. I can’t imagine that Fianna Fáil will do better than Fine Gael from undecided voters. Fianna Fáil will be happy as they appear to have arrested a tide and all going to plan could get 30% of the vote at an election. That’s seat losses but not total wipe out. Regarding their core vote (and that of other parties too) , put yourself in the shoes of someone who has been voting Fianna Fáil for a lifetime. They may have a personal relationship with the TD or Candidate be it friendship or having had something done by them many yeas ago. Without a credible alternative it would be very hard to switch. There is a horrific budget in store. Fianna Fáil will be all out to tell us that its because of the budget deficit rather than the banks. Still its very hard to see how the cuts can be carried out without some political blunders like the pensioners last year.
Labour’s vote between the three polls varied alarmingly. Some Labour people reckon that they are on around the 25% mark. This from canvassing but also from the polls before the 2009 Local and European Elections where Labour in polls did better than they did on the day. The Millward-Brown poll had using one of the seat prediction models had Labour winning more seats than they had candidates. It’s fairly certain that the softest vote is the Labour one as possibly over half of it won’t have voted Labour before. The way things are at the minute they should at least exceed their 1992 performance. There are going to be some serious challenges ahead. God knows what horrors have been planned in the budget and even the Croke Park deal looks in danger. A big danger is that having committed to the €3 billion in cuts Labour will be faced with choices they can’t win with. For example cuts to the dole or Health Services so as to keep the Croke Park deal intact. In the run up to the budget expect the bash the public sector and their pay and conditions (“We Can’t afford it”) lobby to fill the airwaves and media. There will be attempts to paint Gilmore as redder than red (I’ve noticed myself a huge increase in ‘Eamon Gilmore Communist’ searches) but I can’t see that having much impact. I’ve had a conversation with a number of people wondering had Gilmore been Taoiseach on that fateful night two years ago would he have been so trusting of the banks, I don’t think so myself but we’ll never know. Still though as long as Kenny and Cowen are at the helm Labour’s fortunes should be OK. To a degree all they need to do is repeat Lenihans quote ‘The Cheapest bailout in History’….. The biggest Party after the next election? I have my doubts and maybe REDC were the correct poll. But this budget might finally break the backs of some of the Fianna Fáil core.
For The Green Party there was little or no solace. Their support was evenly spread throughout the country which being on 2 or 3 % is bad news. At that level its hard to see even Trevor Sargent holding on. I wouldn’t be surprised either to see Fis Nua candidates put up against each Green TD to further impact their chances.
Sinn Féins support, like Labour’s, differed between the polls. I think they will return with perhaps seven seats. A loss of O’Snodaigh and gain of seats in Donegal. Adams is still also fairly popular in the leaders tables. The Independents/Others vote is holding up between 8 and 10%, again the support is fairly evenly spread regionally. In Dublin most of that Independents/Others vote is to the Left. So the prospect of either PBP or The Socialist Party having Dáil seats must have increased. Of course it should bode well for Maureen O’Sullivan and Finian McGrath, but it’s hard to tell from a national poll.
Lots to think about as we look forward to a budget and then an Election?